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Urban Exploring: The Abandoned Ice Factory

Like a “no man’s land” in the heart of Mitte's hustle and bustle - the central neighborhood in Berlin - stands an abandoned ice factory. A few meters away flows the Spree river and nearby buildings housing offices and the well known dance club KaterHolzig.

The ice factory is one of the oldest in Germany and rests on the list of protected buildings in Berlin. Even so, few know what the faded writing hidden behind the wall means: "Werk II VEB cooling Berlin."

The history of the ice factory began in 1893. At that time the founder of the North German ice factories, Carl Bolle (1832-1910), acquired the Köpnicker Strasse 40-41 - thanks to the ever-present bell on his milk truck nicknamed Bimmel Bolle. Three years later he was producing ice there.

For the growing city of Berlin at the time this was of great importance because households had no refrigerators. Instead pubs, households, breweries, etc. got their ice from the factory in bars (about 20 x 20 inches up to 1.50 meters). Until the late 1970s, Bolles delivery truck also cooled and delivered milk.

For over 25 years the business was good. Under the direction of the contractor, Albert Biebendt, additional living quarters and factories were build between 1909/1910 to support the growing ice production. Subsequently between 1913 and 1922 an ice machine was brought (still existing today), as well as three cold stores and a power house.

But then the factory was hit by a massive streak of bad luck. In 1945 bombs destroyed one of the two factory houses. Shortly thereafter, in 1951, the production of ice had to be reduced to 50% due to declining demand. The end did not come until 1995, when the doors of the operation on the Köpenicker Strasse closed one last time.

Unfortunately, since then much of the original ice factory site was destroyed, abandoned and forgotten. How much longer the last buildings will survive is unclear because there will always be discussions by the controversial Media Spree project about a possible demolition.

A visit is still definitely worthwhile because since the ice production stopped, something else in the Bolles buildings is being produced: street art. The numerous, colorful pieces of graffiti bring the bare, dirty factory walls to life.

A rare find in the "Urban Exploring" scene. In Berlin and the surrounding area there are numerous "Lost Places", which are now so well known that even movie directors like Joe Wright include them in their productions; he filmed scenes of "Hanna" by the Spree river in a Friedrichshain park.

One can explore other ruins but many are in gentrified regions of Berlin and can be seen via group tours. For the time being, the ice factory still enjoys its relatively forgotten status. It is also very easy to reach because of its location in Berlin Mitte and the many gaps in the fence of the adjacent office buildings.

If you want to visit, even just for a sneak peak, you should bring: a camera, tear-resistant clothing (in case you actually get caught in the fence), sturdy shoes and - for the smell sensitive - a scented handkerchief (because even in the ice factory are corners homeless have chosen as a practical toilets).

By Aislyn Rose

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