Berlin preservationists halt demolition of the threatened “Mouse Bunker”

Saving The House Of Mouse

Berlin preservationists halt demolition of the threatened “Mouse Bunker”

Resembling a beached battleship, Mäusebunker, or Mouse Bunker, was formerly a fortified animal research laboratory complex. While heavily protested by animal rights activists during its heyday, the complex has now become a popular tourist draw. (Gunnar Klack/Wikimedia Commons, accessed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Finally, some good preservation news to end the year on: After it was announced in April that Berlin’s monumental Mäusebunker (literally Mouse Bunker), a Brutalist former animal research laboratory, was slated for demolition, the wrecking ball has been stayed after a successful petition.

Mäusebunker was completed in 1981 during the city’s concrete boom and linked to the curvaceous Institute for Hygiene and Microbiology building nearby (the Hygieneinstitut, completed in 1974) via underground tunnel; the second building was also at risk of demolition. Both were built in southwest Berlin for the Charité’s Institute’s campus, but the Mouse Bunker has sat unused since 2010. The Charité, a network of public research hospitals, had applied for demolition permits for both buildings with Berlin’s Senate with the intention of replacing them with a modern research campus.

The squat building, designed by the husband-and-wife duo of Gerd and Magdalena Hänska, resembles a fortified battleship thanks to its minimal windows and cannon-like exhausts that jut perpendicular from the facade. Repurposing the bunker, especially as it receives very little natural light and is riddled with asbestos (one of the reasons it was originally shuttered), likely proved too challenging for the Charité to consider.

Still, although the building has been closed for 10 years now, its iconic form continues to draw attention: The Mouse Bunker is still a popular spot for daring urban explorers, and it served as a backdrop in Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 Blade Runner 2049 for the movie’s emotional climax.

That interest helped spur interest in preserving the project, and thousands ended up signing the petition to halt its demolition.

“We are looking for a solution together,” Christoph Rauhut, head of Berlin’s Heritage Protection Authority, told The Art Newspaper. “The building is extremely distinctive architecturally. I am convinced that we should do everything possible to keep it because of the cultural value.”

Thanks to the successful lobbying by residents, preservationists, architects, and art dealer Johann König and architect Arno Brandlhuber, the Charité has delayed plans to tear either building down until fall of 2021 while they explore reuse options. Although König has proposed turning the concrete hulk into an arts or culture space, he admitted it would be difficult due to the aforementioned lighting and the cost of remediation.

In a year that’s been marked by seemingly nothing but bad news for historic Brutalist structures, even a temporary victory is worth celebrating.