A brief chronicle of the science location Adlershof
First German airfield for powered flight, DVL founding, and the rise during the First World War driven by the arms industry
Located just outside Berlin, the Johannisthal Airfield (today: Johannisthal/Adlershof) was opened with an international aviation week in 1909. Hans Grade won the “Lanz-Preis der Lüfte” award in his “Grade monoplane”. It is this that marks the first successful powered flight in Germany. Johannisthal then rapidly developed into a hub for Germany’s aviation industry.
Amelie Hedwig (Melli) Boutard-Beese was the first woman in Germany to receive a pilot’s license on 13 September 1911, her 25th birthday. In April 1912, Count von Zeppelin initiated the founding of the German Research Institute for Aviation (Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt, DVL), which was headquartered in Adlershof. During the First World War, aircraft manufacturing soared in Johannisthal. The largest manufacturers were the Albatros-Werke, followed by the companies Rumpler and LVG. The site became the most important hub for Germany’s air force rearmament. Between 1914 and 1918, approximately one in three German military planes were produced by Johannisthal-based companies and their branch factories.
Interwar period: first scheduled flights, early auto production, and movie production location
In February 1919, an aircraft of the German Aeronautical Company (Deutsche Luft-Reederei, DLR) embarked on Germany’s first scheduled passenger flight (bound for Weimar). Soon after, aeronautical research came to a virtual standstill because of the terms laid out in the Treaty of Versailles. It was later revived (with considerable limitations) as of 1922. In the years running up to 1933, the site became a major location for producing feature films. In 1929, Berlin-Johannisthal saw the first model of BMW’s legendary “Dixi” car roll off the factory line.
Nazi war economy between forced labour and basic research: hub for aerospace research
The Nazi regime fostered Adlershof’s expansion into a central hub for German aerospace research. The Great Wind Tunnel was taken into operation in 1934. Its performance profile made it one of the world’s most modern low-speed wind tunnels. At the beginning of the Second World War, the trial and testing facilities of the German Research Institute for Aviation were running at full steam. More than 2,100 people worked there in 1944. Adlershof was home to the research and development personnel of many large aerospace companies, including Junkers, Heinkel, Henschel, and Messerschmitt. Their research included aerodynamics, on-board and navigation systems, land and celestial navigation, aircraft strength, gas dynamics, aerospace medicine, aerial photography, engine building, control technology, thermodynamics, and propulsion mechanics. One of Berlin’s largest forced labour camps is close to the DVL and to the Johannisthal Airfield. Prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners were used for building shelters and producing missile parts, aeroplanes, and engines.
Liberation from fascism, founding of the Academy of the Sciences and the East German television broadcasting company
The first Soviet expert group arrived in Adlershof as early as 29 April 1945 and immediately began inspecting the research facilities. In the weeks and months that followed, the DVL was turned into the central Soviet collecting point for Germany’s modern aerospace and missile technologies. All the found objects like jet engines, aeroplanes, equipment, and weapons prototypes were collected and some of them tested in Adlershof before being shipped off to the Soviet Union. Adlershof’s technical facilities were disassembled and also transferred to the USSR. Air traffic lost importance after 1946 and was stopped completely in 1954. In 1946, the German Academy of the Sciences (formerly the Prussian Academy of the Sciences) was refounded at the behest of the Soviet occupation forces (and renamed into Academy of the Sciences of the GDR in 1972). In the following decades, Adlershof developed into a large-scale research hub for the natural sciences, including physics, chemistry, materials research, aeronautics, and aerospace research. The East German television broadcasting company went on the air in 1952. Moreover, a large barracks area for the guard regiment of the Ministry for State Security (since 1967: Guard Regiment “Feliks Dzierzynski”) was set up on the former airfield in the years after 1954. East Germany made contributions to Interkosmos, the Soviet space programme. In 1978, Sigmund Jähn was the first German to fly into space on the Soviet space shuttle Sojus 31 bound for the space station Saljut. A hyperspectral camera made in Adlershof was on board with him. In 1981, Adlershof became home to the Institute of Cosmos Research (IKF).
Dissolution and the start of the free market economy
The Berlin Wall was opened. At the time, 5,600 people were working in the scientific facilities in Adlershof. After German reunification (1990), the Academy of the Sciences, East German television, and the guard regiment were dissolved. On 20 April 1990 DLR and IKF signed a cooperation agreement. This preserved the IKF’s know-how, while enabling it to be integrated into the new structures of the all-German research landscape. The East German academy institutes produced eight non-university research facilities, including the DLR institutes for planetary sensor systems and planetary research. With that, the DLR (as the successor of the DVL) returned to where it was first founded. Today’s research at the DLR locations in Adlershof focuses on space and transport.
The development of Germany’s most modern technology park Berlin Adlershof
The decision to develop an “integrated landscape of science and business” in Adlershof was mainly about building new economic structures. It was clear at the time that this could only be done in a science and research environment. Adlershof became a project that was carried by a broad political consensus. For the German capital in 1991, it was not only about salvaging its economic heritage but also about creating a new economic foundation for itself, synergies between science and private enterprises, and about developing university campus culture. It was about science and economic policy, urban development policy, as well as employment and social policy.
On 12 March 1991, Berlin’s Senate decided to set up an “integrated landscape of science and business” on the Adlershof site. The focus was to be on the economic in order to channel subsidies into Adlershof. Joint use of equipment was to create synergies, while the vicinity of research and manufacturing was to accelerate the implementation of research findings into ready-to-use products. Eight of today’s Adlershof-based institutes were carved out of the former East German Academy of the Sciences in early 1992 and integrated into the federal research landscape. They either continued their activities under the auspices of new sponsors (e.g., Max Planck Society) or became part of large research institutions. The decision to set up a new electron storage ring for synchrotron radiation (BESSY II) in Adlershof added momentum. The non-university research institutions were repeatedly evaluated, scoring good to excellent marks.
In September 1991, the State of Berlin founded the EGA (Entwicklungsgesellschaft Adlershof mbH), which was initially responsible for operating and providing for Adlershof-based companies and research facilities. Later, its focus shifted more towards refurbishing the technical infrastructure and buildings that were worth keeping as well as overlooking large construction projects. All this was done while in full operation. Thirty-three kilometres of roads were built. Modern technology centres were set up on the site to attract innovative companies, some in renovated old buildings, some in designated new buildings with spectacular architecture. The first was the Innovation and Business Incubation Centre (IGZ) in 1991. It was followed by the Centres for Photonics and Optical Technologies, for Biotechnology and Environmental Technologies, for Information and Media Technology, for Materials and Microsystems Technology, and for Sustainable Technologies. In February 1993, a 420-hectare area in Adlershof (which included the existing Science and Technology Park) was designated a development area by the State of Berlin with the aim of developing it based on an overall urban development concept. Initially, BAAG Berlin Adlershof Aufbaugesellschaft mbH was used as developer and trustee of the State of Berlin. EGA was turned into WISTA-MANAGEMENT GMBH in 1994.
Humboldt-University opens its natural sciences campus
In 1997, Humboldt-University (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, HU) decided to move its mathematics and natural science faculties to Adlershof. The move added a major scientific pillar to the site. While rich in tradition and located in Berlin’s downtown district, the HU’s buildings and equipment in Berlin’s did not stand up to comparison with West Berlin’s universities. They were also not close to each other, which is a prerequisite for cooperation in research and teaching. That said, what the site in Adlershof was missing to develop an integrated landscape of science and business was proximity to a university. In this respect, the decision to move was an opportunity as much as a challenge. The move was completed in 2003.
Urban development gains new momentum
In 2004, Adlershof Projekt GmbH, a subsidiary of WISTA-MANGEMENT GMBH, took on the tasks of the former BAAG Berlin Adlershof Aufbaugesellschaft. Much of what was planned for the City of Science, Business and Media had been achieved at this point: in addition to the Science and Technology Park, the former premises of the East German television company had become one of Germany’s most important locations for film and television production. The landscaped park had been built and planning for additional residential areas were underway.
In 2008, the area was connected to the A113 motorway. A former marshalling yard, known as “Gleislinse”, and other commercial properties on both sides of Groß-Berliner Damm were integrated into the overall development plan for Adlershof. The extension of the tram line went into operation in 2010. In 2011, the new S-Bahn train station Adlershof above the widened Rudower Chaussee was opened. Progress was made on “Living on Campus” project.
Solar industry crisis and new business areas
In 2012, three large manufacturers of solar modules filed for insolvency in 2012. The Science and Technology Park continued to grow despite this, both in the high-tech sector as well as the media industry. The newest technology centre was the Centre for Photovoltaics and Renewable Energies (ZPV) in 2013. It is home to a total of 8,000 m² of production, laboratory, and office space for companies working in the field of “photovoltaics and renewable energies”. Studentendorf Adlershof, a university housing community with 386 dormitories and guest rooms, opens in 2014. Overall, the many new buildings and companies gave the Adlershof site an increasingly urban feel, enhancing its attractiveness as a place to live. Many of the CEOs who founded companies in the 1990s were starting to look for successors.
The year 2016 marked the launch of Adlershof’s first accelerator, bringing together start-ups with established companies. The company Innovations-Zentrum Berlin Management GmbH (IZBM) was integrated into WISTA. In 2017, annual revenues of the Science and Technology Park Adlershof hit 2 billion euros for the first time ever. In 2018, about 3,800 people lived in the two new residential areas (“Living on Campus” and “Living at the Landscaped Park”). According to a study of DIW Berlin, the German Institute for Economic Research, the site triggered an employment effect of 30,000 people.
2019 marked the completion of several large-scale construction projects on Rudower Chaussee, Adlershof’s main street. The keys were handed over for the new building of Berlin and Brandenburg’s state laboratory, Landeslabor Berlin-Brandenburg (LLBB), and the “Allianz Campus Berlin” celebrated its opening the same year – as well as the Europa Center AG office building at Forum Adlershof. The Science and Technology Park’s companies view themselves as well-prepared to participate in tackling the so-called Grand Challenges of the future (climate change, environmental protection, etc.).
The revitalisation of the “Gleislinse” area has started to take shape. The area between the Johannisthal S-Bahn station (formerly named “Betriebsbahnhof Schöneweide”) and Groß-Berliner Damm began offering new commercial properties across 33 hectares, which were direly needed in Berlin. Many new commercial businesses set up shop there in 2020. The S-Bahn station “Betriebsbahnhof Schöneweide” was renamed into “Johannisthal”. Construction has begun on the tram line extension from Karl-Ziegler-Straße via Hermann-Dorner-Allee and Groß-Berliner Damm to the Schöneweide S-Bahn station. The completion of the “Living on Campus I” project created additional residential properties in Adlershof. The coronavirus pandemic has also affected Adlershof-based companies. Most of them, however, face the crisis with confidence and are committed to the fight against the virus.