Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof

Berlin’s Central Livestock- and Slaughterhouse - the Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof - was the largest of its kind in the city. It was originally conceived at the end of the 19th century as a remedy to the chaotic situation in Berlin’s livestock and slaughterhouse industry. In the 1870s, there were as many as 800 independent slaughterhouses in the city.

The city acquired land around what’s now Landsberger Allee in 1876 and immediately began constructing an enormous and, at the time, quite modern livestock management and slaughterhouse complex. It was opened in 1881, and in its first year processed 126,347 cattle, 392,895 pigs, and 111,937 calves. By “processed” I mean, of course, butchered.

The layout of the original slaughterhouse. “Der Weidenweg” is now called. Eldenaerstr.  Source .

The layout of the original slaughterhouse. “Der Weidenweg” is now called. Eldenaerstr. Source.

The slaughterhouse continued to expand its physical presence up to the beginning of World War I in 1914. Like other German industries at the time, it suffered the effects of economic depression, stagnation, and inflation throughout the 1910s and 1920s.

In Nazi times, the complex continued to develop and a glass-enclosed pedestrian bridge was built to connect Eldenaerstr. with the existing S-Bahn station. The remnants of those bridge serve (neary) the same purpose, connecting pedestrians on either side of the train tracks to S-Bahn Storkowerstr.

A map of the facility at its peak (sorry for the German). Source.

Like nearly all of central Berlin, the Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof was heavily damaged during the Battle of Berlin. Up to 80 percent of its buildings were destroyed, and it even served as a central collection point for “war booty” that was shipped eastwards to the Soviet Union.

The Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof actually underwent something of a renaissance in the post-war years, though. It became the leading producer of meat products in Berlin, employing up to 2700 workers. Unfortunately for those workers, after the wall fell, the factory was deemed unproductive/non-competitive and was shut down in 1991.

Over the next years, many of the complex’s buildings fell into disuse and were eventually torn down. But still, even when the buildings were gone the city was left with a huge plots of unused land.

Some buildings had only their iron frames preserved; others became graffiti landmarks. Still others have been transformed into condo’s and shopping centers.

This is the frame of the hall that processed mutton (i.e. sheep). In the background is another hall that has been re-purposed into a bike shop.

As of winter 2019, these buildings are actually being remodeled and transformed. The facades are being preserved, but entirely new buildings are being constructed inside them.

As I’m writing this in February 2019, there’s actually not much left to redevelop at the Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof. Most of the buildings have been either torn down or completely renovated. Most of the remaining space - which, let’s keep in mind, was an industrial wasteland 25 years ago - has been repurposed and turned into parks, houses, offices and retail.

In the end, the story of the Zentralvieh- und Schlachthof reflects that of Berlin. It was, when it was built, a highly modern industrial facility. It suffered with the city in the 1920s, and saw a brief but explosive expansion in the 1930s and early 1940s. It was nearly annihilated during the second world war, only to return to production for the city’s eastern inhabitants.

Post-1991, it existed in a weird kind of quasi-existence. It was just there, just this big, open space that nobody at the time knew what to do with. As Berlin experiences yet another economic and demographic boom, its open spaces have been repurposed and gradually returned to service. Is it perfect? No. Are the new buildings beautiful? Not always. But are they better than an underused, dirty open space? Absolutely.