Every day, thousands of commuters see the political caricatures on the walls of Uhlandstrasse 187 through their train windows as they zoom from Savignyplatz to Bahnhof Zoo station. Its three windowless firewalls are daubed with one of Berlin’s largest and most iconic murals.
But recently a construction site popped up in the gap separating the rail tracks and the building, filling an empty lot where West Berliners once used to refuel their cars. By 2017, a seven-story hotel will fill the empty lot, eclipsing the mural for good. Yet another slice of Berlin’s history will fall victim to the building boom.
And the spot is close to many West Berliners’ hearts. About 40 years ago, the Balz family from Berlin’s southwestern Nikolassee district ran a gas station sandwiched between the S-Bahn tracks and Uhlandstrasse 187’s three massive facades.
The family’s Shell station became an unlikely institution among West Berlin actors and business leaders. With the cult five-star Kempinski Hotel just around the corner, famous people often called into the station for gas. And before the city got its 24-hour shops, the Balz station found its niche selling cold sparkling wine to party-goers through the night.
With 80 parking spots, it was nicknamed the “Uhland Garages” and 15 years ago, professor Klaus Siebenhaar even launched his book “101 Favorite Places in Berlin” at the gas station, lauding it as one of the city’s most beautiful spots. “It’s one of the last paradisiacal bits of Berlin’s remaining old gas station culture in the middle of West Berlin,” he said.
Others disagreed with his enthusiasm. Ben Wagin, a gallerist and ecologist, arguing that choosing a gas station as the place to launch a book “fits right in with Berlin’s schizophrenia and underlines Berlin’s cultural decline.”
But being a firm fixture in West Berlin’s cultural landscape wasn’t enough to save the gas station and it was razed to the ground in 2004. Left behind was a soaring concrete canvas, which was soon painted by two of Berlin’s top graffiti artists.