(3) Heritage of Loss – The Power of Tubes

Vacuum tubes – still going strong at Industriesalon Schöneweide

Röhrensammlung 2

Visiting the vast display storeroom at Industriesalon Schöneweide is like entering a sculpture park: You are overwhelmed by the magnitude and strangeness of the objects. The display storeroom (‘Schaudepot’) with a mass of impressive exhibits tells the eventful and multilayered story of electrical engineering at Berlin-Treptow, of the first power plant producing alternating current here, of a cable plant and a transformer station – all of this in three various historical periods in German history. After the “Wende”, when Samsung shut down the place in 2009 and the collection of industrial artifacts from the 1980s was doomed for dumping, some courageous people succeeded in saving this incomparable industrial heritage and founded the Industriesalon Schöneweide as an industrial museum. The transfixed visitor from today’s transistor-based digital world may dwell and rummage at large here and, while doing so, discover the once so powerful kingdom of vacuum valves!

Röhrenparade 2

The (nearly) lost kingdom of vacuum tubes

Mostly, the vacuum tube has become obsolete in nowadays technology. Even if tubes are still used at microwave radio frequencies and special hi-fi audio systems sometimes, they have been replaced by an ultra-efficient transistor technology, without any evidence of a tube comeback –  except for  real audioheads who insist that tubes deliver better audio quality than transistors. So, during the last two decades vacuum tubes have become a cherished part of man’s industrial heritage. When looking at the schematic diagram of a vacuum valve, it’ll perhaps remind you of an illustration showing the interior of an Egyptian pyramid, complete with nicely coloured explanatory hieroglyphs, and in that way it reveals something of the complex process of developing and producing electron tubes on this industrial site.tubeworks

Eavesdropping onto industrial history at Schöneweide

Of course, everyone knows his lessons on batteries, tubes, transistors and the like, hours which proceeded sluggishly from current to voltage, from anode to cathode, from positive to negative and vice versa, out of the black box and back into. You had to accept the given facts and there was no point in mulling things over – that was meant for the chosen few who would get a job in some future electrochemical laboratory. AdobePhotoshopExpress_496070b7a36a48d68cfa158ad5be00b4

Halting in front of a bulky eavesdropping machine, you learn that it had been developed and used in the days of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) for spying on the enemy territory of the Federal Republic of Germany – from the top of GDR mountain Brocken (1.141 m). You look at the weathered photocopy showing the espionage station on the highest peak of the Harz mountain ranges and, yes, some sparks of long forgotten lessons come to mind: A vacuum tube is a device used to amplify and rectify electronic signals. Sure, in those days they needed tubes to spy from mountain heights. Current passing through the filament, or cathode (-), heats it up so that it knocks off electrons which have a negative charge.Why, oh, why? These electrons are attracted to the plate, or anode(+). A grid of wires between the filament and the plate is negative, repels the electrons and thus controls the current to the plate. In this process it will be able to amplify the voltage given to it. Control and miraculous precision!AdobePhotoshopExpress_385660b64f984c47a9b3e407d1d2c478

I take two steps back in the narrow corridor, which has led me to this amazing object, to take in the grandeur of the bulky spying machine. It speaks of a bold engineering spirit – ill-fitting to snoop on other people’s affairs but rather suitable to reach out across borders and exchange ideas on new technologies (like transistors, for example). A kind of “light bulb” moment makes me shake off the repelling spy v. spy stories, may they rest in silence. Instead, I can detect some of the former engineer’s mind in the exhibition and curiously turn to the rows of varied vacuum tubes: Here, the industrial, social and political heritage of a past era has become tangible and alive in a very human way!


(2) Heritage of Loss – A Microwave Brontosaurus

Local identity and collective memories

Industrial spaces witness the profound impact of technical activities on people’s socio-economic history and presence. The uniqueness of the heritage left over to future generations reveals a lot about the local process of industrial change. Somehow, each site carries the value of a specific local memory. It’s present not only in the industrial space and environmental background, but just the same in contents, mechanical or technical equipment, in the industrial landscape, its architecture and literature. The everyday lives of different groups of people are ‘recorded’ in the industrial heritage and since everyday life is necessarily attached to a certain place, a kind of local identity clings to the site, even if decades have passed. Some exhibits in the ‘working’ museum Industriesalon Schöneweide, the historical centre of a once large-scale, most modern electronics industry on the outskirts of Berlin, very strongly convey such collective memories and a feeling of local identity.

A Microwave Brontosaurus

Developed in the mid-sixties, this GDR (1) microwave oven was produced towards the end of the sixties. It turned out to be the only GDR prototype – just 140 microwaves ever left the production halls. They were used in restaurants and canteen kitchens.

Microwave Dinosaur

(1) GDR-German Democratic Republic

Using electron tubes in a microwave oven

The microwave oven was manufactured in a state-owned GDR enterprise, VEB Elektrowärme Sörnewitz. The bulky, head-high oven consists of a cooking cabinet and a large chamber for power supply. The electron tubes were produced at VEB Fernsehelektronik, a factory for television electronics.

How To Use My Microwave

Those were high-voltage rectifier tubes and magnetrons, initially being “by- products” of a GDR developing program for radar technology. The heat required is generated by the transformation of magnetic field energy into thermal energy within the food product to be heated or cooked.

Besucherzentrum Industriesalon Schöneweide e.V.,Reinbeckstr.9, 12459 Berlin

(1) Heritage of Loss


Industrial heritage – understanding loss and digging into future!

Industrie Luftschloss

Industrial sites shape landscapes into settlements and communities. Where there used to be nature, agriculture or wasteland you find buildings, plants, architecture, machinery, products, transport, housing – all of which develops like an island sputtered up from the ocean of man’s industrial and commercial instincts. An island that is projected into the future and based on change. If you visit abandoned plants and look at the material remains of former industries, you’ll often sense the massive loss which their decomposition means.

Industrie Kunstschlaf

On the vast site of former AEG Schöneweide in Berlin-Treptow, where on rural grounds the industrial empire of AEG rose and collapsed in the course of little more than a century, you may find a sleeping giant. He was left behind in the industrial detritus. In his sleep he looks decrepit and promising at the same time, being sheltered under a neatly painted inscription from our days. The lines “Gib der Kunst Raum, dann wird sich die Schönheit ihrer Seele frei entfalten” (1) sounds like the beginning of an elegy addressed to ancient Greek ruins. The words deny the reality of industrial collapse and instead speak of art, beauty and unfolding of souls. As if the strong sense of abandonment, which is still omnipresent here, has miraculously given way to a new space for people to get started again, differently.

(1) “Lend space to art so that it may unfold the beauty of its soul in freedom”

Industriegebiet Kaisersteg

The ruins of social change are unlikely to raise romantic outbursts as those from ancient days do, particularly not so in affluent modern societies. Maybe the reason lies in the anonymity of the relics. We don’t see the people who once worked the plant but disintegrating industrial material. Moreover, these industrial leftovers are a shameful reminder of social defeat. Adaptive re-use didn’t work out, abandonment became inevitable and now decay has taken over. But however “marooned in time, we should understand that ruins have a value” (2) so that they can remind future generations of a “common wealth” which brought about products, skills and knowledge just as well as work identification and social progress.
Kaisers Neue Kleider
So, there are riches in the detritus which the former industrial community has left behind. If the ruins stay, future generations will have the opportunity of digging for them. Obviously, there are enough people who know that they don’t need the deception of the emperor’s new clothes and who get started with genuinely new projects. Walking about on the former industrial sites of Schöneweide you get a feeling that although the past is not yet over some digging into the future has already begun.
Industrie Kunsthallen


Former industrial communities – “(…) these are the nameless people. Our job is to pierce their anonymity so that future generations may understand their extraordinary achievements.The future of these working places is in our hands; to preserve for posterity, to recycle for tomorrow,
or to leave alone so that future generations can make choices for themselves based on our prudence and their values and judgments. We have a choice over whether it is treasure or trash.” (3)
Neil Cossons, Industrial Heritage: Treasure or Trash, Abstract for TICCIH (2), (3)

Glimpses from a backyard

No-one coming_strong colour

St. Mary’s backyard is hibernating in faded colours, with some red flower heads left on a small Fuchsia and violet cabbage leaves in an oval metal tub. An empty terracotta amphora is, of course, no such thing as a Grecian urn but simply a fancy flower pot waiting for the next planting season. Still, the weathered tin can bears the looks of a “foster-child of silence and slow time”. While looking at the gardening remnants, the old church-stones, the climbing creeper, the black cast iron fence and the doorknob of the open gate I am transfixed in a kind of profane eternity: Here I am in St. Mary’s backyard!

Nobody enters, the world is kept outside. Once in while, a mini story is passing by like that…

Blue Cart_ coloured

… blue cart, drawn or pushed by an unseen hand and…

Cyclist Fast-coloured

…a hotfoot cyclist pushing the pedals …

Reading Lady_strong colour

… or a reading lady nearly bumping into a bluish shadow behind the creepers…

Tall Man_coloured

… but not coming across the tall man lost in thought who isn’t noticing…

hurried cyclists

… those two hurried fellows whooshing past!







(3) Midway To Somewhere New

Refugees, staying here

Politicians are doing theoretical forward and backwards rolls, communication media indulge in reports  from the ‘front line’ of the refugee crisis and a roused public opinion is hovering  through the streets and sounds like: Watch out, when it comes through your door! Then, there is the people. Just like you and me they have come across the refugees at stations, in front of registration centres or in tents on some operating space. You meet them when you go to work or do your errands or just buy a newspaper. Gradually, you find yourselves in a noticeably changed reality, in a new social role as hosts to a large number of displaced people in your own country. Those huddled masses from TV have arrived right here. You will have to share your lives with them, somehow. How is that to be accomplished? How to encounter these foreigners, dramatically cut off from relatives, friends, values, food, shelter and finding themselves without any resources in our society. How to include the devastating experience of these people’s terrible losses into our own everyday but nonetheless urgent necessities? Obviously, we have to make room for something new and we have to grow something which is eatable. No need to turn away from this unfamiliar challenge, we’ll accomplish something wholesome.

Plant and grow

Growing bags in Berlin garden

Why have I ever come here, to this cold, hostile station concourse with its flashy noises and hundreds of pushy people hastening past. I can’t call out to them and I don’t want to, either. I am like a stone, on this cold floor, with the child asleep in my arms in a thermo fleece blanket. Don’t step on me. I am like the beggar on the steps of historic Al Hejaz station, that beggar who I would give some money, when I passed by once in a while. I haven’t gone there for years. They told me there was an explosion which killed a dozen of workers, and others, too. Nobody will sit on those stairs any longer. And who am I now? I couldn’t tell the Egyptian lady who came up to me an hour ago and spoke to me with a kind summer voice. She talked to me in Egyptian Arabic. She looked neat and nice, I would have liked her if I had met her somewhere else. She wanted to give me money, at least for the child, she said pitifully. I know, we look needy, messed-up and miserable after the ordeals of the journey but I don’t want people to notice. I wanted to shout at her. I don’t need your money, no, no, keep it!  Don’t look at me! Turn away from us and put your purse back into your handbag, please do! But she insisted, talking patiently, pleading with me that at least she could buy some food. Please tell me what you want, she said, pointing at the shops in the main station. I was infuriated. Who am I to take food from an Egyptian woman, that I don’t know, and who is not even a native on this alien ground. Then, suddenly, she caught my gaze and stopped me in my fury. She said that her name was Dalal. I answered that I didn’t need money but that I needed prayers. And I begged her to pray to God for the people who I left behind. Promise, I demanded. She bent down, stroked my shoulder and promised, using the right words. Her smiling eyes were wet and I wished she could have stayed with me for some more minutes. When she walked away through the large hall I followed her with my eyes. She moved forward steadfastly, with firm steps. Somebody I got to know by name in this strange place, Dalal.

(2) Seeking Refuge

Staying somewhere

We live in a society where the term wandering is connected to individual freedom. Having in mind  an independent seeker of new paths we don’t realize that those tens of thousands, who have been crossing European borders for more than two months, are wanderers seeking for a new living space. What we see are refugees. The TV camera which is following the endless trek of people from the height of a noisy helicopter, tries to convey the whole picture, the vast, global  dimension of a human situation – the refugee crisis. But not even for one single person from that mass of asylum-seekers could we tell how his displacement took place in the beginning or could we foresee how it will be settled in the end. No, we just watch migrant masses who seem to belong nowhere and need to stay somewhere. These images make us shake our heads in resignation: Too many people to be helped, too much asked of me and you, too big a challenge to be coped with. And such is our refugee crisis: we are utterly helpless in the midst of a good life.

Menta Cubana (Mentha Crispa)

Mentha Spicata Var. Crispa (Nana Mint)

I have arrived here in the middle of the night. These are our night lodgings, with two separate big rooms, like camping dorms, taking about 80 to 90 mattresses, no beds. In the lighted entrance hall there is water, cold food, hot beverages, some chairs to sit down for a while before you take a one-way blanket from an elderly refugee helper and find yourself a mattress in one of the darkened dorms. I am with my younger brother. We need to shower and are handed out cleaning utensils, tooth brushes, towels. Everything is stored in open shelves or on tables, so it’s easy to communicate, even without the young male refugee helpers who acted as interpreters and have taken us here from the train station. I look at the piles of towels in the shelf and point at a voluminous red bathing towel right at the bottom of the pile. The woman understands, smiles and takes it out for me. When my brother, who is ahead of me, discovers my red towel he returns to the woman and switches his blue towel for another red one. He makes me laugh, my brother. We wash and shave in the gym showers of a neighbouring school in the backyard. In the last days of the trekking I have grown a beard which is hard to shave off. Some time after my brother and the other men are already back to the night camp I am finally done. I look good, healthier, even though I’ve cut my skin with the unfamiliar shaver. Back in the entrance hall I deposit my used shaving things in a blue garbage bag. A woman standing near looks at me, as if startled. Perhaps she worries about the bleeding cut at my chin. I wave something like ‘no problem’ to her and go to sleep. The mint taste which is still in my palate from the toothpaste reminds me of refreshing nana-tea which at home we used to have after dinner.

(1) Lost And Displaced

Taking Roots

‘Displaced’ – such a harmless, totally painless term. Safely tucked away behind this word are millions of repeated stories of uncountable separations from homes, land, family and friends. Manifold stories of uprootings which means moving to a relative or neighbour, dwelling in the shells of destroyed buildings or, ultimately, fleeing across borders to unknown places.

Whatever it is people carry along, it needs to take roots and give comfort at some other place so that you can recover with its familiar taste.



Mentha suaveolens (apple-mint)

A picture of what I left behind pops into my mind  and stays there, sending circular waves of feelings. A leaf of apple-scented mint in a warm terracotta container, with some dry crumbs of root web which probably a bird has been pecking up. In the early hours of the morning I sit down with a plastic cup of tea which is strongly sweetened, exactly the way it should be. The children are still asleep in the dorm.

Oxford Special – Ancient footprints, a retired fox and having carrot cake with a big spider (Part 4)

Let There Be Dinosaurs!

On this rainy day your first glance doesn’t fall on the lawn you are crossing but on the entrance of Oxford University Museum of Natural Science, the OUM, which is your friends’ favourite museum in Oxford and surroundings. They ardently assure you that there are few better ways to spend a day in Oxford than a visit to the OUM. Its holdings – which run into millions of specimens – include a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and a stuffed imitation DODO which provided some of the inspiration for Oxford’s most famous child and book, namely Alice in Wonderland. But right now, your friends somewhat hesitate as if they were waiting for some kind of emotional reaction from you. What am I supposed to do, you think, and follow their eyes’ direction. You see them staring purposefully at the lawn and, politely you, too, turn your attention to the grassy visiting card of the famed museum. Well, the grass is green, even today, and all in all, the turf looks well-groomed which is exactly what you expect from such a prominent British lawn. But then you gasp in horror – one, two, no, a legion of irregular, large mud-holes are meandering across the turf right towards you. What the heck has happened here? Has OUM sacked the gardener and he took a cruel revenge?

Ancient Footprints

Jurassic Footprints

Instantly you are set right! To talk of mud-holes when you actually, eh, at least spiritually, watch a dinosaur striding across OUM’s lawn – blasphemy! What you really see are the giant footprints of Megalosaurus, Oxford’s very own and very special dinosaur!

The fossils, including the Megalosaurus jaw, which is also held in the Museum’s collection, were found in a quaint quarry just outside Oxford. The ancient prints which today span the lawn in front of the museum are modern casts from the fossilised trackway that Megalosaurus bucklandii,  a three-toed carnivore, left some 166-168 million years ago when he roamed the lagoons of Jurassic Oxfordshire! You immediately fall in love with the muddy footsteps and enter the museum in high spirits.

Dinosaurs and Ironworks

Dinosaurs and Ironworks

Dinosaurs in Ironwork Jungle

The architecture of the place is breathtaking. Entering the main court, you first notice how very high and light the structure is, like the nave of an enormous gothic church, but relieved from the weight of stony pillars. Instead, the vaulted glass roof is held aloft by an elaborate system of cast and wrought ironwork, the modern building material of the 19th century. The slender pillars are artfully decorated with botanical ornamentation –  a fanciful iron jungle for Megalosaurus and his relatives!


It is reported that John Ruskin, famous builder of the Museum of Natural History, was so taken with the neo-gothic, ironwork architecture that he visited the new OUM every day just to admire the beauty of the place – such as people have done since then unto nowadays.

Iron Jugngle

Iron Beauty


Please Touch!

There are fierce animals and lovable ones! The OUM is free of charge and offers fabulous educational programmes, no wonder that the main court is brimming with voices and happy activities of children and parents. Similarly, the outstanding touch-and-feel areas are enjoyed by children and adults alike. Right at the entrance desk a ‘retired’ fox is so adorable that you want to stroke it as much as all the kids do! My friend relates the story of a girl who came for weeks and months just to give this fox his daily cuddle. Surprising, that the soft and silky coat isn’t worn down by all the pettingAdorable Fox.











Lovable Retired Fox

Lovable Fox!


Spiders and columns with your carrot cake

The museum cafe is situated on the upper gallery which is overlooking the dinosaurs in the main court and which lifts your body and mind up into the spheres of pure bliss. Take a seat at one of the wooden tables along the stonework of the first-floor gallery  and admire the neo-gothic arcade and the column chiseled from decorative rock that is right next to you. Each of these columns, which are surrounding the court on the ground floor as well as the first-floor galleries, was made from a different kind of British rock. Each of their capitals and corbels are intricately carved with flora and fauna, beautiful lessons in geology, botany, masonry, art, history… and in inspiration. You could spend hours of inspecting the stones if there were not the big spider right next to your coffee pot. Don’t worry, she just wants to watch, I am assured, and I happily share the delicious coating of the carrot cake with my human friends, only!

Big Spider and Carrot Cake

Friendly Spider and Decorative British Rock



The Urban Spectacle

Noah Feeding Pidgeons

City Voices V

Nouh is feeding his pigeons

At the end of the market day the streets of the shuk are covered with chunks of fruit and organic garbage – the daily mess  after the last sales have been made and the crowd is gone. Nouh has sifted through what can be used tomorrow again and stored away remaining merchandise. The men in the shuk have cleared the trash and heaped it up so that the dumpster can suck it in easily and remove the chaos. Then a stream of water will wash away Nouh’s work day.

Now, he is taking a break from the shadows of the shuk and goes outside to feed his pigeons with some remnants of the market day.

Nouh breathes the scent from the sea and welcomes his pigeons, the ancient and streetwise messengers of day and night.