Steiner, Marion: ‘Electropolis Berlin – A New Urban Vision Fuelled by Coal and Imperial Ambitions’. En: Timothy Moss (ed.): Ecologies of the Technopolis: Contested Environments and Infrastructures of Berlin, 1871-2020. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, series History of the Urban Environment, 2023 (accepted)
In its “Golden Twenties,” Berlin was renowned internationally as the most modern city in Europe. As “Electropolis,” the city had turned into a symbol for technical modernity and a new urban vision, with its dynamic growth inspiring creative works such as Fritz Lang’s film “Metropolis” or Walther Ruttmann’s “Symphony of a Great City,” both screened for the first time in 1927. However, this impressive dynamism was the fruit of earlier developments, which, to date, have generally been treated as success stories only. The purpose of this chapter is to analyse how the fossil logic and convictions of Berlin’s new entrepreneurial elites, who used coal from Silesia and the Ruhr to generate electricity in power plants within and outside the growing city, got embedded in the practice and visioning of Electropolis. This type of new, fossil-fuelled electric infrastructure not only was closely intertwined with urban expansion in Berlin, but also became a model that was adopted by hundreds of other cities around the world. Thus, a new technical dispositive emerged that dominated thinking on modernity for over a century, not only in Europe, but on a global scale. This happened within a geopolitical context where access was available to important coal-mining regions still part of the national territory and where technology transfer was pushed by imperial ambition to conquer electricity markets worldwide. It is no coincidence, the chapter concludes, that Berlin became Electropolis in the wake of the Second Industrial Revolution, when the recently united German Reich, together with the USA, emerged as a new potential hegemonic power, challenging the British Empire.