28. October 2019

Secret places

Time travelling through the Egg Room, the magnificent director’s office, and other hidden places

Desk of the Director of Television Technology of the GDR © WISTA Management GmbH

A neon-lit corridor, cold and long, leads up to the director’s office – decorated with all kinds of insignia of power. The R1 building with its rather austere exterior was once home to the television broadcaster of East Germany, which used to be part of Deutsche Post. Today’s owner, the company Navigo Capital Real Estate, preserved two rooms in their original condition that let visitors time travel through the former director’s office and the so-called Egg Room (‘Eiersaal’). These are but two of many secret places that can be explored on an eponymous guided tour of Adlershof, which is popular with visitors far and wide.

The office’s bookshelf features ‘Roter Schnee’ by Günter Hofé, right next to ‘Tax Law of the GDR,’ and, of course, the ‘Minutes of the VI. Party Congress of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany’ and ‘Foreign Policy of the GDR.’ Amidst the room’s dark wood panelling, it smells of days long gone. A safe is hidden behind an invisible door; a second one conceals a private sink. There is a large conference table for the reporting secretaries in front of a stately desk with many push-button phones, where the director of East German television used to sit. The Egg Room on the same floor gets its name from an imposing egg-shaped table in the middle of the room. Dark wood panelling everywhere – and a hidden cupboard to eavesdrop on everything that was going on. Peter Strunk, head of PR at WISTA Management GmbH, lets us in on how Adlershof’s ‘Media City is full of stories and hidden places.’ Back in the day, the GDR’s news programme ‘Aktuelle Kamera’ was broadcast across East Germany from underneath the building ensemble’s distinct landmark, a tower designed by Franz Ehrlich. The Sandman, a popular East German children’s programme, flew his helicopter around this exact tower while offering his night-time greeting.

People that don’t come to Adlershof often are in awe of the rapid changes on the site. New buildings with breath-taking architecture are being put up everywhere, while many old ones are filled with new life. Amidst all this change, the area is home to many spots and squares, laboratories, observation decks, and monuments that are hidden in plain sight. There are the many monuments of aviation history, including the Aerodynamic Park, which features the Great Wind Tunnel, the measuring chamber, the tailspin wind tunnel (‘Trudelturm’), and the sound-insulated engine test bed; the spherical laboratories (‘Kugellabore’), also known as ‘Adlershof’s bosom,’ and Johannisthal Airfield. Adlershof was also home to the GDR’s Academy of the Sciences, the East German television broadcasting, and the guard regiment ‘Feliks Dzierzynski’ of the East German secret police. All these places could only have existed here.

The ‘Trudelturm’ and the Great Wind Tunnel are both part of the Aerodynamic Park, which itself is part of Adlershof’s diverse ensemble of 1930s technical monuments of aviation research. The Great Wind Tunnel is often featured as a backdrop in movies, including the science fiction movie ‘Æon Flux’ as well as some scenes in the ‘The Hunger Games.’

1909 saw the opening of the first airfield for powered flight in Germany in what is now Adlershof and Johannisthal. Many people from Berlin and Brandenburg flocked here to witness the daring feats of the pilots in their flying machines first-hand. Further, everyone with a stake in aviation came her to develop new aeroplanes: Albatros, Fokker, and many other pioneering aviation companies.

On 30 October 1909, aviation pioneer and engineer Hans Grade succeeded in flying a so-called ‘recumbent eight’ in a machine of his own design. This feat helped the aeronautical engineer to score a place in the history books of German aviation. A replica of Grade’s monoplane ‘Libelle’ can be seen in the main event venue of Forum Adlershof that bears his name. Two other famous aviation pioneers, the Wright brothers, also took off from Germany’s first airfield for powered flight here in the south east of Berlin.

An exact replica of the Wright Model B is on display in the hangar on Ludwig-Boltzmann-Strasse, which is now the headquarters of Air Liquide. The iconic aeroplane was built by the company Flugmaschine Wright GmbH in Adlershof in 1910, ‘just before the company went bankrupt,’ Strunk tells us with a grin.

Built between 1932 and 1934, the Great Wind Tunnel is also a rare sight. The tail-spin wind tunnel could fit whole airplanes such as the Messerschmidt and was used to conduct aerodynamic experiments in real-life air flows. Once a highly complex and ground-breaking artefact, it is now in the exact state ‘as the Russians left it in,’ says Peter Strunk, full of graffiti and reduced to a backdrop for operas and movies. Originally, the Wind Tunnel was used to test propeller-driven aeroplane engines by using the actual plane and not merely a model.

According to my guide, the aptly named ‘bosom’ of Adlershof is ‘useless but beautiful.’ It was originally built to examine the setting of metal while maintaining a constant temperature but was never used for this purpose. When its impending demolition sparked considerable protest, a real estate investor skilfully integrated the ‘bosom’ into the architecture of his new building.

Lastly, Adlershof boasts another place of considerable interest that is so hidden, it doesn’t even exist anymore: the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the East German Academy of Sciences. In 1986, Germany’s current chancellor defended her PhD thesis right here in Adlershof. The institute has since been demolished. Strunk remembers: ‘We used to feature the building on the tour, but people have taken away everything that wasn’t nailed down.’ Angela Merkel took leave from the Academy in 1990, which was also when she uttered the much-quoted phrase: ‘I am fascinated by politics.’ She briefly returned to Adlershof for the television debate during the federal elections. Many of her contemporaries, however, stayed in Adlershof and successfully turned their research into flourishing businesses. This success is now plain for everyone to see.

By Rico Bigelmann for Adlershof Journal