Berlin campus takes German engineering giant Siemens back to its roots

The German engineering giant has unveiled plans to build a huge innovation campus in Berlin, harking back to its early days in the German capital and aiming to rival Silicon Valley in the United States.

Investment in a new campus to be called Siemensstadt 2.0 (Siemens City 2.0) will come in at €600 million ($680 million) on offices and residential accommodation, as well as laboratories and production plants, according to an agreement signed by Berlin Mayor Michael Müller and Siemens executive member Cedrik Neike on Wednesday.

The plan is to transform the historic Siemens site in Berlin-Spandau into a location for research and startup centers by 2030.

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From casting to printing — the new industry

Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser described the campus as a "networked ecosystem with flexible working conditions, social integration and affordable accommodation."

Kaeser pointed to the founding of the original Siemens City in 1897, saying the concept then was "to combine work, research and living and thus to create an intact symbiosis for a successful future."

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"Megatrends, such as industrial digitization and urbanization, will bring about fundamental changes: work, life and living will become more integrated and new ecosystems will emerge as people and things become more interconnected," he added.

Berlin and innovation

Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier praised Siemens' plans as a great success for Germany as a location for innovation, while Müller described the company's commitment to Berlin as providing an impulse for the next 20 years. "Jobs will be created, science will benefit, and infrastructure will be developed," he said.

Siemens — headquartered in both Berlin and Munich — set up its first Siemensstadt on the outskirts of Berlin at the end of the 19th century and it was later incorporated into the capital.

In 1897, company Siemens & Halske acquired a virtually uninhabitated stretch of land northwest of Berlin to concentrate its booming business activities. By 1914, a completely new city district called Siemensstadt has emerged

The investment is the largest single investment by the company in Berlin. The company stressed that it would protect historic monuments and building rights on the site on which the old Dynamowerk is located. In addition, transport links will be improved and equipped with broadband internet.

Siemens currently employs around 11,400 people in Berlin, out of a total workforce of 377,000 employees worldwide. The company was founded 171 years ago in Berlin by Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske in a backyard in the district of Kreuzberg.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

It began with the pointer telegraph

In 1846 and 1847 Werner Siemens developed his electric pointer telegraph. It worked reliably and was superior to earlier devices. This innovation was the basis for "Telegraphen-Bauanstalt von Siemens & Halske," which he founded in Berlin on October 1, 1847, together with precision mechanic Johann Georg Halske. Ten craftsmen built the instruments in a Berlin workshop.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

From workshop to factory

In the following decades, Siemens & Halske transformed from a workshop to a company with standardized mass production. It built steam engines and developed the first dynamo. Electrical generation was key to Siemens' further development, making not only dynamos, but arc lights and power engineering products.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Communication across the oceans

Siemens undertook ambitious projects. An attempt to lay a cross-Mediterranean telegraph cable failed in 1864, causing heavy losses. But the Siemens brothers, Werner, William and Carl, learned their lessons. In 1874-75 they successfully connected Europe with North America by telegraph, using the specially designed cable ship "Faraday." It was the first of 16 telegraph cables under the Atlantic.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Making horses obsolete

In 1879 Siemens & Halske demonstrated the first remotely powered electric train on a 300-meter circular test track in Berlin. They put this into regular service in 1881 in Lichterfelde, now part of Berlin, with the first electric tram, where they continued to develop the technology. Power was originally supplied through the rails, but later this was replaced by overhead cable.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

An entrepreneur with a conscience

Werner Siemens (who in 1888 became the more noble "von Siemens") also made a name for himself with social initiatives. In 1872 he established a social insurance system for his company that provided widows, orphans and retirees with a pension. He officially left the company in 1890. Two years later, he died of pneumonia, aged 75.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

A new neighborhood

The company grew and grew. To allow it to expand, Siemens & Halske purchased a nearly uninhabited area north of what were then Berlin's boundaries in 1897. It began to concentrate its operations here, building new factories and residences. By 1914 an entirely new district had emerged - the "Siemenssstadt" or "Siemens City."

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Forced labor under the Nazis

During World War II, Siemens employed forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners in its factories. At Ravensbrück concentration camp, north of Berlin, the company put thousands of women to work wrapping coils and building telephones. After the war, most of these facilities were destroyed and company property confiscated.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Move to Munich

Anticipating the Red Army's advance on Berlin, parts of the company's management moved to Munich, Mülheim and Hof in February 1945. In 1949, following the Soviet blockade of Berlin, Siemens & Halske transferred its headquarters to Munich, while West Berlin remained a secondary site. Siemens & Halske and its sister companies merged to form Siemens AG in October 1966.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

More products, more factories, more countries

Turbines, automation systems, railways, power plants, private communication systems, medical technology, washing machines - there's not much that Siemens doesn't make. By the early 1980s, it had plants in 37 countries. A decade later, two-thirds of sales were outside Germany.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Scandal at Siemens

Between 2006 and 2008, Siemens was the focus of the biggest bribery and corruption scandal in German industrial history. A court found it had paid around 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in bribes to secure lucrative foreign contracts. The affair cost Siemens 2.5 billion euros. Many of those involved were fired, and Siemens' top management was replaced.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Radical restructuring

In May 2014, new CEO Joe Kaeser put forward his plans to shake up Siemens. Industry sectors within Siemens were abolished with the aim of streamlining the company and making it more competitive. The company said it would focus on electrification, automation and digitization. The restructuring cost thousands of jobs.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Big contracts, big deals

Germany's main railway Deutsche Bahn paid Siemens more than 6 billion euros to build its new fleet of ICE high-speed trains. It was the biggest contract in its history. Egypt paid Siemens a similar sum to build the world's largest gas-fired power plant. In 2014, Siemens hoped to take over French competitor Alstom, but it chose instead to enter a partnership with US-based General Electric.

Siemens: From the telegraph to the internet

Future networks

Industry 4.0 and the "internet of things" promise more intelligent, global networking of machines, storage systems and means of production. Growing digitalization and interconnection are transforming the entire industrial production process - a new challenge for Siemens.

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