For several months, Deutsche Wohnen has been preparing for the construction of a new neighbourhood in the centre of Dresden, not far from well-known places such as the Dresden Zwinger and Semperoper. Until recently, this was the site of the big office building for the former VEB Energiebau Dresden, a major company in the former German Democratic Republic that was responsible for the construction of energy plants. This building has now been demolished and the area is ready to be transformed into a lively, green and urban neighbourhood.
However, respect for the far-reaching history of the site is important to Deutsche Wohnen. This is reflected not only in the name ‘Schützengarten’ (‘garden of preservation’), which is a reminder of the original use of the site, but also in the commissioning of an historian to explore the history of the site. And the eyewitness discussions involving Volker Frieske (the former construction supervisor), architect Dieter Schödel and former manager of VEB Energiebau Dresden, Manfred Kreutel, also dovetail with the exploration of the site’s history.
The starting point of the discussion was the communication between Volker Frieske and Delia Kraaß, manager of the new construction project for Deutsche Wohnen. Thanks to this communication, the company learnt of the existence of a time capsule that Frieske, as one of those responsible for the original building, buried on 5 May 1979. Based on his memories, the capsule was found in the basement of the old office building and successfully retrieved. Unfortunately it was no longer intact. Water had penetrated the capsule and caused severe damage to the contents.
The eyewitness discussion was much more exciting, with former colleagues and the current head of the urban planning department of the city of Dresden, Stefan Szuggat, taking part, as well as local media representatives. Although the capsule itself did not reveal much about the history of the site due to the water damage, the vividly told stories about the site told by the men who used to work there more than made up for it, some of whom are in their mid 80s and are incredibly agile.
Those present learnt that the time capsule contained newspapers and banknotes as well as the history of VEB Energiebau Dresden ‘written down in ink on transparent paper by the best draughtswoman employed there and in the finest standard font’, as described by Manfred Kreutel. Furthermore, he added that it was very special back then to be allowed to construct their own building. And he also gave vivid accounts of how the construction work on the building sometimes came to a halt. The assertion of all three eyewitnesses that the demolition of the old office complex was the right thing to do was particularly interesting. According to Frieske, ‘The building was always in the wrong place.’ This is because the building on Dresden’s well-known Könneritzstrasse was the only one to be set back from the road. The fact that this is now being corrected and that the new construction now being built by Deutsche Wohnen is in line with the rest of the street was emphasised by the head of the urban planning department, Szuggat, as being an element that makes the current plans particularly special.
Deutsche Wohnen will continue to engage with the history of the site. This also includes commissioning a restorer to check the contents of the recovered time capsule. At the same time, as construction progresses, the new neighbourhood will increasingly become the focus of attention in future.