One of my reasons for wandering on foot through cities I'm visiting is that I often come upon significant buildings that somehow never make it into guidebooks or Top Ten Must Sees. The Postfuhramt, or Postal Delivery Office, in Berlin's Mitte District is one of those.
I spotted it while walking on Oranienburgerstrasse, on my way to look at the domes of the New Synagogue. I stopped, took a number of pictures, and made a mental note to learn more about it, which I didn't do until months later.
Turns out it has a fascinating history, starting in 1713, when the site it's on was a station for the Postilion, a long-haul delivery service that predates the postal system. In 1766, a post office was built on the site, including living quarters for the personal postman of the King of Prussia and a pair of two-story stable buildings for postal horses.
The present building was built starting in 1875, after bad sanitation in the old stables led to the death of many of the horses. Since the volume of mail had also greatly increased, a greatly larger building was needed, anyway. Below, some of the staff, posed next to a stable ramp in 1912.
The new building, in Italian Renaissance style with a Moorish-influenced dome, isn't exactly the solid block it appear; the two wings, one on Oranienburger-strasse annd the other on Tucholskystrasse, wrap around a large courtyard, which originally contained new stables, which were removed in 1925 to make room for trucks.
A new fleet of electric delivery trucks in Postfuhramt courtyard, 1953
Turns out, the three domes were meant, in part, to reflect the design of the New Synagogue, just a block away.
The building is well-decorated with friezes, decorative elements, and 26 busts of people associated with communications and postal history, including the Roman messenger god, Mercury, Gutenberg, Columbus, Marco Polo and two Americans, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel F.B. Morse. One of the busts was destroyed in World War II with no record of who it was.
At the same time the stables were removed, the building became a hub for a new system of pneumatic tubes for instant transmission of letters and other material among the city's major postal stations. The building still has signs up for the Rohrpost, or tube-mail, although the service ended in 1976.
The Postfuhramt suffered major damage in WWII bombing, but continued in use, surviving several demolition plans in the 60s and 70s. Instead, in 1973 the East Berlin government undertook a major restoration and renovation and the postal service continued to operate there until 1995.
Under renovation, 1970s
For a while after that, it hosted art exhibitions, and there was a plan for it to become a permanent art museum, but financing never clicked, and in 2012 it was sold to medical equipment maker Biotronik, who have never explained what their plan is for the building, other than maintaining it. As a listed landmark since 1975, whatever change may come won't have much effect on the exterior.
Although, in 2001, it had a significant exterior change when artist H.A. Schult covered the building with hundreds of thousands of love letters, a work titled, no surprise, Love Letters.