Berlin, Open Monument Day 2018 – and I finally have time to join one of the free guided tours. In the program, a guided tour to a place that I would not have seen as a monument jumps into my eye.
But since December 2017, the Schlangenbader Strasse highway superstructure has been a listed building. A good reason to take a closer look at the building.
Why did they build a house over the urban highway?
After the Wall was built, housing was scarce in West Berlin. The construction of a few large housing estates on the outskirts of the city (e.g. Märkisches Viertel) led to an initial improvement in the situation, but was far from sufficient. Planning ideas emerged for densifying housing in the districts. One of the many opportunities for this presented itself in the district of Wilmersdorf, when the route of the city freeway was to be extended in the direction of Steglitz.
A residential complex was planned above the highway. This was to solve 5 problems that arose from the urban planning point of view due to the construction of the highway extension:
- Noise pollution from cars could be reduced for the existing development.
- Exhaust pollution should be reduced.
- The freeway would disappear from the view of residents due to the overlay.
- Site fragmentation by the freeway would be prevented by the freeway overlay. Public passageways were to provide relief.
- The housing over the freeway saved valuable building land.
About the freeway superstructure Schlangenbader Straße Berlin
In 1970/71, construction work began in Berlin on the A104 city highway in the direction of Steglitz. The plans for the superstructure were concretized during this period. At that time, there were no models to which the architects, structural engineers and civil engineers could have oriented themselves. So plans had to be drawn up for vibration transmission, sound insulation, emission insulation and, since the highway was to be built over, spans and load transfer had to be analyzed in detail.
The planners had an area of 44,000 m² at their disposal, which was to be designed with residential units, local recreation and leisure/shopping facilities. The result was a 600-meter-long highway superstructure that was built from 1976 to 1980 on behalf of degewo. The construction costs at the time were around DM 400 million.
On the way at the “snake”
We Berliners just call the Schlangenbader Strasse freeway superstructure the “snake”. We explore the area around and also in the “snake” during a free guided tour conducted by degewo and an employee of the Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments.
The first thing you notice is that the building is not quite straight. The highway makes a slight curve and the building was adapted to the course of the road. For this purpose, the main elements of the building are interrupted at kink points, where the staircases are located.
Standing in front of the house you can see that it is divided into three areas. First, a lower area with a terraced base, then an area with terraces and maisonettes, and finally a facade with window elements. In each of these areas different types and sizes of apartments are rented.
The fourth floor forms a pulled-out edge and is at the eaves level of the surrounding buildings.
That a highway runs under this house, one may not believe from this point of view. You can’t hear a highway either! The concept of sound and noise minimization seems to work well.
One sees also no freeway! The tunnel entrances are pulled out about 50 meters and thus start in front of the building complex.
The garden concept around the snake was included in the planning at that time. The result was a facility that caters to residents of all ages – there are children’s play areas, quiet park benches and, above all, lots of plants. A special feature for the time, extra areas were even created as dog toilets. About 500 large trees were transplanted here during the design. Today, a small green oasis lies between the residential buildings, which is gladly used.
On the road in the “snake”
I admit, I could not really imagine the development after the exterior inspection. But that was to change when we got into the building.
In the underground parking garage, we were shown a plan that made it clear to me where I was – under the freeway!
Here we could hear the cars driving very quietly over the expansion joints of the concrete slabs. But that was also the only sound you could hear. The tubes of the highway rest on special rubber pads on pillars. These reduce vibrations and the transmission of noise.
Directly above the tunnel tubes is the 4th floor of the “snake”. In the planning at that time, it was planned to use this floor as a communication level. Offers for the residents were to be set up here, e.g. meeting points for children and young people, hobby rooms. The concept did not work out as intended and so some of the rooms have been converted into apartments.
During the tour, we were led through some areas of the Schlangenbader Straße freeway superstructure. It was very interesting to peek into an apartment and to have a look at the district from the community terrace and the otherwise inaccessible roof on the 13th floor.
Many questions were asked by the participants, mostly about construction planning, financing and preservation.
I found little stories on the side much more interesting. Imagine, for example:
There are about 1700 residential units (main building + perimeter development) in the “snake”. After the completion of the construction phase, people naturally wanted to move into their new apartments as soon as possible. In order to avoid chaos on the site, only 2 days per month were released for moving in. Always 40 housing units could then be moved into. In this way, the building slowly filled up with residents, but the moves were able to proceed in a reasonably orderly fashion.
The Schlangenbader Strasse freeway superstructure is a piece of architectural history in Berlin that I had not previously perceived in this way. For me, it was always a house over the highway that I had to drive through. It was very interesting to learn about everything behind the construction and I admit, at some points the flood of information almost overwhelmed me. It’s good that you can read up on some things and, above all, that you can always discover the building from the outside at your leisure.