By now everyone should have realized that Berlin is a large urban wasteland dotted with specs of “civilization”. With a little research and some light reading you will easily stumble across an Abandoned Industrial Ruin or a deserted S-Bahn Station. Quite some time ago I read about an old Laundry and Dye Factory known as VEB REWATEX to the south of Berlin – which back in the day apparently had been a secret party hotspot rivaling the oh so famous Teufelsberg.
I wasn’t actually planning on exploring this spot quite yet – but seeing as I had finished early with another project that day – I rang up the trustworthy AndBerlin in the afternoon and asked him if he wanted to meet up and go check it out.
*Warning – VEB REWATEX aka the W. Spindler, Wäscherei und Färberei History*
As you might have noticed in the header above – the VEB REWATEX was previously known under a different name. Actually several names.
The company’s history began in Berlin-Mitte with the founding of a small silk dyeing business by William Spindler on the 1st October 1832 in the basements of the Burgstraße 3. In 1841 W.Spindler purchased a plot of land near the Spittelmarkt on the Wallstraße 12 for a laundry and dyeing factory. He later opened several other shops on the Poststraße 11, in the Friedrichstrasse 153a and in the Leipzig Straße 36.
In 1854, as the first in Germany, Wilhelm Spindler ushered in the “modern era of dry cleaning”. This process of dry cleaning meant that clothes were treated with benzene (and gasoline) in a bath WITHOUT water (hence the “dry” cleaning). Apparently this allowed for a more careful treatment of the clothes and at the same time allowed for mass cleaning.
The plot of land in Alt-Berlin soon turned out to be too small for the increasing demand so Spindler bought an additional 50 acres of land in the Köpenicker-Feld (which was part of Brandenburg and not Berlin) in 1871. On this plot of land he decided to merge the various services he had built up – into one large Industrial Laundry, Dry Cleaning and Dyeing Factory.
For those unfamiliar with Köpenick, it lies directly along the Dahme River, an ideal location for Chemical Companies to dump their waste into (remember why all the paper factories moved out to Eberswalde now?). During the 19th century the banks of the Dahme in Köpenick established itself as the center of the laundry industry, with over 200 small and medium-sized laundries having settled there. With köpenick not officially being a part of Berlin yet, other companies soon moved out of Berlin as well as the tax rate was lower in Köpenick than in Berlin.
Though not official – the local residents started calling the nameless field where the Spindler Factory sprung up “Spindlersfeld”. While there was an agreement in place between the Brandenburg and Köpenick that the area was not receive a separate name, Spindlers sons lobbied that the name Spindlersfeld should become official – especially since “W. Spindler – Wäscherei, Färberei und chemische Reinigung – Berlin C und Spindlersfeld bei Coepenick“ had become a household name for dry cleaning and due to the fact that the spindlersfeld factory and its surroundings had evolved into a fully fledged city district (Spindler built several housing projects for his workers, including schools, introduced health insurance, sporting clubs and even built the original Müggelturm) So the officials bowed to the pressure and renamed the plot into “Spindlersfeld”. And just in case you were wondering, it is Spindler who we have to thank for, for the S-Bahn (S47) connection from Schöneweide to Spindlersfeld.
After the War, the Laundry Factory was put under the administrative control of a “Treuhandschaft” – a Trusteeship in 1946, only for the rightful owners to be dispossessed in 1949. The factory, which was now “owned by the people” was renamed in 1953 as the VEB Blütenweiß, then renamed again into the VEB Vereinigte Wäschereien Berlin Rewatex after a takeover in 1961, and then finally renamed as the VEB Rewatex Berlin in 1981.
The VEB Rewatex initially employed 3000 workers, and by 1989 the numbers had swelled to 4500 – with an additional 600 female prisoners and several hundred Vietnamese Guestworkers doing shifts.
After the fall of the Wall the company rebranded itself into the REWATEX AG and was bought up by the Larosé Hygiene-Service-GmbH in 1992. The factory in Spindlersfeld only operated until the mid nineties, when they shut it down and relocated all remaining operations to the Grünauerstraße facility.
Like most properties, the factory turned into an industrial ruin. Several halls and buildings were torn down, while the rest received a “protected status” in the following years.. Several of the workers housing units still stand to this day, as well as the factory kinder garden (which is still operated as such). The lavish Villa which Spindler had built in 1876 was damaged in the war and was rebuilt in the 1950 as an orphanage. Later on it housed the administrative offices of the Deutsche Reichsbahn and in 2002, the villa was converted into an apartment building.
In 2003 a land (re)development program was set in motion for the property which is scheduled to take several years. The developers planned to incorporate a “community friendly business” (whatever that means) into the property, while converting the rest into houses and luxury villas. In 2006 a fire broke out in the main building , destroying large parts of the roof.
So there we have it. The VEB Rewatex displays all the same traits as every other abandoned and crumbling factory in Berlin and Germany. After a long and successful business, socialism transformed it into a people’s enterprise (secretly running it into the ground) only to lose it to greedy west German investors who sucked every penny out of it and forcing it to shut down. Then came the private investors who turned it into luxury flats.
At first glance it seemed like the property was patrolled – which caused a slight bout of paranoia, but the longer we stayed the more people showed up. Youths riding their bikes through the ruins, an old man taking a stroll through the courtyard, other photographers taking pictures, and what seemed like a couple looking for some extra “excitement”.
Construction work is going on, and as you can clearly tell from the pictures, the roof has been fixed. I wouldn’t advise anyone to try to get on the roof of the other building as it didn’t seem very sturdy, and several sections of the floor inside the factory seemed very “brittle”. If you do plan on visiting the Rewatex Factory be aware that there is a private security firm guarding the place, and there are construction workers about doing their job. If you are looking for a place to party – this isn’t it.
If you can fight off the paranoia of getting busted by security or some dodgy locals, then this is the perfect place to explore and get lost. Id give it another year or two before its completely closed off, so enjoy it while you can.
For more photos – check out the VEB Rewatex Album on Flickr
12555 Berlin - Treptow Köpenick
Public Transport: Take the S47 to Berlin-Spindlersfeld. From there its a 5 min walk to the abandoned factory.