Assuming responsibility – for people, for the city

“Building work should have started here some time ago, but we first have to carefully remove what others left behind,” says Florian Maas, Head of New Builds at Deutsche Wohnen. One of the reasons for the delay in the construction of more than 200 apartments for young people, the elderly, families and single people on Daumstraße in the Berlin borough of Spandau is the plot of land’s former use as the site of weapons manufacture going all the way to the Prussian era.

At first glance, the plot of land on Daumstraße looks a lot like other building sites in Berlin – a great deal of the regional light sand which has been pressed flat, ready for building to commence. But the fact that something is not quite right here is given away instantly by the men in white hazmat suits. They are working on little white tubes which are immersed in the sand and which go all the way down to the groundwater. “Unfortunately, it’s not just the soil that’s contaminated here – the groundwater is as well,” explains Florian Maas, “which means we will have to clean that up too. This makes the scope of the work larger than anticipated.” The work involved in washing the soil already removed is huge in itself, estimate Deutsche Wohnen employees Marco Winkler and Stefan Kornow, who are responsible for coordinating the decontamination work. Berlin’s State Office of Criminal Investigations likewise considers the level of contamination to be exceptionally high. It is therefore unsurprising that large areas of the plot of land may still only be entered in protective clothing.

The reason for this very costly work is the royal gunpowder factory which operated here between 1867 and 1919. In the subsequent 20 years, the site was then used by Lonal GmbH, which was founded by Germany’s former ordnance office for the production of so-called Blue Cross chemical warfare agents. Work on the development and execution of a comprehensive exploration concept began in 2018 in order to calculate the volume of soil which needs to be removed for cleaning. Only then will it be possible to estimate the cleaning costs, which Deutsche Wohnen is currently bearing alone. It was in fact known in various quarters that there was once a weapons factory on the site. The plot of land itself became a municipal holding of GSW following a transfer from the State of Berlin. Deutsche Wohnen is the first of a long line of owners to systematically tackle the contamination issue. The company is in close and constructive consultation with many public authorities such as Berlin’s Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection, the environmental authority and the above-mentioned State Office of Criminal Investigations. The aim is to produce a workable and sustainable soil cleaning concept in 2019. At present, there is no way of knowing when the building work for the new apartments will actually begin.

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