Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
What would we be without electric power and regular gas supplies? Permanently freezing, underfed, helpless babes in Nature´s woods with very limited access to internet social networks.
It is indeed a wonderful thing not to have to pedal the equivalent of the distance Berlin-Braunschweig every time you want to illuminate your kitchen. As wonderful as not having to keep the fire burning in the kids´room to keep their toes from freezing off in winter.
Kreuzberg has its humble share in the Industrial Revolution and for a while the borough was a beacon of light for the city of Berlin. Literally so. It provided gas that used to illuminate the heart of the Prussian capital, Unter den Linden. And here´s how it all began.
On September 18, 1826 the newly opened Englische Gasanstalt (gasworks) in today´s Gitschiner Strasse begins its operations.
However, anyone trying to look up its address in Berlin directories for that period under the letter “G” should remember that at the time there was no Gitschiner Straße yet. More importantly, there was no Straße at all.
The address book for 1828 would direct you to Vor dem Halleschen Thore, links an der Mauer 4. (Before Hallesches Tor or Halle Gate, to the left behind the City Wall and at No. 4). Only in 1845 did the road get a proper name: Hallische (or Hallesche) Kommunikation. Then in 1852 it became Hellweg and remained so until 1868 when Gitschiner Strasse was called to life. After that the Englische Gasanstalt could be found at No. 19-22.
The word Englisch describes the background of the company which literally brought (gas) light to Berlin. On April 24, 1825 Imperial-Continental-Gas-Association from London signed an extremely profitable contract with the Prussian Ministry for Internal Affairs, thus securing their exclusive right to provide gas illumination to Prussian capital for the following 12 years.
From January 1, 1826 until 1848 the gentlemen from Blighty were to provide gas to all the main streets and squares within the capital´s city walls (meaning within the Akzisemauer) and, upon special order, to many establishments such as theatres, cafes and hotels. Well-heeled Berliners could also enjoy the almost smoke-free (a great leap forward!) gas light as long as they were prepared to cover lavish costs of the necessary gas leads. Which of course they did, gas illumination being as much of a status symbol as a private horse-drawn carriage.
On September 19 the gasworks at the Flußgraben – a drainage ditch that 25 years later became Landwehrkanal and was used by the company to deliver coal shipped all the way from England (clearly, they played their monopoly card well) – took up its duties. Only a couple of hours later the main traffic artery of the city and its own Vanity Fair as well as cultural centre par excellence, Unter den Linden, could wrap itself up in the warm, mellow light of 27 Camberwell gas lights.
By 1829 the number of gas street lamps grew to 1,800 (not counting the private “flames” as they were known back then).
Until only 10 years ago Berlin could pride itself on 44,000 gas street-lights – a number which made up almost exactly 50% of the world stock! Around 1,000 of those lamps are 150 years old and still carry the letters ICGS on the mast. And thanks to saving measures and endless, dark creativity of Berliner Senat nearly all of them will be gone soon, replaced by LED lights instead: so far, the number of gas-lamps in Berlin has been reduced to 33.800.