Berlin: A City of Opportunity

Learned from the past, focused on the present, planning the future

Staying consistent with the last few days, a steady drizzle once again persisted as students transferred from Hamburg to Berlin to round out the study abroad trip. Upon arriving in Berlin, they were amazed by the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Students had visited many multimodal train stations over the course of the trip, but nothing like this in Berlin. Not only did the main train station have many forms of transportation integrated within it, but it had multiple levels for train lines as well. Many call this Hauptbahnhof “the greatest train station in Europe.”

Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, one of the biggest and most impressive train stations in Europe. It features a multimodal transportation hub as well as multiple platform levels for long distance trains.
Sign located on a German long distance train that informs riders that this train runs on renewable energy.

Upon arrival at the hotel, students did some quick exploring. A unique feature of the Berlin Plus Hostel is its location. Just a block away is the location of the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin. Although the wall was torn down in 1989, part of the wall still stands a couple blocks away from the hotel. This wall is a tribute to the cold war and has been decorated by professional graffiti artists making various political statements.

The rest of afternoon was spent visiting Adlershof, one of Berlin’s biggest technology and research sites. Located in East Berlin, Adlershof employs roughly 17,000 workers in a 4.5 square kilometer campus. They employ the triple helix management structure which works to integrate education, research, and products/services. Here, large companies work with smaller start-ups to match innovation with the money to back it up. On-campus, they have main tech areas specializing in photovoltaics and renewable energy to IT and media. Each of these tech centers has their own specialized hub which is customized for specific needs. Generally, all the hubs receive high speed communication systems as well as high-tech equipment which include things such as labs and workshops. Adlershof provides resources and equipment to start-ups and students that normally they would not be able to use affordably.

Frank explains how Adlershof has expanded over the years and the location of specific tech hubs on the campus.

The campus is not all sunshine and rainbows however; they do face some challenges when it comes to its workforce. The campus is located forty-five minutes away from Berlin’s city center. As a result, the young workforce they rely on for breakthrough ideas has to commute this distance every workday. A possible solution is to create housing very close to the research park which would significantly reduce commute time. With this solution however comes a few requirements. For employee satisfaction and the general “want” to live there, the local area must have the right infrastructure. This includes necessities such as good schools for their children, recreational facilities, and everyday stores needed for a high quality of life. These are all improvements that Adlershof is working on for the good of the employees in the park.

This is an example of some the housing in the vicinity of Adlershof. This location significantly cuts down commute time for employees compared to many who live in downtown Berlin.

Adlershof is a bright point in East Germany, competing for national and international business. They provide start-ups a brand name to build off of and promote their product. To stimulate this innovation, they provide an open space with no fences and many common areas for easy, casual interactions among different companies. This is a company that is continuing to expand and contribute to global innovation.

-Basil Rodts

Smart Adlershof

How One Town Reinvented Itself For a Greener Future

Today marked our final travel day of the program! The station, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, looked quite different today than it did on the day of our arrival; instead of hordes of people armed with brooms to clean up the city following the G20 protests, there were just a handful of quiet travelers with their luggage. Our destination, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, was stunning. A large, glass ceiling and many different levels of tracks gave it the feel of one of the most modern hub of Europe. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we were off to Adlershof.

The outside of Berlin’s Central Station. With 5 different levels and an exterior of nearly entirely glass, the Hauptbahnhof is the largest and most modern connecting station in Europe.

Adlershof’s history is long and varied, but it has an interesting connection to North Carolina in the form of aviation history. The Wright brothers were the first to fly, doing so in Kitty Hawk, NC. The first German motor-driven flight occurred less than a decade later in Johannisthal airfield, which is modern day Adlershof. The area grew as a hot spot for innovation in flight, and while touring the park we got to see some of the infrastructure that was used to test engines and planes in the 20th century.

This is a former vertical wind tunnel used to test the aerodynamics of various planes. Adlershof has a long history of innovation in the aviation sector, and it was the site of the first successful German motorized flight.

In the early 1990s, Adlershof once again redefined itself and moved to become a center for research and industry. The long tradition of adaptability was quite evident as we toured the area. Walking around, we noticed not only how impressive the buildings were from an aesthetic standpoint, but also how environmentally friendly and smart they were. It was apparent that this was a source of pride for those involved in Adlershof, especially for an area that brings so many people in to produce new and innovative ways of reducing our impact on the climate and finding more sustainable solutions.

The group gets an inside look at what it is like to work in Adlershof. Despite the location being a little far from city center, the infrastructure and resources available are huge attractors to companies, especially start ups.

At the minimum, many of the buildings had passive solar designs. By using windows and window coverings that can either trap heat or deflect it based on the season, the heating and cooling needs are greatly reduced. The “Amoeba” buildings, nicknamed for their wavy shape, used colorful coverings like these that look good while saving energy.

The so-called “Amoeba” buildings in Adlershof. The name is a reference to the wavy, rounded edges around both buildings. They both utilize passive solar and smart insulation to warm them in the winter, cutting down on heating costs.

Other buildings were creative with their use of traditionally forgotten space. Looking out at the rooftops, we saw that nearly all of them were “green roofs”. These have a multitude of important benefits. Firstly, they can help prevent flooding from sudden downpours of rain. The soil and plants soak in much of the precipitation and then slowly release it over the following hours. This helps reduce the peak amount of water in the drainage system, which is a huge help for stopping flooding. In addition, green roofs can diminish the “urban heat island” effect. This is caused when an area has a lot of asphalt and other materials that reflect heat rather than absorbing it, and is the reason why some cities can be 1-3° Celsius warmer than the surrounding areas. The plants absorb some of the heat that would be reflected by traditional roofs. In addition, they can filter the air of pollutants and carbon dioxide.

The “green roofs” in Adlershof. These help to lower the peak amount of water in the drainage system during downpours and can also help cool down the area and reduce the urban heat island effect!

Finally, we were struck by just how many solar photovoltaic cells we saw. Many were set up on top of the buildings and thus were usually out of sight, but there were some that were creatively installed around the façades. For instance, workers eating in the café were shaded by a semi-transparent array of PV cells adorned on the front outer wall. Another building had a concave array, which we learned was a great breakthrough when the technology was created.

Housing for students attending Humboldt University. Compared to our living spaces in Chapel Hill, we were shocked at how affordable these units were. We also learned about how the floorplan was specifically designed to try to increase social bonding between students.

Adlershof was an interesting look at how smart communities can successfully integrate multiple different institutions: industry, government, and higher education. In some ways, it was the perfect representation of both main topics of interest for our program: renewable energy technologies and smart city planning.

-Keegan Barnes