The Berlin city mascot is a bear, usually a bright red one, and Bärenquell translates as "the spring of the bears"! In 1882 building of the brewery by a local family began at the current location and it was named the Borussia Brauerei. It was extended progressively over the years, for example, the office block was built six years later in 1888. In 1898 the now thriving business was sold to Schultheiss AG and expanded greatly. Two world wars later it was still going but a great part of Berlin fell into the Russian sphere of influence and the brewery came under state control in the same way that practically every business did at that time in the DDR. It was renamed the VEB Bärenquell - VEB stands for Volkseigener Betrieb, meaning an enterprise owned by the people and run by the people. Bärenquell was so popular that it became one of the big four Berlin brewers along with Kindl, Berliner Pilsener and Schultheiss. After the fall of the wall and the reunification of Germany the people, tired of years of DDR only products, began to buy imported foreign beers simply because they could and because they were fashionable. Inevitably the massive fall in sales of Bärenquell's beers hit hard and sustaining the huge brewery and workforce in the face of such a slump in sales brought the company to it's knees. The Bärenquell Brauerei closed its doors for the last time on April 1st, 1994, after 112 years of brewing in Berlin.
Over the Christmas holidays of 2011 we went back to Berlin for a few days and we visited the brewery on Boxing day. We "cased the joint" carefully first, as we always do, looking for a discrete entry point. Eventually we found one and we climbed in over a low window ledge where someone had conveniently left an empty beer crate as a step up! Once inside we began a cautious explore only to find the place was like Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour - there was even a family out for a stroll around the site! We relaxed considerably then and had a most enjoyable explore as a result!
The brewery frontage on the Schnellerstrasse would appear to have been the original offices together with a large dwelling house, probably that of the family who built the brewery back in 1882, though what it became subsequently is not clear. Suffice it to say that it's use appears to have remained that of domestic accommodation because there are still several bathrooms and rooms on the first floor with wallpaper of a type normally found in a bedroom. There is also a large lounge adjacent to one of the bedrooms with a solid fuel burner of a type common in Germany, Slovakia, and Austria, situated by the door.
The office building did not change from its original purpose and it is clear that that is what it remained right up to the time of closure, ample evidence lying around literally everywhere. There is even a large printer rotting away in one room and an enormous safe. It was interesting to find two ledgers hand written in immaculate Germanic script though our knowledge of the language was insufficient for us to be able to understand much of what we were looking at.
With the price of scrap metal, especially copper, so high it goes without saying that practically the entire brewery has been stripped of it's equipment, the only real exceptions being in the control room of the "Maschinenhaus" and on the upper floors of a huge five story building which we think is the bottling plant. This otherwise plain and rather austere red brick building has a seven story tower built on one side with an observation platform at the top. It's intended purpose is not at all obvious but it is well worth the effort of getting up there for the extensive views it affords, especially over the River Spree which borders the northern edge of the site.
The first building we entered after gaining access to the site has a really tall, narrow hall with a spiral staircase climbing in stages to the ceiling several floors up. Quite what this was for we couldn't work out, even after I had climbed to the top of the stairs and looked at the hall from a different view point. As the stairs climb there are small platforms at several levels as though there had been inspection or access points at different heights. Perhaps a very tall lagering vessel was situated here though somehow I have my doubts - anyway up, it provided a great photo opportunity. The same building has a really jerry built office (pardon the pun!) constructed of cheap chip board so typical of the DDR period. In the same area a flight of steps lead down into a partially flooded cellar. Upon inspection we found four or five mattresses there with cheap personal belongings laid out upon them but Harry Ramp's German cousins from the Heinrich Ramp family were not at home. We also stumbled across a narrow room within the bottling plant which had a couch and chairs, and candles in bottles, all tidied and cleaned up to provide a really quite presentable habitation for more Heinrichs, again though they were not at home. The fact that the cellar "rampery" was flooded is perhaps why they moved house. I just thank the Lord that there was no appalling smell redolent of dead bodies like in the Kinderkrankenhaus tramp's quarters we hurried through back in November!
There is a lot of street art at the Bärenquell Brauerei, much of it the inevitable tedious tagging. Some though is exceptionally talented and well executed work, none more so than a frieze on a bedroom wall in the house at the front of the site. This is highly unusual in so much as it has been created entirely by the careful application of black electrical tape to the wall paper on the wall. The scene depicted is of helmeted figures from a bygone age piloting a sailing boat. The brewery seems to attract a lot of graf artists - in truth graffiti is extremely prevalent around Berlin and practically every bit of vertical wall everywhere is adorned with spray paint, including sadly many of the beautiful buildings. We think we disturbed some teenaged taggers on the top floor of the bottling plant. I spoke to the guy who was clearly the leader and he informed me he was from California, and showing his local friends around the place. But the fact that he clearly had no idea what urb-ex is kind of pointed to him being there for a different purpose. I wonder why he feels the need to come all the way from the USA to deface walls? But like it or loath it street art (as apposed to moronic tagging) can be very aesthetic and you will see many examples of what we found in the photos we took around the brewery...