The historic district of Schöneberg neighbours us here in Charlottenburg and offers many interesting things to see just a few kilometres from the hotel. A somewhat unusual attraction is the towering frame of the Schöneberg gasometer. This steel relic dominates the skyline around the Berlin-Schöneberg S Bahn station and stands at almost 100 metres tall.
The site where it stands is a small triangle of land, bordered by train tracks, known as Rote Insel (Red Island). Trenches were dug to make way for the tracks and as a result, access to the land in the middle of the triangle is mainly by bridge over the tracks, giving it the feeling of being an island. The ‘red’ part of the name is thought to come from the high concentration of left wing voters who lived in the area towards the end of WWI. It is in this area that you can also see the birthplace of Marlene Dietrich at Leberstrasse 65.
The gasometer was built as an addition to the Schöneberg gasworks, and construction of the low-pressure gas tank began in 1908, however an accident in 1909 – thought to have resulted from the vibrations of the surrounding trains – saw the structure buckle and collapse onto nearby train tracks. Building work recommenced some time after the accident and it was completed in 1913, allowing storage of up to 160,000 cubic metres of gas. The gasometer supplied all of Schöneberg and much of the areas lying south of the river Spree with gas for household use. It also powered the gas lanterns in this area, providing the soft candle-like glow to the streetscape that only gas lanterns can deliver.
Post war destruction and the impact of division in the city meant gas delivery into West Berlin was difficult and delayed. As a result many parts of Berlin beyond Schöneberg relied on the gasometer. As a result, it remained operational until 1995 at which point it was declared a national monument. It has been protected ever since and in 2011 restoration works began, with the completion date set for sometime this year.
Today, a large purpose-built transparent dome inside the gasometer hosts functions, conferences and special events. Since September 11, 2011 it has also served as studio for the live broadcasts on Sunday nights of social-political talk show Günther Jauch (click on ‘Rundgang durch das Studio’ for a 360 degree virtual tour inside the dome). The frame of the gasometer is an integral part of the neighbourhood, inspiring new constructions and architecture in the immediate vicinity, and bringing new life into this beloved part of the Schoneberg skyline.
The gasometer can be accessed by foot from the Julius-Leber Brücke or Berlin-Schöneberg S Bahn stations (S1, S41/2). A nice approach is from Berlin-Schöneberg S Bahn station along Torgauer Strasse.