The Bierpinsel, Berlin 04.07.16

berlin

A 1970s landmark that was left to rot is being pulled back into the city’s consciousness

Drivers entering Berlin from the south may worry that they’ve ended up on an airport runway. The 47-metre height of the Bierpinsel glares down over the surrounding highways like a comical control tower, curiously at odds with its hyper-normal surroundings.

Opened in 1976 with the rather dry title of “Tower Restaurant Steglitz”, it became the dominant landmark in the locality, loved and hated for its bold aesthetics and smooth concrete. Its architects, Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte, also blessed it with a rather flashy red paint job.

People had firm views about what they felt it resembled – a shaving brush (“pinsel”) – and about its major contributions to an area better known for its retail offerings – the view and, of course, the beer (“bier”). Back then, this was dozy West Berlin, a happy island of capitalism. Sitting in one of the restaurants or cafes spread over three floors, you could peek over at socialist East Germany. Locals still recall family gatherings for Sunday lunch, and children loved the fact that they could run round the circular space.

But somehow the tower lost its relevance post-1989. Abandoned warehouses in the east of the city became the new places to hang out. The Bierpinsel innkeepers changed frequently and the building slowly fell into decay, finally closing in 2002. Locals were a bit sad, but shrugged and went on. The red paint faded.

Few were aware of the Bierpinsel’s architectural importance beyond its intricate entanglement with the highway bridge and metro below – the whole ensemble would collapse with the removal of one element. In 2010, its co-owner, Larissa Zeichhardt, initiated the Turmkunst project in the belief that Steglitzers shared her unhappiness about the dormancy of their local landmark. She commissioned graffiti artists to cover it with huge, colourful faces, and people began looking up again. Water damage is holding up the planned reopening of restaurants, but Steglitzers may soon be toasting their monument with a new glass of beer.

 

Words

Bernhard Clemm

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