In all my years as a tourist guide in Berlin the question I was asked the most was:
“What are those pink pipes for, that you can see everywhere in Berlin?”
An art installation? Do they mark the course of the Berlin Wall? Or do they transport gas through them?
Well, the real answer to this question is hidden deep inside the history of the city and is linked to the story how Berlin got its name in the first place…
Berlin was first mentioned in a document in the year 1237.
Back then the area had just become part of ‘Holy Roman Empire of German Nation’, the medieval empire that was the predecessor of Germany, conquered by a man named ‘Albrecht der Bär’ (the bear).
During the eastward expansion of the Empire Albrecht defeated the Slavic tribes that settled here at this time, supported by the church that wanted to convert the pagan Slavs.
Settlers from the west and the south came to the area and founded cities like Berlin.
For quite some time historians thought that the name of the city came from Albrecht, whose nickname was ‘the bear’, which in German sounds exactly the same as the first syllable of the cities name. The bear is also the symbol of the city and can be spotted not only on Berlin’s flag but everywhere in the city in different forms.
Sound like a good explanation! It only has one flaw: It is most likely not true.
In later years Slavic linguists pointed out, that the last two letters of our cities name, -in, normally mark a settlement in the Slavic languages back then.
You will find a lot of small cities and villages around Berlin that are named like this:
Lehnin, Templin, Zechlin, Trebbin, Stechlin etc.
If that is true, what did the word ‘berl’ refer to? Well, the linguists had an answer to that, too:
The term ‘berl’ actually just means swamp, Berlin therefore means swamp-city!
This bring us finally back to the pink pipes:
Since Berlin was founded in a very swampy area the ground-water level is actually quite high in Berlin, in the city center it often starts very close to the surface.
Which means that whenever there is a new building being constructed in the center, the foundations reach into the water and the construction site is constantly flooded by the ground-water.
Of course this water has to be pumped away constantly, which is done via those pink pipes!
If you follow the pipes to one end you will always get to a construction site like this one here on Leipziger Platz.
If you follow them to other end you will always get to a canal, the river or they’ll disappear into the canalisation.
If you want to know more secrets and stories about Berlin’s city center join our Essential Berlin tour that will show you how much Berlin has changed in the last decades and how it is still changing every day.