NotMs Parker pays tribute to the 19th century architect who built over half of Berlin’s U-Bahn stations…
Despite his works filling the streets of Berlin (both over- and underground), urban designer and architect Alfred Grenander remains unknown to most of the city’s residents and visitors. Yet he was responsible for over half of Berlin’s 173 U-Bahnhöfe (U Bahn stations), many of which were – and still are, in some cases – the finest the city has ever seen.
A Swede who lived and worked in Berlin for most of this life, Grenander was a member and co-founder of the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation) – an association of architects, designers and engineers who believed in a holistic approach to modern design as well in promoting a closer relationship between the industry and the designers – and a protege of Dutch architect and interior designer Henry van de Velde.
As well as creating famed stations such as Wittenbergplatz, Alexanderplatz, Platz der Luftbrücke, Deutsche Oper (formerly Bismarckstrasse), Eberswalder Strasse (formerly Danziger Strasse), the newer Kottbusser Tor (opened in 1928 after the old station was demolished for the U8) and Hermannplatz – which boasted three levels and two lines as well as direct access to the once biggest department store in Europe, Karstadt am Hermannplatz, an architectural masterpiece in itself – Grenander also designed some of the train carriages for the lines he helped build, and invented the colour-coding (Kennfarben) on the underground system that we all still use today.
Other of his structures can still be seen in Berlin, from the immense Knorr-Bremse AG, a sprawling red-brick factory complex near Ostkreuz that cleverly mixes Art Nouveau and Modernist design, and two of his Zeitungskioske (newsagent’s kiosks) – one at Savignyplatz in Charlottenburg and another, today used as a small kebab shop, Kreuzberg’s at Heinrichplatz – that were once described by critic Ernst Schur as “little gems in the hustle and bustle of the streets” that twinkle “like little Japanese gateways”.
Indeed, most experts and critics of the day found themselves reaching for superlatives – “elegant”, “exciting”, “graceful”, even “magical” – to describe Grenander’s works, and when he died on the 14 July, 1931 (83 years ago yesterday), he was mourned by the majority of the populace.
Fortunately, the city has not totally forgotten him, either. In June 2009 the previously nameless little square in front of another one of Grenander’s masterpieces, the U-Bahnhof Krumme Lanke, was given the name of Alfred-Grenander-Platz.
And in 2013, to celebrate the architect’s 150th birthday and the Grenanderjahr in Berlin, the former BVG Office Building on the corner of Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse and Dircksenstrasse in Berlin-Mitte was officially named “Grenanderhaus” (the U-Bahn station nearby, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz or “Schönhauser Tor” when opened in 1913 was also Grenander’s work).
Since many of Grenander’s original stations were destroyed in the war, or have since been otherwise modified, we have raided historical archives to find images of the originals. But some of his works still exist intact – and his U-Bahn colour schemes certainly do – so don’t be surprised if you recognise some of the below…