Born in Riga, Latvia in 1935, von Gerkan grew up as a foster child in Hamburg after his father was killed on the eastern front during World War II and his mother died soon afterward while fleeing as a refugee from Poland.
A year after graduating from his architecture studies in 1964, von Gerkan founded a partnership with Volkwin Marg, which survives under the name “von Gerkan, Marg und Partner” (gmp).
A view of the Berlin’s Tegel Airport, which closed in 2020. Credit: Adobe Stock
They soon won an award for designing Tegel Airport, one of the main gateways linking West Berlin, then an exclave of democratic West Germany deep inside Communist East Germany, with the rest of the world. The airport closed in 2020.
Von Gerkan also designed Berlin’s main railway station, which is near the chancellery and within sight of the Reichstag parliament’s glass cupola, though he fell out with rail operator Deutsche Bahn, which he said mutilated his design.
Von Gerkan’s design envisaged a vaulted ceiling for the underground section of the station, but Deutsche Bahn, under pressure to finish the work in time for the 2006 soccer World Cup, chose a flat metal roof instead.
Outer view of the Hauptbahnhof central station in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Von Gerkan said Deutsche Bahn had made the underground hall look like a supermarket when it should have been an undulating, cathedral-like space.
“This is just pure disfigurement,” he said.
In 2008, Bahn and von Gerkan settled their dispute, with the rail operator paying an undisclosed sum to a foundation set up by the architect’s office.