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Conserving water and preserving infrastructures between dictatorship and democracy in Berlin

Timothy Moss
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Relations (IRI THESys), Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany; timothy.moss@hu-berlin.de

ABSTRACT: This paper sheds a long-term perspective on the politics of water infrastructure in 20th century Berlin, focusing on how water conservation became enrolled in the political agendas of very diverse regimes, from the Weimar Republic to the present day. The paper poses the following three questions: firstly, in what socio-technical and political contexts have strategies of water conservation emerged (and disappeared) in Berlin? Secondly, what meanings have been attributed to these strategies and how were they politically appropriated? Thirdly, what continuities and changes to water-saving strategies can be traced across Berlin’s turbulent 20th century history? These questions are addressed with an empirical analysis of four periods of Berlin’s water infrastructure history: a) an era of expansion (1920-1935) about harnessing (regional) water for (urban) prosperity, b) an era of national autarky (1936-1945) about enrolling urban water in the Nazi cause, c) an era of division (1948-1989) about reordering truncated water flows in divided West and East Berlin, and d) an era of reunification (1990-present) in which expansionism has confronted environmentalism, giving rise to contestation over the desirability of water conservation. This empirical analysis is framed conceptually in terms of a dialogue between notions of obdurate socio-technical systems and dynamic socio-material assemblages.

KEYWORDS: Water politics, water conservation, infrastructure history, path dependence, assemblage, Berlin