The company’s headquarters building – bigger than any city hall in Berlin – is an architectural homage to historicism. Which was exactly why it was a perfect setting for the Managing Board and other senior management to impress the public at various events over several decades. Now traditional architecture is going to face off with modern trends once again – because north of the building is the site of the new “Siemensstadt 2.0.”
The company’s first factories and employee housing started construction on the extensive site at the “Nonnenwiesen” in Spandau in 1898. But for its first headquarters building, Siemens chose a location closer to central Berlin, where it built a structure on Askanischer Platz in the Kreuzberg district from 1899 to 1901.
This building, designed in the German analog of Art Nouveau known as Jugendstil, was based on plans by construction engineer Karl Janisch, who had joined the company just a few months before, and would now serve as the “house architect” for more than a decade.
The City of Spandau, where the Nonnenwiesen site was located, was keen to host the headquarters of an important company and corporate taxpayer like Siemens within its city limits.
Siemens’ response, on the other hand, was hesitant at first. But in May 1909 the Supervisory Board decided to build a multi-wing complex at Nonnendamm, and asked in-house architect Janisch and his staff member Friedrich Blume to draw up the plans.
Construction proceeded in two phases. First came the West Wing, in 1910-1911. Construction on the East Wing then began immediately after the headquarters building on Askanischer Platz was sold in 1912, and work was completed in December 1913. December 1, 1913 was declared the official “birthday” of the headquarters building, designed to accommodate 3,000 employees.
Much of the interior design of the imposing new headquarters was done by Hans Hertlein, who would succeed Janisch as Siemens’ in-house architect in 1915. He added a colorful accent – in the most literal sense – by having the doors painted blue.
Those blue doors were a bit off-putting at first, but you soon got used to the lively, almost cheerful color, and the overall impression became appealing. […] The blue color, which was soon dubbed “Siemens Blue,” was also painted on our trucks and delivery vans […], and its effect on the overall street scene even contributed a certain propaganda effect, especially because the company logos, painted in contrasting yellow, were visible from a good distance away.Hans Hertlein, 1959
When the headquarters building opened, the East Wing housed the offices of Carl Friedrich von Siemens, Arnold von Siemens and Wilhelm von Siemens, among others. This was where they made all the major decisions about finances, investments and corporate policy.
There was also a combined lecture hall and film theater, as well as an extensive, two-story library, of which Wilhelm von Siemens was one of the chief users. The meeting room for the Managing Board was especially sumptuous; it was called the “Oak Room” because of its wood paneling.
Another of the East Wing’s exceptional architectural features was the imposing “Hall of Honor,” with a mosaic floor designed by César Klein – a representative of the “New Secession” art movement. The floor decoration has lent the hall its present-day name: the Mosaic Hall.
This hall was where guests from government, business and culture were received, including King Amanullah of Afghanistan (1928) and King Fuad of Egypt (1929). During the Second World Power Conference, which took place in Berlin in June 1939, the room served as one of several venues in the city. When Carl Friedrich von Siemens, “Head of the House” since 1919, died in 1941, his memorial gathering was held in the Hall of Honor as well.
From the more recent past, the visits of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and German Chancellor Angela Merkel deserve special mention. 1999 Gerhard Schröder opened the Siemens Business Conference in the Mosaic Hall. Angela Merkel took part in a panel discussion on May 7, 2012, the “Tag des Ausbildungsplatzes” (apprenticeship training position day), in which she discussed the challenges of junior staff development and the advantages of the dual training system in Germany. On November 29, 2016, she gave a speech in the Mosaic hall on the occasion of the 200th birthday of the company founder in front of around 100 guests from politics, business, science, culture and the media.
The Hall has also served as an exhibition space for the company’s products since the 1920s.
The headquarters building suffered massive damage from air raids during World War II. Stopgap reconstruction began immediately after the war ended. Roof timbers and building façades were then gradually repaired or renovated.
Reconstruction of the severely damaged East Wing had to wait until 1973-1976. The decision was made not to restore the Hall of Honor to its original design. The glass domes, still present but severely damaged, were removed and replaced with an intermediate floor one story lower.
The headquarters building was used for other purposes on multiple occasions – during World War I and immediately after World War II, for example, parts served as a military hospital for wounded soldiers.
In 1949, when corporate management began the process of relocating to Munich (Siemens & Halske) and Erlangen (Siemens-Schuckertwerke), administrative duties in Berlin started to shrink considerably. So in the 1950s, parts of the building were converted to production uses. Nevertheless, Berlin remained the company’s second headquarters city.
The headquarters building resumed its administrative role when the East Wing reopened for operations in 1976. Into the 1980s the building housed Berlin management and various corporate departments, along with other functions. Since 2005 the former corporate headquarters of Siemens & Halske AG have again been the home office of a member of the Managing Board.
One of the first departments to move into the headquarters building in 1914 was the company archives, founded in 1907. The company’s “historical memory” then moved from Berlin to Munich in 1954. In 2016, the corporate archive, now known as the Siemens Historical Institute, returned to Berlin - once again in the administration building.
Berlin was where it all began, back in 1847. And Berlin – specifically, the historic site of Siemensstadt, with its imposing headquarters building – is where it’s continuing: Siemens AG is planning one of the biggest single investments in its history for the home site in Berlin-Spandau. Up to EUR 600 million will be invested to build a new world for working and living over the coming years.
Dr. Frank Wittendorfer | Dr. Claudia Salchow
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