Becoming silent green Kulturquartier
The former crematorium of Wedding is listed in Berlin as a historically protected building. Built between 1909 and 1910, it was the first crematorium in Berlin, and the third in the former Prussia. Its presence testifies to changing cultural norms around death in the modernised Germany of the early 20th century, whereby cremation became an alternative to burial as a funereal form.
This change reflected the work of numerous freethinker movements at the end of the 19th century, that resulted in crematoriums gradually being built all over Germany. Alongside civil marriages and undenominational education, the legal acceptance of cremation was one of the freethinker’s main goals. In the face of massive resistance from the established Church, the first cremation took place in the liberal duchy of Sachsen-Coburg and Gotha and thereafter became increasingly accepted as an expression of progress and secularisation.
The grounds of the Wedding crematorium was used as a municipal cemetery between 1828 and 1879. After a period of closure that lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, the Association for Cremation asked for permission to build a columbarium within the area, which was granted in 1908. Once official permission was granted for cremation in 1911, the columbarium was appended by two furnaces. In 1912 it reopened as a crematorium and started working under municipal administration.
17 metres in height, the cupola, which was once the mourning hall, is the heart of the building. Its outstanding characteristics are the octogonal floor plan and the mansard roof. Like the mourning hall itself, both of the adjacent wings of the building were columbaria, housing thousands of urns. Although the design of the building shows some influence of early christian architecture, religious motifs are rare, marking a departure from forms and symbols used by the church. Instead, the original terrazzo floor of the central mourning hall features a snake as a symbol of transformation, the courtyard entrance is guarded by two griffins and the crematorium’s main gate displays fire bowls. Ambiguous by design is the female figure above the mourning hall entrance, open to interpretation between antique goddess, the Virgin Mary, and a female temple servant.
Between 1993 and 1996 the crematorium was expanded with the building of a massive fully automatic underground mortuary and working space of 1200 square metres. Shortly thereafter, in 2002, it was shut down permanently to make way for the crematoriums at Baumschulenweg and in Ruhleben, which could then operate at full capacity. Detached from the urn cemetery, it was put up for sale. silent green Kulturquartier conferred the contract and the renovations started in 2013. In recognition of the protected status of the crematorium, its basic and external architecture has been preserved, whilst necessary modifications have been made inside that facilitate the new functions of the building. In 2014, the first tenants moved in and in 2014/2015 the first cultural events took place in the renovated building.
As an art historian and freelance author, former staff member Jutta v. Zitzewitz has written a comprehensive catalogue on the transformation from crematorium to cultural quarter.
In 2020, silent green was unexpectedly honoured for the conversion of the historical building into a Kulturquartier with the Silver Award 2020 in the category "business" at this year's FIABCI Prix d'Excellence Germany, a nationwide competition for project developments.
The functional repurposing of the space, which categorically required that its historical relevance be recognisable and preserved, demanded a balanced approach to the building’s form language and materials in the renovation phase. The aim of the restoration was to give the building the architectural foundation for a new use without depriving it of its historical quality and structural elegance.
In line with this, from the start the redevelopment works followed clearly defined restoration criteria that were developed in close cooperation with the Office for Historical Monuments. This involved preserving the historical features and the details of the building that lend it authenticity, while introducing new elements, such as windows and doors, which differ significantly from the existing building. At the same time, the ornaments and decor on the building’s facade and its trellised gates were restored and reconditioned. The changes that had been made to the original architecture in its decades of use as a crematorium were undone where possible; for example, concrete and plaster were removed from all walled-in cavities, including more than 400 urn compartments in the mourning hall, as well as the former altar and the prayer alcove located there. In the mourning hall, at the heart of the old building, there was also a special discovery: underneath some carpeting laid in subsequent decades stood an original terrazzo, which, in its preserved and restored form, now adorns the hall.
The renovation was carried out in cooperation with the architects Michael Vierling, Gernot Wagner, Max Dengler and Gunhild Niggemeier as well as with the structural engineer Michael Beier. The work was carried out by GeProBau Gesellschaft für Projektsteuerung und Bauleitung mbH, under the direction of Karl-Heinz Schlesselmann.