I certainly wasn’t expecting raccoons at Funkhaus Grünau when I was looking for traces of Russian radio presenters. I didn’t know they even existed in Germany, but have since found out that raccoons have made themselves at home here, much like the Russians did before them. Of course the raccoons are North American, further proof – if needed – of who won the Cold War.
Long before they spun their records – the Russians, not the raccoons – rowers and riverhogs used to splash about here on the banks of the River Dahme when it began life as a boathouse.
It was built on a site spanning almost 7,500 square meters to plans by architect Otto Zbrzezny between 1929-30, when it became the last in a long line of impressive boathouses along the Regattastraße. There had been a tradition of watersport in Grünau for the previous 130 years.
Owned by the Dresdner Bank, which took over in 1934, the later “Funkhaus” was the largest rowing and recreation center in Germany at the time, according to the Berliner Zeitung. But of course its destiny changed with the war. Everything did.
The German Wehrmacht took over in 1940 to use it as a back-up military hospital. It was damaged toward the end of the war as fighting took its toll, not that that’s surprising.
The occupying Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD), which was headquartered in Karlshorst, took over and decreed that its boating days were definitely over. It had had its last splash – radio was the way to go. Boat sheds were converted to classrooms, barracks emerged and the large two story-high ballroom was converted into recording studios.
The Soviets had set up the Berliner Rundfunk in 1945 and an editorial team began broadcasting from the former Grünau boathouse and its neighbor in September 1946. Radio programs were also produced for stations in Leipzig, Dresden, Schwerin, Magdeburg and Weimar.
Initially, Berliner Rundfunk broadcast from Haus des Rundfunks in Charlottenburg, in the British sector, so that wasn’t going to last. The Allies played hard ball and started hampering Soviet broadcasting efforts.
Meanwhile, the SMAD handed the Grünau radio studios to the East Germans in May 1948. It was henceforth known as Funkhaus Grünau, and it played an important role as a back-up broadcasting facility when the Allies’ meddling became more intrusive at Haus des Rundfunks.
East Germany set up its broadcasting school here in 1951. But it remained important for political reasons. Berliner Rundfunk operated from Grünau for a few months in 1952, before Funkhaus Nalepastraße was constructed. The new Funkhaus later became the headquarters for Rundfunk der DDR. Most journalists had moved from Grünau to Nalepastraße by 1956.
In 1956-57 the “Freiheitssender 904” program was broadcast from Funkhaus Grünau in response to the banning of the West German Communist Party (KPD). It was supposed to be the “voice of opposition” to West German policies.
Mostly though, it educated aspiring broadcasters with faces made for radio. They learned the pitfalls of radio technology and training was provided right up to the end of 1991.
Twinkle-toed TV people had also mixed with the radio stars going back as far as 1960. A former broadcasting hall upstairs served as a rehearsal room for the Deutsches Fernsehballett (German Television Ballet), also up to the end of 1991.
The previous owner, Neuköllner Bildungswerk, filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and the Funkhaus was put up for auction. It was snapped up by Hamburg asset management company EHP in March 2008 for €655,000.
In 2012 the artists moved in, playing their dutiful but unwitting role as shepherds of gentrification. They did some pretty cool stuff, anti-fashion shows, a “Schrottregatta,” workshops, and some of the art is wonderful, but they’re not lucrative to speculators in the long run. Kunterfunk e.V. had two good summers before getting turfed out toward the end of 2013.
“They were 1½ intensive years that none of us would have missed,” the group wrote. “People came together and created magical things, dreams and ideas were realized and an architectural monument was resurrected. We’ll always have it in our hearts.”
There had been complaints from the posh neighbors, outraged behind their tall gates, and of course an asset management company will listen to money. It was only a matter of time before they turfed the artists out anyway.
But it’s typical Berlin, reminiscent of the story behind Tacheles. For once an abandoned building had found a good use. Money objected, and now it’s abandoned again, at least for the period of time before the inevitable apartments take over.
Now there’s just the raccoon. It won’t be long before he has to make way too. Funkhaus Grünau is over and out.
LOCATION AND ACCESS (HOW TO FIND GUIDE)
- What: Funkhaus Grünau, former boathouse, then military hospital, then broadcaster, then artist workshop space, now home to a raccoon.
- Where: Regattastraße 277, Grünau, 12527 Berlin, Germany.
- How to get there: Get the S-Bahn to Grünau and then either cycle, walk or get the tram from there. Tram 68 will bring you more or less to the door if you get off at Regattastr./Sportpromenade (Berlin). You’ll need to walk on a few meters and you’ll see it on your left. Jaysus, I nearly forgot the map! Here it is.
- Getting in: On the first visit it was the front door. I* pushed it and it opened. On the second visit it was locked, meaning someone had bolted it from the inside. On the last visit I wasn’t able to get in at all.
- When to go: Daytime, preferably a nice sunny evening so you can have a picnic by the riverbank. It’s lovely. I presume it’s lovely at night too. But if you go beforehand you can explore in daylight and settle back to watch the sun set over Berlin. Best of both worlds.
- Difficulty rating: 8/10. The main difficulty now is getting in.
- Who to bring: Girlfriend/boyfriend to enjoy one of Berlin’s most romantic locations. Just make sure they’re not allergic to raccoons.
- What to bring: I’ve no idea what raccoons eat. Maybe a few biscuits. Better bring beer, I suppose. If the raccoon won’t drink it you will. Whatever you do, bring a bottle of wine, a camera and a torch.
- Dangers: Watch out for nosy neighbors. There’s a gated community nearby; they probably have a direct line to the Polizei. Their lives are dependent on Recht und Ordnung, as indeed many small-minded minds are. High walls, video phones. Wouldn’t you know it – video killed the radio star.
Many thanks to Monica for the tip and Mark Rodden for his copy-editing skills!
Kraftwerk Vogelsang is a powerless power plant. People gave their lives building it and fighting over it. Now that they’re gone, nobody wants it at all.
Wünsdorf was the Soviet military forces’ HQ in Germany, Little Moscow, the Forbidden City. The Nazis used it before that for their underground army HQ.
Vogelsang still clings to its nuclear secrets. One sneaky deployment of bad weapons was so damned secret it was even kept from the Soviet soldiers involved.