Prior to the mid 19th century natural ice in Germany was cut from lakes, ponds, rivers, canals if temperatures permitted. As the ice was used locally there were no large icehouses and long-distance trade with ice was virtually unknow.
Depending on regional demand for ice some artificial ponds were constructed if there was a favorable geography and suitable water source. Most often these ponds were nothing else than dams in small creeks, thus using basically the same technology for ice production as in Norway.
With the rise of the big cities, in particular Berlin, and changes in the brewing industry demand for ice increased substantially in the mid 19th century and first entrepreneurs became interested in ice.
In 1856 Eduard Mudrack opened his first ice business in the northern suburbs of Berlin at the Schäfersee, a small kettle pond from the last ice-ages in an otherwise completely flat area. Mudrack constructed an icehouse directly at the shoreline of the lake and cutting took place as soon as there was sufficient ice cover on the lake. According to various sources he set up this first ice production based on designs and technology used by the New England ice industry.
Way more interesting than this first ice production by Mudrack in Berlin is the next generation where he designed the first natural ice factory. With no other lake available and no suitable geography to build a simple dam in a creek, Mudrack needed to opt for a different approach if he wanted to expand his business. Artificial ice production was still in its infancy and more important, average winter temperatures in Berlin during the second half of the 19th century normally allowed for natural ice production.
The factory consisted out of an open-air shallow basin to be filled with clean fresh-water and an icehouse directly adjacent to the basin with elevators reaching into the basin. Opposite to an ice-dam the basin of the natural ice factory was a complete controlled environment that could be emptied and cleaned prior to production, that allowed for adding water on the surface during the actual freezing and several other manipulations of the water level that resulted in ice production in the basin of the natural ice factory being more effective than in a natural pond or ice dam.
Comparable natural ice factories were built in the late decades of the 19th century at various places in northern Germany, in particular where there was a huge local demand for ice.
In many aspects the natural ice factories were a kind of an in-between development during the transition from natural ice to artificial ice production as they combined the traditional use of outside temperatures for the freezing of water with an otherwise completely human controlled industrial production process.
The illustrations from the Landesarchiv Berlin show the natural ice factory of the Eiswerke Mudrack with the two basins and the icehouses with the elevators reaching direct into the basins. The aerial was taken in the interwar period and shows indicators of neglect for the basins (plant growth inside the basin) but also the newly built artificial ice works (look for the chimneys).
Other notes on the aerial refer to plans for an ice-rink and a water park which were not realized but would have been extremely innovative as the project seems to have included the idea of using process waste heat from the ice works.
Today the area of the basins is used by some apartments and an allotment area with no traces of the natural ice factory left.
- Natural Ice Factory Mudrack in Berlin 1913.Landesarchiv Berlin, F Rep. 290 (03) Nr. 0374127 / Foto: k. A.
- Aerial with the Natural Ice Factory, the later built ice-works, and the Schäfersee 1925. Landesarchiv Berlin, F Rep. 290 (02) Nr. 0374122 / Foto: k. A.