In an industrial section of Düsseldorf squats a relatively unremarkable yellow-tiled modernist-looking building. It looks like the sort of building that went up in the post-war reconstruction (the city was bombed nearly flat in night raids during WWII).
The building, however, betrays obvious categorizations. At first glance it seems easy to place on an historical continuum. But just as it could be from the fifties or sixties, it could just as easily be from the twenties or thirties. It may have miraculously survived the RAF’s gasoline bombs. Post-raid aerial survey photos would always reveal those few exclamation points of untouched buildings dotting the monochromatic wastes. Could this be one of those survivors? Is this why it looks so special sitting amidst the other unremarkable buildings of Mintropstrasse? Or maybe it’s the mere fact of the photograph that makes it special.
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My interest is not innocent but it is, as the title suggests, somewhat random. Recently, I found myself drawn into the 2009 BBC Four documentary, Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany. And it was through this that I learned about Mintropstrasse 16. I assumed it would have been well-documented, folded into the narrative of western architecture. But outside of it’s role as the site of Kraftwerk’s studio, Kling Klang, it remains—befitting the band’s process and inner workings—an enigma. But someone on that street knows. Someone knew the architect. Someone somewhere must be doing a PhD dissertation on it.
There is something optimistic and expansive about that band of glass at what I think is the second floor. You enter and step up into it. Why? It appears to be a building worth thinking about, but I cannot find it in any of the books or in the EU architecture database.
That dead-center entry at the street is actually the mouth of a breezeway that leads to an expansive internal courtyard. The building wraps around an open well of sky. You walk into it and then look up. In that well, the sky is more intense, as if being focused through a lens. It’s like the inward-looking castle at Heidelberg. While the front pushes flat against the sidewalk, defining, in concert with adjacent buildings, a familiar urban canyon, the experience of the courtyard produces a world of difference, the street left behind just beyond the breezeway.
It’s unabashed, undisguised symmetry is reassuringly calming. It looks as it stands with no slippage, no tricks. Nor is there irony. There is the sense that it is not trying to deceive anyone. It requires nothing from us.
New music in new machines
Those delicate curtains hanging behind the glass dematerialize the building’s solidity. I would like to see them flung open. The glass certainly could have been larger, but the architect decided to keep most of them punched rather than repeat that special band. The little windows recess in while the band floats off the façade, just enough to mean something. Is there a workshop behind that band, a small factory? Or a lounge?
The enigmatic Kraftwerk retreated into this industrial sanctuary to create new music on new machines. From 1970 to 2009, they produced most of their albums here, on equipment they invented—proto-synthesizers, oscillators, vocoders, and sequencers to name a few. The studio was famous for its secure, fortress-like nature. There was no telephone and the door would likely remain closed if knocked on—if one dared to knock. A private realm, not easily penetrated, from which emerged music that would give rise to so much of the music we know today. So much ground-breaking music emanated from that little corner with the loading dock, behind the categorization-betraying yellow-tile façade, with the optimistic band of glass and the diaphanous curtains.
There is something pre-about the architecture. A little like how Kraftwerk music can come across now. In the current sonic landscape, Kraftwerk can sound a little, well, early, a little pre-, but not in a bad way. It’s like looking over childhood photographs, without harsh judgment.
It’s thoroughly lived in yet somehow unscarred by time. In these photographs it appears almost unreal, like some freshly-painted apparition of the industrial city. A child’s stage set, merely as written or filmed…or dreamed.
And in the dream, try as you may, the doors do not open. And there is no way in. And this would be in keeping with it’s secretive purpose. At the back and to the right, where there is the loading dock, exists a modern pilgrimage site: the former location of Kraftwerk’s Kling Klang Studio.