Friday, 10 December 2010

The Yenidze cigarette factory, Dresden

The back of the factory, facing the railway tracks

As the train crosses the River Elbe on its short journey from Dresden Neustadt to Dresden Hauptbahnhof, one can catch sight of the most exotic building in the capital of Saxony: the Yenidze. In a city known above all for its grand Baroque monuments, the minaret-like chimneys and dome of this former cigarette factory never fail to surprise.

Following the completion of the railway through the Balkans in the late nineteenth century, Dresden became the main centre of the tobacco industry in Germany. Tobacco grown in the Ottoman Empire could be transported easily across Central Europe and cigarette factories emerged in the country's eastern gateway. Between the 1890s and the Second World War, sixty per cent of all tobacco goods consumed in Germany were produced by Dresden's forty manufactures. One of the oldest cigarette companies was the Orientalische Tabak- und Zigarettenfabrik Yenidze, founded in 1886 by Hugo Zietz. It took its name from the village of Yenidze in Western Thrace, where high quality Turkish tobacco was grown (at the time the village was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1913 it became part of Bulgaria before being handed over to Greece following the 1920 San Remo conference. Its Greek name is Genissea). This particular kind of tobacco was much appreciated by German smokers and Yenidze's 'Salem Aleikum', 'Salem Gold', and 'Salem Nr. 6' cigarettes became extremely popular. Growth was such that by the early 1900s Zietz took the decision to build a larger factory, whose design would be the trademark of the company. Work started in 1907 on a plot of land relatively close to the city centre, adjacent to the main railway lines.

The main façade on Weißeritzstraße

In order to reflect the provenance of the tobacco used by the Yenidze company, Martin Hammitzsch, the 29-year-old engineer and architect contracted by Zietz, designed an astonishing building that incorporates Turkish, Moorish and Jugendstil architectural and decorative elements. It is topped by a 20-metre-high coloured-glass dome inspired by the tombs of the Abassid Caliphs in Cairo, which can be illuminated from inside at night. Originally two steam engines produced the electricity needed to light it and project the words "Salam Aleikum". Local legislation forbade factory chimneys near the city centre but Hammitzsch got round it by disguising them as minarets. The main part of the factory consists of six floors, and rises to ten under the dome, making it when built one of the tallest structures in Dresden. The lower floors were dedicated mostly to production while the top floor housed the canteen and a rest area for the factory's 1500 workers. Weather permitting, employees could also enjoy the roof terrace during their lunch break. For the internal structure of the building, Hammitzsch used reinforced concrete, a first in Germany. As for the façades, they combine granite, coloured concrete blocks and stucco.

Entrance on Weißeritzstraße

The decoration around the entrances to the building is particularly striking and incorporates several patterns traditionally found in Turkish and Moorish buildings, albeit slightly simplified.

Decorative patterns used around the entrances

Even before it was completed in 1909, the 'Tabakmoschee' or 'Tobacco Mosque', as the new Yenidze factory became known, was the subject of much debate. Indeed Hammitzsch's highly unusual design was not to everybody's taste and shortly after the Yenidze opened, he was expelled from the German Architects' Guild. Later in life, he described the Yenidze as "a folly of youth".
Hammitzsch then took a teaching position in Chemnitz but returned to Dresden a few years later. In 1920 he became the director of the Dresden State College of Architecture, a post he occupied for nearly two decades. Hammitzsch, who had been a member of the nationalist Deutschnationale Volkspartei (German National People's Party) during the Weimar Republic, joined the Nazi party in 1935 and from 1938 was appointed to several important positions in the regional government of Saxony. Two years before that, he had married as his second wife Angela Hitler, the elder half-sister of Adolf Hitler. Hammitzsch committed suicide in May 1945.

Even though part of the ruling elite and population in Dresden decried the Yenidze building, the company continued to prosper. In the mid-1920s Zietz sold his factory to tobacco giant Reemtsma. Actually other leading cigarette manufacturers from Dresden, such as Jasmatzi, Delta, and Lande, were also bought by Reemtsma around that time. Production continued at the Yenidze until the Second World War. During the bombing of Dresden in February 1945 one third of the building was destroyed and the dome collapsed. The Yenidze was partly restored in 1946 and following the expropriation of Reemtsma by the Soviet Military Administration in Germany one year later, cigarette manufacturing resumed. However it ceased in 1953 when the VEB Tabakkontor moved in. This national monopoly was in charge of organising the supply and distribution of tobacco leaves to cigarette factories across the former GDR.
After the reunification in 1990 and the privatisation of VEB Tabakkontor, the Yenidze, which by then was in a dire state, was sold to a property fund from Berlin. Over the following seven years the building was restored and transformed into an office building at a cost of around 38 million euros. In the process, the dome, which had been rebuilt in 1966 with brown-green glass, was given more colourful glass, more akin to the original, and a bar and restaurant opened underneath.

Mosaic in the recess of the entrance

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