Locations and features mentioned in the text

You would not be totally wrong to see no connection between geology and Berlin. We have nothing grand in our vicinity, like the Alpes near Munich. The landscape was formed during the ice age when the area was covered by an inland ice sheet several times. But now it exhibits lots of man-made features as well, including artificial hills.

If you imagine all the buildings gone you would see a marshy valley (more than 10 km wide) crossing Berlin from SE to NW. This is the Berlin-Warzawa ice marginal valley or pradolina shaped by meltwaters of the inland glaciation, but taking on as well the waters of rivers that could no longer flow to the Baltic. An hour's drive to the south would bring you to the Glógow-Baruth pradolina running more or less in the same direction. Even nearer to the north is the Torún-Eberswalde pradolina with a more westerly direction which joins the Berlin-Warzawa pradolina about 30 km NW of Berlin. The three pradolinas record flow directions of meltwaters of different stages of the Weichselian glaciation.

Bank of the pradolina
Bank of the pradolina (GoogleEarth: 52°30'16.98"N, 13°35'54.81"E)
View down into the pradolina (The rise seen  across the horizon is a railway track not the other bank of the pradolina!)
View down into the pradolina (The rise seen across the horizon is a railway track not the other bank of the pradolina!)
Dunes (Google Earth: 52°35'53.27"N, 13°13'27.51"E and eastwards)
Dunes (Google Earth: 52°35'53.27"N, 13°13'27.51"E and eastwards) - there are dunes at other places as well

Apart from the pradolina you find a landscape dominated by moraines and there are even inland dunes. Their fine, light coloured sand was useful once and therefore the area was given the nickname 'the Holy Roman Empire's box of blotting sand'. Another legacy of the glaciers are lots of erratics of every size. In former times they were used for buildings and to pave the streets. So, some of the area's geologists specialized in glacial drift and even analysed the source area of the erratics used for St. Mary's Church, Berlin's oldest church still used for service.

Village church of Wittenau (Google Earth: 52°35'31.65"N, 13°19'32.00"E)
'Gatehouse' of a private property
Geological wall
Setup of the geological wall
Rock types in the geological wall

There are some 'real' rocks to be seen in Berlin and near by. 1896 Eduard Zache installed a geological wall in a public park (Humboldthain) which demonstrated the stratigraphic sequence in several parts of Central Europe, especially in Germany. It's about 2 m high and 30 m long! Sadly, the sign explaining the setup of the wall is somewhat blurred.

The geological wall was relocated to its current location in a biological public park in 1912 (Biologischer Volkspark Blankenfelde, 52°36'15.09"N, 13°23'38.58"E, GoogleEarth includes some nice pictures of the wall) and containes 123 different rock types. The rock types are numbered and a board explaining the numbers was available until the wall was cleaned in 2015. A notice on this board mentioned that some numbers are missing because they were omitted deliberately or the rock types couldn't be identified.

The board has been replaced by a different board that gives a short introduction, shows the names and ages of geological eras and explains how the rock types of different geological eras are distributed in the wall.

The most exciting geological feature around Berlin is certainly a small area of Triassic limestone just a few kilometres to the east of Berlin at a small town called Ruedersdorf. Triassic rocks are normally buried about 1000 m deep in this area but they have been uplifted by a salt pillow from the Zechstein formation. Since the area is otherwise devoid of hard rock, quarrying has been going on for centuries. Especially when Berlin grew exponentially about 150 years ago, building material was needed in great quantities. The quarried limestone was shipped by boat to Berlin for processing directly through a tunnelled canal connecting the quarry to the nearby natural watercourse. Using boats to transport building material creating the proverb that Berlin was build out of boats.

Limestone quarry at Ruedersdorf (Google Earth: 52°28'22.79"N, 13°47'8.62"E)

Still ongoing quarrying created a vast pit in the ground, nearly one km wide, 4 km long and more than 90 m deep, reaching about 60 m below the water table. So, sediments from early Triassic Buntsandstein to early Ladinian (Middle Triassic) Muschelkalk (literally shell limestone) are exposed.

Muschelkalk is a rock strata of Middle Triassic age restricted to Central Europe and subdivided in three subgroups, Lower, Middle and Upper Muschelkalk. Currently banks from the Lower Muschelkalk (Mid-Anisian) are quarried. Lower Muschelkalk in Ruedersdorf exhibits two different appearances due to different environments at sedimentation time, Schaumkalk (literally foam limestone), created in a high-energy environment, and Wellenkalk (literally wave limestone), formed under regimes of lower energy. Wellenkalk, a marly limestone, is the raw material for cement, while Schaumkalk, a pure limestone, is used for the production of quicklime.

Wellenkalk: Muschelpflaster (literally clam pavement)
Wellenkalk: Muschelpflaster (literally clam pavement)
stylolites in Schaumkalk
stylolites in Schaumkalk

The Swedish geologist Otto Torell visited Ruedersdorf on his way to a geological conference in Berlin 1875, where he intended to present his theory about inland glaciation of Northern and Central Europe during the Ice Age - and he was lucky enough to find proof in the quarry: striations created by glaciers [1]. The theory was proposed by others before but was not approved until then.

Ruedersdorf quarry is as well the locus typicus (type locality) of styloliths, i.e. the locality where they were first identified by Karl Friedrich von Kloeden in 1828.

Access to the quarry is rarely possible. But from the construction supply industry's open-air museum (Museumspark Ruedersdorf) just beside the quarry you can get a glimpse into the pit. The open-air museum includes a "house of rocks" named after Otto Torell where fossils found in the quarry and various building materials are exhibited. In front of the house you can study bigger blocks of various limestone types found in Ruedersdorf.

Ruedersdorf has been studied by local geologists intensively but - since everything was top-secret - nothing was published between the Second World War and the German reunification. There have been publications since - but in German. Luckily enough there is now the first publication in English available (download it here)!


[1] Torell, O. (1875), Über einen gemeinschaftlich mit den Herren Berendt und Orth nach den Rüdersdorfer Kalkbergen unternommenen Ausflug, Zeitschrift der geologischen Gesellschaft, 27(4) , pp. 961-962. Available from: Torell [accessed 25 February 2014]

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