Its smallest variants provide light on a bicycle. Its biggest ones generate electricity at power stations. The basic principle is the same throughout – a dynamo or generator converts mechanical energy to electric power. But Siemens dynamos and generators have been intended for industrial and power-plant applications right from the start. And the company built a special factory in Siemensstadt to make these products: the Dynamowerk.
The beginnings – A new plant for a well-known product
In 1906, management decided to move the production unit building DC machinery for power plants from its then-home at the Charlottenburg plant to a new installation on the Nonnendamm. Under Karl Janisch’s guidance, a complex of buildings was raised for the purpose, comprising a large hall structure and a multi-story building in front. The plans took account of potential expansion right from the start – the buildings’ side walls were only temporary. The new Dynamowerk (the “Dynamo Plant”) was in service before the year was out. January 17, 1907 was declared the official opening date, even though formal acceptance of the building shell was not declared until July 3 of that year.
By 1908 the building was already beginning to expand again – this time under Carl Dihlmann’s direction. When the second phase of the expansion was completed in 1909, the company began relocating its entire large machine construction operation for heavy-current applications from the Charlottenburg plant to the new factory, which offered more than twice the production floor space: 45,000 m2. Besides production areas for large electric motors, there were numerous smaller workshops, including a coil winding shop and a construction and operations office. Plant management during this period was housed in the West Wing of the headquarters building across from the plant. Production and administration were joined by way of a pedestrian tunnel under the Nonnendamm. The production range included such products as hydroelectric generators, turbogenerators for both DC and AC, and motors for conveyor systems.
A new focus – The end of series production, concentration on developmental production
The years leading up to World War I saw two major changes in what was needed from the Dynamowerk, and the plant was expanded further as a consequence. By 1911 the site, which had now become Siemens’ main development plant for heavy-current equipment, had a workforce of nearly 3,000 employees.
It produced all the calculation and design documentation for the company’s secondary plants in Germany and abroad, while the Dynamowerk itself concentrated entirely on developmental production. Series production was relocated to other plants. Meantime it became necessary for the company to set up its own locomotive assembly facility so it could test the engines’ electrical equipment in-plant. Another hall was built for the purpose, with the capability to extend further to the south.
Surviving hard times – World War I, the interwar period, WorldWar II
Military conscription slashed the workforce drastically during World War I. As the war went on, the production range as well was compelled to shift more and more to wartime products, like grenades and munitions. In October 1914 the company even began making its own airplanes at the plant. Once the war ended in 1918, production shifted back to peacetime business. During the 1920s the plant was able to resume its pre-war success record, and the site expanded with new buildings and installations.
The onset of the global economic crisis brought a rapid deterioration in the Dynamowerk’s situation. Production figures plunged; the workforce hit an interwar low of less than 2,000 employees in 1932-33, before the employment picture slowly began to brighten in 1933. Foreign orders came in primarily for hydroelectric generators, while German customers mainly wanted DC, synchronous and asynchronous motors. Shortly before World War II broke out, a new trend toward extra-large motors developed; these often had to be custom-built. The plant was expanded once again for the purpose.
A 1944 air raid severely damaged the Dynamowerk, but makeshift repairs make it possible for production to continue. What remained of the factory’s equipment was looted by the Soviet Army in the spring of 1945.
Demand up, demand down – Times remain tense
But production still resumed shortly after the rubble had been cleared away – initially with an extensive emergency production program, involving such activities as improving trains for local public transportation and repairing electrical machinery of all kinds, building hand-cranked dynamos, and even making cooking pots and gardening equipment. In the 1950s, reconstruction was completed and production returned within its original bounds. By 1957, the workforce had grown to 3,800 employees.
Up to 1990, the plant saw phases of full employment alternating with low demand. In the 1980s, the plant had about 1,500 employees; it currently has around 750. Since the 1990s, some of the Dynamowerk’s products that have made headlines are its propeller engines for the P&O Cruises line’s cruise ships and its diesel-electric drives for AIDA Cruises’ ships. The Dynamowerk’s main technical innovations in the recent past include developing the SIMONICS magnetic bearing technology.
New work in a historic environment – The A32 Entrepreneurs Forum Berlin Siemensstadt
In March 2019, the A32 Entrepreneurs Forum Berlin Siemensstadt opened at the Dynamowerk site on the grounds of the new Siemensstadt 2.0 project offering opportunities for agile work to both Siemens staff and startups. “A32” is the identifier for the Dynamowerk’s former storage hall, which now serves as a “work and event space” at the heart of the Entrepreneurs Forum Berlin.
A32 impressively shows that we […] are thinking outside the proverbial box, because this is going to become an urban district of the future – with an exemplary integration of production, research, learning, homes and life in general.Cedrik Neike, 2019
Dr. Florian Kiuntke | Dr. Claudia Salchow
You might also find this interestingFurther information on this topic
- Building for the future. Siemensstadt (JOURNEYS THROUGH TIME; Vol. 1) ed. Vom Siemens Historical Institute, Berlin 2019
- Wolfgang Ribbe / Wolfgang Schäche: Die Siemensstadt. Geschichte und Architektur eines Industriestandortes, Berlin 1985 (in German only)