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East Line Roundhouses: Maces to Dumbbells!

Europe: Exchange and Movement Kamswyker Kreis

From the earliest track ever laid in England to the furthermost one in Brazil or Siberia did the XIX century rail have a universally recognisable mark, more distinctive than a station palace or a daring bridge: a roundhouse it was. A wreath of locomotive stands radiating from a turntable under a great timber cone, or a filigree iron dome, it found its climax in the 1874 "Schneidemühl type" - a true performance form of structure, beauty and purpose under a Schwedlerian shell and its glass tambour.

All over Germany did the Schneidemühl domes stand, Berlin alone had 9 of them. Pankow-Heinersdorf and Rummelsburg Tech are the only survivors in the land, properly listed, and open for demolition. Owners see no use in these decaying ruins in offside locations, they disturb their operations. Others do: to one Jörg Schlaich they are technology and transportation engineering gems unsurpassed, others may have heared of the succesful London Roundhouse or Luxemburg Rotundes conversions, for have already written cultural history. Indeed, the Berlin twins are much more then those: together with their sister buildings in former Schneidemühl (now Piła), in Dirschau (Tszew), Bromberg (Bydgosz), Insterburg (Chernyakhovsk) and St. Petersburg, they are a pearl necklace on the map of Europe, its last roundhouse-Gesamtkunstwerk. Welcome to the former Prusso-Russian, now German-Polish-Lithuanian-Russian East Line! A border-breaking development artery of XIXth and XXIst centuries alike.

A smoky bowl and a crystal round for the high divinity of steam, for the likes of Chernyshevsky, Nabokoff and Wagner, but also for Bismarck and Molotov - they all let themselves be inspired here, while being carried away together with the geese from Gusow and groceries from Golzow, Silesian coals and Königsberg machines. A track that linked Paris and Trasnssib via Berlin... indeed, so it does today! It does, disregarding the disrupting border and multiply enforced standstill, it does, albeit yet discontinuous as a service. The new Silk Road freight line terminates right at the East Line, while a small rural community deep in Masuria seeks hand of her sister minicipy in Nadrovia further along the same track, and concerts tour remarkably close to it. Men reach out to meet each other, to bridge the gap, literally and physically, join forces and shape a men-dumbbell of a kind - that's what the true rail spirit is all about, even if the service is no more. That´s what makes one see it live again! The domes, be it in ruins, are the caretaking marks and future pivots. One can only hope the band that connects them doesn´t come too late, for a dumbbell without quickly becomes a club ...

This is why November 8th, 2011, the "insterYEAR" project (Berlin/Chernyakhovsk), the "Stowarzyszenia parowozownia pilska Okrąglak" charity (Piła), the Berlin Chamber of Construction Engineers, the Monument Protection Office of Greater Poland and the "Interlok" steam locomotives workshop (Piła) came together with EGTC Transoderana (Frankfurt/Oder) in a"...common aim to preserve and carefully develop historic heritage of our three countries", the "roundhouses that unite whole peoples". They called their bond "Workgroup of the 6 East Line Rounds", Since, press articles have been collected there and support promoted, conferences spoken to and travel fairs, research and design studies initiated, experiences shared and archive puzzles solved by bringing pieces together. Polish and Russian roundhouses are listed now, in Chernyakhovsk a "cultivated car workshop" is being implemented, while Piła has been re-roofed - all with the monument´s best in mind. St.Petersburg ICOMOS and Berlin Construction Engineers called for the entire building series to be listed as a new kind of value, a pan-European historical and cultural heritage. One even speaks of reviving the long-distance train link!

We keep on moving: this 2018, a test ride should take place from Berlin to Kaliningrad in June. Two exhibitions of scale models are in preparation, of the Pankow depot as it once was, and of the Insterburg/Chernyakhovsk rolling stock, to be staged under the very domes they depict.

More to follow, more lectures, more displays, more citizen engagement and interaction: maces to dumbbells!