Walrus in a tutu
Perhaps the weirdest of all Berlin’s weird buildings, abandoned or otherwise, is the fantastically fucked up looking Bierpinsel in Steglitz. It sticks out of the cityscape like a walrus in a tutu, though at least the walrus still sings, goo goo g’joob.
The Bierpinsel ain’t singing anymore but its architects must have been on the same drugs John Lennon was when he composed “I Am The Walrus.”
I am he as you are he as you are me and they were husband and wife duo Ralph Schüler und Ursulina Schüler-Witte. They also “designed” the hideous ICC conference center in Westend. Apparently, the ICC had as much asbestos in it as Palast der Republik. But of course only the GDR’s showpiece was torn down.
I digress. Let’s stick to the brutalist Bierpinsel, so called by grateful Steglitzers for the free beer that was served on opening day Oct. 13, 1976. It must have been quite a hooley, though not everyone was pleased.
“Hopefully when regular service is running, no beer cups will be thrown on pedestrians from the 30-meter-high balconies like yesterday,” an elderly local told der Tagesspiegel the next day. “The children had their fun with their projectiles, some still with beer, and the people below had every reason to be angry.”
But you can’t blame them for having a party. The first construction company that tried to give life to the crazy architects’ plans went bust in 1974 after blowing 5 million DM on the unfinished project. It was called the “Pleitebau” at time, which isn’t very encouraging.
The city-owned Bewoge took over in 1975 and finished the job, though it ended up being way over budget, with a 10.7 million DM loan coming from public funds. A local politician complained about taxpayers being misled by “vague formulations” – like a dog complaining about barking.
There were other mishaps with the construction stopping in 1975, visitors destroying a model of the construction at a summer party in 1976, and the fire services ruining all the furniture with water after a fire broke out due to a short circuit. So you can see why people might have gone a bit overboard (not literally, thankfully) for the eventual opening.
Apparently the Bierpinsel looks like a brush (pinsel), so its literal name is Beerbrush. It’s the strangest brush I’ve ever seen, set beside the motorway rudely cutting right through the center of Steglitz.
Now a giant multicolored mushroom, it was supposed to be a pop art icon of futuristic 1970s architecture. Construction took four years – not bad when you consider how high everyone must have been at the time, and I’m not referring to the Bierpinsel’s 47 meters.
It took a couple of years before anyone moved in after construction, but from 1978 it housed restaurants, cafés, pubs and even a discotheque over its four levels.
“The Bierpinsel was our problem child. The operating costs were enormous, and you had sympathy for the tenants,” said Hans-Jürgen Lindhorst, who was Bewoge chief from 1978 to 1998.
Lindhorst told Der Tagesspiegel that it was very difficult to heat the Bierpinsel in winter due to insufficient insulation, so the tenants’ money was literally going up in hot air. He remembered that the Turm Café was popular among old ladies with their dogs, though it also faced competition from cafés in the department stores Karstadt and Wertheim on Schlossstraße.
The Bierpinsel closed for renovations in 2002 before reopening the following year with Hep’s Bar und Discotheque, and Picker’s Sportsbar on the levels below the top-floor café.
According to der Tagesspiegel, Hertha Berlin players used to frequent the sports bar and “secretly” eat nachos there. Maybe it was the nacho-crazed players that wrote “Hertha BSC” on the neighboring bridge. The Bierpinsel is deep in Hertha territory after all. Perhaps Hertha’s players gave it the kiss of death.
The sports bar closed in 2006 and the Bierpinsel never really recovered.
The only people who’ve been able to use it in recent years are the local drunks for bladder relief after a hard afternoon’s drinking. They should rename it the Pisspinsel. The smell is incredible.
Tita Laternser and her daughters Larissa and Tahnee bought the Bierpinsel in 2006 with great plans to resuscitate the run-down building. It was to be a brutalist beauty that Steglitz could be truly proud of. But none of the plans worked out. The city of Berlin maintains the lease on the land, meaning any use of the Bierpinsel needs to be approved first.
The Laternsers opened an art café on April Fools’ Day 2010 so that was never going to last. Not impressed with its 1970s-era red color, Larissa Laternser invited three international street artists to repaint the Bierpinsel as part of the Turmkunst project in 2010.
They covered the whole thing in 2,000 liters of paint, in all kinds of mad colors. It still looks good – more than a decade later. It was only supposed to be that way for a year, but this is Berlin, where nothing ever happens the way it’s supposed to.
The architects were also very unhappy with the street artists’ psychedelic work.
Meanwhile a water pipe burst due to frost and caused a lot of damage, leading to a years-long dispute with an insurance company over damages. The Laternsers said it wasn’t possible to repaint the Bierpinsel its original red as per the agreement they had with the city, as it wasn’t clear if the water damage also affected the façade. Façade being the operative word.
“It can work out if everyone works together,” Tita Laternser told the Berliner Zeitung. “But we don’t know yet whether we’ll manage it.”
The Berliner Zeitung reported in 2013 that the fancy ass Bar Tausend was interested in becoming a tenant. Meanwhile the Bierpinsel was granted Denkmalschutz (protected status) in 2017, and it also found some honest temporary work in the Netflix series “Dogs of Berlin.”
Evidently an appearance on the canine quiz show wasn’t enough to pay the bills, however. The Bierpinsel was offered for sale by the Sotheby’s auction house for €3.2 million from August 2017, though there were no takers. The city’s lease on the land probably didn’t help.
The Laternsers enlisted big-city investor Axel Bering, who made fame by turning Nazi holiday hotspot Prora on Rügen into luxury apartments, to help them realize their visions – any of them. Bering profused similar grand plans for the Bierpinsel as a “capsule hotel, office-to-go and sky-bar.” A pie in the sky bar, more like.
None of those highfalutin plans came to fruition either. The Immoma-Gruppe property investment group bought the Bierpinsel in September 2021. They plan to convert it for office use – someone should tell them about the pandemic – with the first floor reserved for events or gastronomy. They’ll need to repaint the Bierpinsel in its original red.
Immoma thinks the work will start in two years, with one-off cultural events taking place in the meantime, but of course we’ve all seen how these things go. The Laternsers also had great plans for the brutalist structure, and we know how they went.
Meanwhile, there is netting under the Bierpinsel, presumably to catch any bits of it that may fall off. Berlin, du bist so wunderbar.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Bierpinsel, aka Schloßturm, a hideously attractive multicolored mushroom with a troubled past and cloudy future.
- Where: Schloßstraße 17, 12163 Berlin, Germany
- How to get there: U-Bahnhof Schloßstraße is downstairs. The U9 goes here, though unless you live nearby the S-Bahn will probably be quicker. Get the S1 to Steglitz Rathaus, turn west out of the station, and take your first right onto Schloßstraße. The Bierpinsel is three or four blocks down on the left. You can’t miss it. Here’s a map to make sure you don’t.
- Getting in: It may be possible if it’s opened up for some of these one-off cultural events that have been promised. Keep your eyes and ears open for announcements. You can catch a glimpse of the cranes currently destroying the “protected” Schöneberg Gasometer if you do manage to get into the Bierpinsel. Otherwise you can always admire it from below, breathing in the pungent smell from the piss stains under your feet.
- When to go: Whenever you want. Go at night if you want to enjoy nighttime views of Steglitz, or earlier if your eyes can bear the sight of it in daylight.
- Difficulty rating: 9/10. It’s probably not impossible – nowhere is impossible – but still, it’s damned difficult to get in and certainly not worth risking life and limb for.
- Who to bring: Girlfriend/boyfriend for romantic views of, eh, Steglitz. Actually, maybe you should leave them at home.
- What to bring: Beer, lots of beer. It may be called the Bierpinsel but don’t be fooled, this ain’t no beer-anything. Decide how much beer you want to bring, and then bring more.
- Dangers: Don’t do anything crazy and you’ll be fine. You’ll be pretty high up obviously if you go to the top. Don’t do something stupid like try balance on a balcony wall for example. Otherwise there are just the usual dangers – nosy busybodies, passing Polizei, flying walruses…
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