Large purple pipes in Berlin
October 31, 2004 7:20 AM   Subscribe

All over Berlin (west and east) there are large pipes sticking out of the sidewalk. They're painted light purple. Sometimes they cross a single street before going back underground. What are they?
posted by Nelson to Travel & Transportation around Berlin, Germany (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i searched on this a while back because i was surprised too. there's a variety of reasons on the 'net, but the most convincing (which was on a voice of america radio program site, i think) is that they are used to pump water. the place is in a big basin, with groundwater level close to the surface, and when they have large building projects they either need to drain land or stop it from drying out too much. the place has had a lot of construction work recently...
posted by andrew cooke at 8:09 AM on October 31, 2004

The are heating pipes that are installing for residential and commercial purposes. Some also have a dual use as a water removal system for Berlin's high water table. During new road construction, many of these pipes are converted underground however threat of freezing still remains (and thus the slow conversion). If you see many twists and turns in the pipes, it's merely a method for preventing shrinkage (and breakage) in deep colds.
posted by omidius at 8:10 AM on October 31, 2004

here's photos and the voa article (search for "pink" to find the reference in the text).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:13 AM on October 31, 2004

Response by poster: Yay AxMe! Now we have two answers: pipes temporarily moved for construction, or some complex water table pump system. Both are more plausible than the answer the bellman at my hotel gave me, which was "advertisements for a museum exhibit". I think maybe we had a language problem.

So, which is it? Moved pipes? Or complex pumping?
posted by Nelson at 8:41 AM on October 31, 2004

i *think* (not sure) that you're misunderstanding omidius, and that the real answer is "both".

i read omidius's reply as meaning that the pipes were being moved underground as time and construction permitted, and that they were used for both drainage (as i thought) and heating. that seems reasonable to me.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:59 AM on October 31, 2004

When I last went there I was told that they were used to remove water, due to the high water table as already mentioned. I was also told they are designed to be movable - they'll run along one street one month, and then two months later they'll be rerouted to another street, depending on which areas need drainage. Which perhaps explains why they are above ground.
posted by chrispy at 11:07 AM on October 31, 2004

I was in Berlin maybe 5 years ago and was told pipes similar to the ones you described were used to move construction materials around..not quite sure how that would work though. This was back when they were building the new parliament.
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:59 AM on October 31, 2004

I wonder if these inspired the OpenGL screensaver?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:57 PM on October 31, 2004

iirc, that kind of piping appears way back when (60s?) in work by an artist whose name i can't remember - pen and ink drawings of knobbly knees, bricks, etc. i don't think it's herrimann (krazy kat), but can't for the life of me remember who it is.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:21 PM on October 31, 2004

I would have guessed heating. District heating is still quite common in parts of East Europe and there's no reason the technology couldn't be adopted in either part of the city. This picture is labelled as pipes for heating in West Berlin, and even if it's wrong its still a good shot demonstrating the object of the question. More photos here. Don't want to overload on vague google links but I get the impression that Berlin may have been something of a pioneer in district heating in the early 20th century and that thus the heating system is city wide.
Here's some history of heating in Berlin.
posted by biffa at 2:19 AM on November 1, 2004

I was in Berlin for a conference of architects and we had local architects as guides. The pipes in question are for the removal of subsurface waters. Some Berlin geology and information on groundwater levels. No mention was made of any other use. (Aside: our apartment in Paris is on a "district heating system" which uses steam.)
posted by Dick Paris at 3:18 AM on November 1, 2004

This link indicates that some of the above ground pipes are definitely part of the district heating system. There were 60km of above ground large bore pipes in Berlin in 1990 as part of the district heating system. I have come across a website where a similar question was asked whoich suggested that there are two different coloured pipes and that the colour indicates function. I don't know how accurate this is.

Thanks for asking the question by the way, looking into this has shown up some stuff that is really useful for my work.
posted by biffa at 3:57 AM on November 1, 2004

Response by poster: This has been an interesting discussion, thank you. There's question about the pipe's function. But beyond that, why the heck are they so prominently above ground? I'm willing to believe the twisty shape is to deal with freezing (particularly if they're not a heating system), but why put them above ground in the first place? My memory is not all the aboveground pipes cross a road.
posted by Nelson at 8:00 AM on November 1, 2004

I came across one explanation that the twistiness was to help deal with differential expansion of pipes. Don't know how true that is.
posted by biffa at 8:22 AM on November 1, 2004

Why in gods' names did "they" build Berlin on top of wet ground?

If they'd put the city elsewhere, they wouldn't have to deal with this piping problem.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:45 AM on November 1, 2004

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