Phantom Architecture is a series focusing on vanished buildings, both in Berlin and further afield.
Among the many buildings currently or formerly owned by Berlin’s Technische Universität (TU) are several colorful curiosities, including the Schiffbau, which rises above the Landwehrkanal at the Tiergarten’s western edge (and had a brief cameo in the cult film The Apple) and the 60s-era megaliths surrounding Ernst-Reuter-Platz, spanning blocks apiece and often covered in monochrome metal siding. For decades, a lesser-known (but equally colorful) structure sat somewhat north of the campus’ gravitational center, at the far northern end of Englische Strasse on the banks of the Spree.
TU sold the eponymously-named 20 Englische Strasse to the Irish investment group Cannon Kirk, who announced its demolition to make way for a housing development called Englische Gärten. After the sale, though, it sat empty for several years, and was eventually occupied by activists in late 2015, who demanded it be used to house the increasing numbers of homeless refugees in Berlin (article here, in German). On September 10th, police evicted all protesters, and soon after, demolition of the building began in earnest.
The following images, comparing the building in its pre- and mid-demolition states, are from November 2014 and February 2016, respectively.
20 Englische Strasse, looking west from the Wullenweber footbridge. November, 2014.
The same view in February 2016.
In its current state, the building has the unsettling look of a partially-consumed animal carcass. Its bright orange tiles have been stripped off like fishscales, exposing the stark metal sinews of former electrical wiring beneath.
Northeast entrance, November 2014.
Northeast entrance, February 2016.
Northeast stairwell, November 2014.
Northeast stairwell, February 2016.
North wall, November 2014.
North wall, February 2016.
The police action on September 10th was filmed from various vantage points. Below are several stills of video from Wullenwebersteg, the footbridge that crosses the Spree just east of the building.
Police in riot gear approach activists on the roof of Englishche Strasse 20 on September 10th, 2015. Credit: left report via YouTube
Video still: Marcus Staiger of the BBB gives an interview on Wullenwebersteg on September 10th, 2015, with Englische Strasse 20 in the background. Credit: left report via YouTube
To a person looking at the building’s half-destroyed northern wall from the banks of the river, the late-winter sun shining through the windows gives the uncanny impression that the structure is still occupied.
Though a few still cling stubbornly to a stray corner or window, most of the thousands of orange tiles that once gave the building its distinctive color are piled unceremoniously on the muddy, mossy ground that surrounds it.
Since little information about the building’s history is readily available, it’s possible the building’s vivid orange tiles could contain uranium-based paint. However, while eating food off of vintage orange dishware is not recommended, the general consensus seems to be that the mere presence of a mildly radioactive plate – or a plate sized souvenir – is hardly cause for concern.