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Internship Field: Civil Engineering / Green Building / Eco Building

Major: Civil Engineering

Host: Gesellschaft für ökologische Bautechnik Berlin mbH (GföB)

Location: Berlin

Duration: June – December 2008


StiedemannDescription: I started off simply reading the basic laws that govern what the Gesellschaft fuer oekologische Bautechnik does and the data sheets on the primary dangerous materials with which I would be working such as asbestos, fiberglass insulation, tar-based products, and things used in older construction that are still found. This was, naturally, a wonderfully stimulating shock that made me think, “Wow, my German sucks.” Of course two weeks later I was able to understand practically everything that was being said at normal speed.

As I got better with German and they started to know me, I started going to various construction sites with my boss and coworkers. There are three main types of construction site jobs. The first was taking samples to see what was actually under the façade and floor and above the roof. This involved using a jackhammer or, more often, a core sampler and just drilling a few holes. I do not know if this is an over generalization, but there is something oddly fulfilling about destructing somebody else’s building. I learned to identify materials by sight and smell.

The next type of construction site job was the safety inspection. We were contracted to walk through and document, reprimand, and report anything that violated the rules and regulations determined by the German laws. After a few they got sort of repetitive, but with good enough German they will let you do it yourself or under close supervision of a coworker. Great German practice. A little bit intimidating. One benefit though was that I got to see big construction sites at work.

The third type of construction site job involved lots of measuring. We would generate cost estimates for the deconstruction and removal of hazardous materials. This was really simple but also really fun. Because you have to see the material to measure it (in most instances) this required proper safety gear. For asbestos, depending on the type, we would wear anything from a simple face mask to a full on respirator and white suit. There was only one instance where I got to remove a section of asbestos covered pipe myself.

I would say the best part of this was seeing all of the different Berlin buildings. I got to go on the roof of a 29 story building, see a guy jump over the edge and rappel down to make a measurement. I got to see the opera house, ICC building, every police station, and several very unique buildings in Dessau. It was all very hands on.


Another project I did was in Northeim near Goettingen. I worked with an outside company that acted as a sort of general contractor in renovating a house. We lived on site (a three story building with a garage). The garage we converted into a small business which involved cutting out the 18 cm thick middle floor. We used a GIANT water cooled foundation saw and cut out 300 kg blocks at a time. I dug some trenches, ran the main electrical cords, fresh water, and sewer lines, learned how to drywall, learned how to lay tile, learned how to lay brick, learned how to install everything from a toilet, to an oven, to laminate wood flooring, cabinets and windows. This was the project that was the most fun. I can not guarantee that they would have this project again on this scale, but you really have not lived until you have been outside in the snow digging for 4 hours and then have someone hand you a jack hammer and say “Stemm mal alles ab” and pointing to 20 square meters of thick cement and a wheelbarrow. Long hours, ten days, but good food, Bier, and company.

The last sort of job I did involved more scientific measurements. We would take air samples on various agars in various locations in order to see if there was anything potentially harmful in the air. While we did not do any of the incubation or culturing ourselves (we sent it all off to a lab), I got to tour the lab and see it all. If I had asked, I am sure that I could have taken a few days and worked at the lab. But I had my fair share of culturing things in high school so that was not really too big of an attraction.

So those are the projects that I tackled outside of the office. Inside of the office, much of the time I was recording all of the data we had taken on site in digital form with programs like AutoCAD, CorelDRAW, CorelPAINT, ArchiCAD, and smaller programs tuned at some of the more specific tests we did. We made everything look professional and clean and then presented all of the information in a report for the companies that contracted us. I would say time was split about down the middle between office work and construction site work.


Comments: The projects I had towards the beginning seemed a bit like busy work. But now that I think about them, I realize that they were the basis for what the company was about. Not only did that put me in the right mindset, but it also introduced the vocabulary that I would be throwing around everyday.
As you can read above, the skills I acquired here will follow me around forever. The two that I appreciate the most right now are AutoCAD and the stuff I learned in Northeim.

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