The Central Animal Laboratory of the Freie Universität, also known as the Mäusenbunker, is one of the best examples of Brutalist architecture in Berlin, and we visited the building at the end of December 2016 to see this strange looking building in the middle of Lichterfelde. It took us a while to find it, but once you see it, there is no way of ignoring it based on its monstrous appearance and the contrast with the area surrounding it.
The first time we came across this building was on a Pinterest board about architecture. At that moment, we knew that we needed to find more about the building and visit the place to take pictures of everything. But we were not expecting to find such an odd looking building in Lichterfelde, in an area between the Teltowkanal and a busy road in Steglitz. We are mentioning the area here because it shows such a contrast with the area that turns the Mäusenbunker into such an architectural piece of art.
The Mäusenbunker was designed by Gerd Hänska, a German architect whose work can be stylistically described as brutalism. In the sixties and seventies, he created the Walt Disney Elementary School in Gropiusstadt and the Kindertagsstätte of the Karl-Bonhoeffer-Nervenklinik in Wittenau. But his most famous work is the infamous Central Animal Laboratory of the Freie Universität.
The Mäusenbunker construction took over a decade of development due to opposition from the people in the neighborhood and animal rights activists. There was, also, an issue with funding. The initial cost estimation from the project was around 4 million Deutschmarks, but it ended up costing close to 126 million by the end of construction. All of this to have an animal laboratory that could host up to 45,000 mice, 20,000 rats, 5,000 rats and a smaller number of frogs, sheets, chickens, and pigs. Today, there are way fewer animals there, and the focus is only on mice, with an emphasis on transgenic models for disease research.
When you visit this place, you almost feel like you shouldn’t be there. The way that the Mäusenbunker was designed brings up a threatened or intimidated presence. Walking around it made me wonder why this structure looks like it needs to be defended. Something like a spaceship out of a sci-fi movie. And we can only imagine how the building must have looked like to the people in the seventies in Berlin. Before the concrete discolored and the brown marks started to show, maybe this building was attractive to the people around it. But we cannot be sure about it.
One of the first things that caught our eyes when we visited the Mäusenbunker are the sloped angles of the outer walls that make it look like one of the many Berlin Bunkers from the Second World War. Such a geometrical feature is something that we don’t see in most buildings, and it makes this place even more interesting for our cameras. This basic shape is interrupted by sections of large cylindrical blueish and gray ventilation pipes that serve as a way to control and provide air supply to the laboratories inside. But they made it look even more like a military spaceship which we love for real.
In the last few years, the building has been in the news for the death of several technicians who were exposed to asbestos in the building. In 2010, the Mäusenbunker went through renovations and, supposedly, everything is fine now. Since we didn’t go inside the building, there is no way for us to tell this for sure.
We’re fans of the Mäusenbunker for its utilitarian look, its visual originality, and its innovative design. Most people see just an ugly looking building but we are trying to look beyond it, and this is why we believe that everyone interested in architecture should pay a visit to this building in the south of Berlin.
Mäusenbunker — Freie Universität Berlin, Zentrale Tierlaboratorien
Krahmerstraße 6, 12207