Applaud Friends, the Comedy is Over – Eierkühlhaus

by Alexander Collin

The Eierkühlhaus in Berlin is currently being renovated once again. Its website claims it has been in continuous use since it was first opened in 1929, and while this is technically true it has been frequently punctuated by renovations. Most were minor, but when it converted from the oversized refrigerator its name suggests to the headquarters of Universal Music Germany in 2002, it lost something. Personally, I think what it lost was its sense of humor.

Large bare brick structures like the Kühlhaus do not feature prominently in Berlin. Neither the Modernists nor the GDR’s architects used it. The Osthafen area where the Eierkühlhaus stands is something of an anomaly with its numerous brick buildings; e.g. Warschauer Straße U-bahn station and the BASF tower to name just two conspicuous examples. The most famous brick clad structure in the area is the Oberbaum Brücke which spans the river just beside the Eierkühlhaus. As such one might suggest that the choice of material was just the architect [1] responding to the setting of this design.

This sensitivity point rather evaporates though when one notices what he does with the bricks. The redbrick decoration of the station and other buildings around it is not dissimilar to northern English towns like Manchester or Newcastle which, like Berlin, transformed into industrial metropolises during the industrial revolution. The Eierkülhaus refuses to get on board with this shift and instead does something quite bizarre: it imitates a renaissance palace. Its resemblance to Venice’s Palazzo ducale is so striking that I’m convinced it is intentional.

The resemblance isn’t total of course, but it’s close enough that the intent is clear. The kinds of daiperwork brick lozenges employed in both are common enough in brick buildings, but the red-brown on yellow colour scheme is unusual. And though the pillars on which the lozenge box rests are very different in both, the formal similarity is enough to suggest the palace without the expense and impracticality of imitating it. In fact, it is exactly this approximate aping of the palace which makes the Kühlhaus so likable.

[1] The identity of the architect is not entirely clear, most sources record the design as being by Dresden architect Oskar Pusch, however, some also name the more famous Bruno Paul as responsible. Given Paul’s background as a satirist it might be fitting that he was the designer of a building as conceptually amusing as the Eierkühlhaus.

All Images by Nichole Wong 

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