Discovering the Industrial History of Moabit

Berlin Guides Association Members in front ofthe Arminiusmarkthalle in Moabit
BBS Members in front of the Arminiusmarkthalle, Moabit – Photo by Alazne Artexe

At the end of June 2021, BBS member Bernd Breitkopf treated our members to his original ‘Industrial Moabit’ tour. Over the course of 2 fascinating hours, we made our way from Turmstrasse to the Tiergarten discovering traces of Berlin’s industrial history along the way.

As well as visiting the oldest house in Moabit and the Arminiusmarkthalle, and learning more about the 300 historical water pumps to be found in Berlin’s inner city, we heard about the life and impact of August Borsig…

Bernd Breitkopf demonstrates how to operate one of the istoric waterpumps in Moabit
Bernd Breitkopf demonstrates how to operate Berlin’s historic waterpumps – Photo by Alazne Artetxe

August Borsig was in the business of railway construction. 170 years ago, railway manufacture was one of the driving forces of industrialization in Berlin and the industry was of particular importance to Moabit – in more ways than one.

Interestingly, as Bernd enlightened us, Borsig also used the heat and steam from one of his machine factories to heat the greenhouses in a park that even impressed the Prussian King. On the plot of land on Stromstrasse between Alt-Moabit and the banks of the Spree, August Borsig had a spacious park laid out next to the ironworks, in which his home and various greenhouses were located.

Borsig was an active promoter of horticulture, having been a member of the “Verein zur Beförderung des Gartenbaues in den Königlich Preußischen Staaten” (Association for the Promotion of Horticulture in the Royal Prussian States) since 1835. He entrusted the creation of the park to none other than Peter Joseph Lenné, the ingenious landscape designer, while in-house architect Johann Heinrich Strack was responsible for constructing both the residential house (built in 1849) and industrial buildings.

With its many rare plants, the park was at least as famous in its day as the industrial works. Even King Frederick William IV was captivated by the garden paradise. After once paying a visit to the “Borsig Etablissement,” he is said to have remarked: “I would like to live like you, my dear Borsig, one day.”

BBS members on the Industrial Moabit excursion
Some of our members enjoying the first in-person excursion of the year

His admiration for the Moabit gem was justified, since on July 19, 1852, the first Victoria Regia blossomed  in Berlin in Borsig’s greenhouse. (The lily is native to Guyana and tropical South America.) It is also worth noting that park and greenhouse facilities were open to the public for a fee on Tuesdays and Fridays. The entrance fees went into the Borsig company’s workers’ disability fund.

August Borsig was only able to enjoy this and his entrepreneurial success for a few years, however. He died in 1854 at the age of only fifty as a result of a stroke. His grave is located in the Dorotheenstädtische Kirchhof, in the immediate vicinity of the place where his entrepreneurial activities began. His son Albert followed his father not only in the management of the company’s business, but also in the care and further development of the Moabit estate.

Thanks again to Bernd Breitkopf for the excellent tour, to Alazne Artetxe for the photography and to Konstanze Deeters for the report. Here’s to many more in-person events in our future!