A giant slab of concrete may not seem like an obvious attraction but it is how and why it came to be here that makes this monolith worth exploring.
This was to be the site of a triumphal arch so big that it is said that the Arc de Triomphe would fit within its opening.
It was in Matt Frei’s documentary, Berlin, for the BBC, which helped fuel my passion for the city ignited on my first visit, that I first learned of the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy load-bearing body) and Albert Speer.
Speer was the architect commissioned by Hitler and the Nazis to create an awe-inspiring and grand new city on a massive scale. This was to be Hitler’s Welthauptstadt Germania and the monumental arch on the site of the Schwerbelastungskörper would be its southern gateway.
The city was to be crossed by two grand avenues. The East-West axis of this cross was to be Strasse des 17 Juni. The North-South axis would cross it on its way to the Grosse Halle (Great Hall), another extravagantly colossal building. Though the plans for this boulevard were never realised the Siegessäule was moved from its original position near the Reichstag in preparation.
There were some concerns about the marshy soil of Berlin and whether it would be able to support the weight of the giant structures Hitler wanted to be built here. The Schwerbelastungskörper was laid so that measurements could be taken to show how much it sank into the ground.
The structure has a diameter of 21m. It rises 14m above ground and a further 18m is buried below the ground. This next photo gives a sense of scale.
The ground was to be deemed suitable if the concrete body sank less than 6cm. It sank 18cm but this wasn’t what put paid to Speer’s vision. Hitler dismissed the findings but his attention was diverted from his plans at home by his desire for war. So this concrete cylinder stands as a reminder of what might have been.
Standing atop the viewing platform alongside the stone looking back to the centre of Berlin gives a sense of the scale involved in Speer’s plans.
And a map on display here shows the locations of the key elements of the design.
Lying about inside and under the structure are a few bits of rusting old equipment that I spent as much time photographing as the slab itself.
If anybody knows what this is, please let me know in the comments.
The Schwerbelastungskörper is on the corner of Dudenstrasse and General-Pape-Strasse. The nearest U-Bahnhof is Platz der Luftbrücke and you can take the Bus 104 from outside the station to the stop at Kolonnenbrücke, though it is only a short walk.
The site is only open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Check the website for further details.
The photos in this post were taken over the course of two visits. The first in August 2010 and the second in May 2012.