It seems like no matter where you go in or around Berlin, the scenery is somehow always accompanied by a tower. Be it the picturesque water tower in Prenzlauer Berg, the funkturm in Charlottenburg, the Grunewaldturm in Grunewald – or the iconic TV tower that dominates Berlin’s skyline. But there’s one tower located on the Berlin Ring Road which has captivated us for years with its distinct architecture – and strange placement – that we just had to visit it: the Wasserturm Niederlehme aka Brandenburgs Galata Tower.
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Niederlehme and the Sand Lime Factory
Niederlehme, a small village on the outskirts of Berlin was first officially mentioned back in 1315, and much of its its history mirrors that of so many small villages in Brandenburg – meaning it was traded off between Nobles, saw limited growth over the years and had no real notable industry – until the industrial revolution came along.
Originally from Bochum, the Berlin based master builder and businessman Robert Guthmann founded a mortar company – the “Berliner Mörtelwerke” in 1876. With Berlin being the newly minted capital of the German Reich (founded just a few years prior in 1872), the city was extremely hungry for fresh building materials. Not long after, he founded the portland cement factory “Zementfabrik Guthmann und Jeserich” in 1883, where else but in Rüdersdorf.
Rüdersdorf has a long history with cement and limestone production and is home to a rather well known abandoned phosphate factory – the Chemiewerk Rüdersdorf. Our article about the abandoned factory and its history is well worth reading.
In 1889, the master builder and businessman Robert Guthmann founded the AG Vereinigte Berliner Mörtelwerke (a berlin based mortar factory) and began mining sand in Niederlehme. With Berlin being the newly minted capital of the German Reich (founded just a few years prior in 1872), the city was extremely hungry for fresh building materials.
By 1900, business was flourishing for Robert Guthmann, so he founded the “Kalksandsteinwerke Niederlehme” a sandlime factory and quarry- the largest in the world at the time . Unlike “normal” bricks which were made out of fired clay, sandline bricks were made of lime and a silicate material such as sand, quartz or other siliceous rock.
Sand Lime bricks were cheap to produce compared to their clay counterparts and had a high structural strength, and there were virtually unlimited resources in Niederlehme for their production. By 1905, production facilities were expanded alongside several offices, factory housing and a school – enabling the Kalksandsteinwerke Niederlehme to produce roughly 18,000 bricks a day.
The Wasserturm in Niederlehme
Now Robert Guthmann was a crafty salesman, so to drum up some nice publicity he decided to build a Water Tower in Niederlehme in 1900 to showcase the quality and effectiveness of his sand lime bricks. While the water tower itself was a useful addition as it supplied his factory and the workers houses with fresh water – it was more the unusual architecture which really caused a stir.
For reasons that be, Guthmann (or more specifically his architects Heinrich Kayser and Karl von Großheim) decided to more or less replicate the Galata Tower in Istanbul, albeit in somewhat smaller form.
I would suspect that Guthmann was also a fan of the wave of orientalism architecture that was sweeping through Germany (see the Yenidze in Dresden, Gut Gentzrode in Neuruppin, and Pump house in Potsdam). Upon its completion in 1902, the Wasserturm in Niederlehme ended up being 33 meters tall, with a circumference of almost 9 meters, and a water holding capacity of around 55m³.
The similarities between the Galata Tower in Istanbul and the Wasserturm in Niederlehme are unmistakable, with its ring arches, and pointed tower – though the entrance of the Water Tower in Niederlehme is almost slightly more fancier than that of its more famous counterpart.
While never intended for public use, the water tower also had a small viewing platform, which according to some anecdotes offered a fabulous view over the brandenburg countryside.
Failed Projects and Crushed Dreams
The Nazis began construction of the Berlin Ring Road (A10) in 1936 as part of their Reichsautobahn program, which ended up running directly next to the water tower in Niederlehme. Construction of the ring road continued until 1939 when the outbreak of the second world war stopped the project. It wasn’t until 1972 when the (now) East German State decided to complete the project – connecting the last pieces of the A10 in 1979 (making it the longest “orbital” road in Europe).
The watertower itself supplied Niederlehme with water until 1965, when the rest of the town was connected to the main water lines. The tower was sold off to a real estate developer in 1998, who wanted to convert it into an office, observation tower as well as a ship museum – but planning complications (amongst many other reasons) killed off the project, leaving the tower to essentially abandoned.
The tower was then sold off to a couple from Berlin in 2010 who wanted to convert it into a home. After pumping considerable amounts of cash into the project, fixing the roof and windows, their plans to move in were killed off by a long and ugly bureaucratic dispute. The local planning authority refused to let the couple convert the building into a home as they feared that the lights in the windows facing the Autobahn would distract the drivers passing by (a similar issue prolonged the renovation of the AVUS Tribüne in Berlin). Apparently even the proposal to block off the windows facing the Autobahn was declined. The couple gave up on their project in 2013.
The Niederlehme Wasserturm Today (2022)
Brandenburgs Galata Tower still proudly stands along the Autobahn, though there’s no sign of life to be found. There seem to be no plans to convert it into anything at the moment, as the local bureaucrats will likely kill off any proposals as not to disturb the Autobahn.
The repair work that was done seems to have lasted and the windows and roof still look in pristine shape – though the upper brickwork seems to be coming loose. It seems like the Tower was opened once a year for visitors a short period of time, but the last time that happened was a few years ago.
For now, the tower is now locked up behind a gate that bears its image – we can only hope that a positive solution will be found in the near future. While you can see the Wasserturm when you pass by on the A10, its best visited when cycling along one of the many beautiful cycling paths along the Dahme River .
Wasserturm Niederlehme Address
15713 Königs Wusterhausen