Ex­plore the cap­i­tal's amaz­ing ar­chi­tec­ture

Where Berlin - - FRONT PAGE - By Hilda Hoy and Solveig Stein­hardt

Ber­lin may not have the Re­nais­sance palaz­zos of Florence or the fairy­tale spires of Prague. The wide­spread devastation of World War II took care of that, re­duc­ing the ma­jor­ity of the cap­i­tal’s his­toric build­ings to ru­ins. A few Baroque palaces and neo­clas­si­cal façades still bear wit­ness to the city's an­cient splen­dor, but what Ber­lin does boast to­day is a thrillingly di­verse patch­work of con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture that cap­tures the cap­i­tal’s his­tory. Whether it’s show­stop­ping Bru­tal­ism, quirky retro con­struc­tions, or con­tem­po­rary masterpieces that quicken your pulse, there is plenty to ex­plore and dis­cover in Ber­lin’s mod­ern cityscape.


Ever won­dered what Ber­lin looked like at the end of the1800s? It was a fairly big Euro­pean cap­i­tal whose lat­est ur­ban pro­jects, in­spired by the Re­nais­sance, Gothic and Baroque styles, were wo­ven into a ta­pes­try of older neo­Clas­si­cal and Baroque build­ings. When the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion kicked in, mi­gra­tion drove peo­ple from ru­ral ar­eas into the city, and Ber­lin’s pop­u­la­tion swelled rapidly. The city was soon fit­ted with a rail­way sys­tem and the first U-Bahn lines, and to pro­vide much-needed hous­ing, it be­gan draw­ing up plans for Mi­et­skaserne, or “rental bar­racks,” a style of ten­e­ment hous­ing in which apart­ments are clus­tered around a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected court­yards. Of­ten fea­tur­ing stuc­coed fronts and Art Nou­veau or Art Deco dec­o­ra­tion and al­most always five sto­ries high, th­ese build­ings sprung up en masse between 1860–1914. Wealth­ier families lived in the “front house,” while the work­ing class lived in the darker and less dec­o­rated court­yard apart­ments. By law, th­ese yards had to be large enough for a horse-drawn fire­fight­ers’ wagon to en­ter, and shops, in­dus­try, and other busi­nesses were of­ten in­cor­po­rated into the struc­tures. Many of Ber­lin’s res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods still fea­ture th­ese Alt­bau build­ings – though get­ting ac­cess may be tricky. For a prime ex­am­ple of this court­yard-style con­struc­tion that's open to the public, visit Mitte’s

Hack­esche Höfe (Hack­escher Markt). Built in 1906, the fully re­stored com­plex fea­tures eight in­ter­con­nected court­yards that are now home to clubs, restau­rants, the­aters, and shops.


Af­ter World War I drew to a close, Ber­lin didn't just pick up the pieces: it also ex­panded its bound­aries by in­cor­po­rat­ing 59 ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and 27 es­tates. The dis­tricts of Char­lot­ten­burg and Schöneberg, un­til then in­de­pen­dent towns, were now part of the city. With over four mil­lion in­hab­i­tants oc­cu­py­ing an area of 880 square kilo­me­ters, Ber­lin was the largest city in Europe. To pro­vide a new, func­tional kind of hous­ing, ar­chi­tect Wal­ter Gropius founded the Bauhaus school in 1929. Ac­cord­ing to the Bauhaus prin­ci­ples, arts, crafts, and ar­chi­tec­ture should be given equal im­por­tance to cre­ate highly func­tional build­ings with a mod­ern de­sign. The Ger­man Bauhaus move­ment did not last long, as it was soon banned by the Nazis along with all other forms of ab­stract or Ex­pres­sion­ist art, but it did leave an im­por­tant mark in Ber­lin, where it took dif­fer­ent names, from "Weimar style" to "New Ra­tio­nal­ism" and "Ex­pres­sion­ism." Its main fol­low­ers, Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner, cre­ated the progressive hous­ing pro­jects of the White City (Schiller­ring 13, Reinick­endorf) and of the Horse­shoe

Es­tate (Fritz-Re­nate-Allee 44, Neukölln), both UNESCO World Her­itage Sites that have been de­scribed as two of the most out­stand­ing ex­am­ples of Ger­man ur­ban plan­ning of the 1920s. In­tended for the work­ing class, th­ese large hous­ing blocks were built with low-cost ma­te­ri­als and stan­dard­ized floor plans, and were meant to also cre­ate a sense of com­mu­nity through large gar­dens and lo­cal ser­vices. Paint rather than stucco was used to pro­vide cheap dec­o­ra­tion, and the ini­tial monotony of the long hous­ing blocks was later bro­ken by vary­ing the units’ heights. Com­pared to the ten­e­ment hous­ing of the early 1900s, the new ar­chi­tec­ture fo­cused on in­creased hy­giene, bright­ness, air, and com­mon spa­ces. Taut took the con­cept even fur­ther, ap­ply­ing it to the English gar­den city idea to cre­ate the enor­mous

Onkel-Toms-Hütte hous­ing es­tate (U Onkel-Toms-Hütte). Th­ese Bauhaus-style town­houses are com­prised of sin­gle and

mul­ti­ple fam­ily con­dos in the lush green­ery of Grunewald. Ber­lin's New Ra­tio­nal­ism not only af­fected res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods: the Shell-Haus of­fice build­ing, built in1932, fea­tures a very char­ac­ter­is­tic façade that leaps for­ward to cre­ate six folds as the build­ing in­creases in height from six to 10 sto­ries. But when Hitler rose to power in 1933, the con­struc­tion of th­ese large hous­ing pro­jects came to a halt. As the Führer pre­pared for war, he also jot­ted down his plans for the im­pe­rial Ber­lin of his dreams, the "world cap­i­tal city of Ger­ma­nia," fea­tur­ing im­pos­ing build­ings and large boule­vards. His de­feat and a city re­duced to rub­ble by the war up­set his plans, but he did man­age to leave be­hind a cou­ple of ex­am­ples of what can be con­sid­ered Nazi ar­chi­tec­ture. The

Tem­pel­hof Air­port build­ing, built to be the big­gest air­port of that time, has an im­pos­ing con­crete façade adorned with aus­tere Nazi ea­gles, a large check-in hall lined with mon­u­men­tal block-type stair­cases, and a rooftop ter­race to pro­vide per­fect views of the Reich's Luft­waffe air shows.


The city lay in ru­ins af­ter the war fi­nally came to an end. For years, sur­vival was Ber­lin's main pri­or­ity, with home­less­ness and food and fuel short­ages be­ing the grim re­al­i­ties Ber­lin­ers faced ev­ery day. In 1948, how­ever, the Mar­shall Plan kicked in, and economic aid from the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment be­gan to flow in. For West Ber­lin, the 1950s were a pe­riod of rapid re­con­struc­tion, leav­ing be­hind a legacy of rather retro-look­ing build­ings that dot the cityscape to­day. In 1957, the IBA expo brought renowned in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tects to Ber­lin for the In­ter­bau devel­op­ment project. Tal­ents like Al­var Aalto, Le Cor­bus­ier, and Arne Ja­cob­sen con­trib­uted to the re­de­vel­op­ment of the Hansavier­tel district north of Tier­garten, which still fea­tures nu­mer­ous high-rises in the iconic Nachkriegsmod­erne, or post-war mod­ern, style. The Haus der Kul­turen

der Welt (John-Fos­ter-Dulles- Allee 10, Mitte), built as a congress hall in 1957 and to­day a cul­tural cen­ter, is one of the other iconic build­ings of that era, to­gether with the Bikini-Haus of 1955 (Bu­dapester Str. 38-50, Char­lot­ten­burg) re­opened in 2014 as a so­phis­ti­cated mall. Hans Scharoun's Phil­har­monie ( 1960) and the Neue

Na­tion­al­ga­lerie (Pots­damer Str. 50, Mitte), a Mies van der Rohe de­sign from 1968, are part of the re­de­vel­op­ment of the Tier­garten area. Mean­while in East Ber­lin, con­struc­tion be­gan in 1952 to build Stali­nallee, re­named

Karl-Marx-Allee in 1961. The Friedrichshain boule­vard was seen as a flag­ship of East Ber­lin’s re­con­struc­tion, and the grand ar­chi­tec­ture was de­signed to re­flect the great­ness of the so­cial­ist regime. Nearly 90m wide and about 2km long, the Allee is lined with mon­u­men­tal apart­ment build­ings in the clas­sic Soviet-style wed­ding-cake look

of that pe­riod. Along with the retro Kino

In­ter­na­tional, a movie theater still in use to­day, the boule­vard’s ar­chi­tec­ture re­mains un­touched, a shin­ing ex­am­ple of the Soviet in­flu­ence on East Ber­lin’s ar­chi­tec­ture. By the 1960s/70s, an­other dis­tinc­tive look to emerge on West Ber­lin’s cityscape was Bru­tal­ism, de­fined by stark con­crete and ag­gres­sive shapes. Shin­ing ex­am­ples of this im­pos­ing look are the Czech Em­bassy on Mitte’s Wil­helm­straße, with its ce­ment pan­els and tinted glass, or the St. Agnes

church on Alexan­dri­nen­straße in Kreuzberg, cur­rently be­ing con­verted into an ul­tra­mod­ern art gallery by renowned Ger­man ar­chi­tect Arno Bran­dl­hu­ber.


In the 1990s, Ber­lin ad­min­is­tra­tors and politi­cians were faced with the prob­lem of fill­ing the empty spa­ces of what had once been the Ber­lin Wall's "death strip," and cre­at­ing unity in the two dif­fer­ently de­vel­oped halves of the city. One of the first achieve­ments was the re­con­struc­tion of Pots­damer Platz, the for­mer heart of the city. Led by archi-stars like Renzo Pi­ano, Hans Kohlhoff, and Christoph Kohlbecker, cranes worked for years to recre­ate the bustling hub the Platz had once been. Other achieve­ments were Daniel Libe­skind's ex­ten­sion of the for­mer Jewish Mu­seum build­ing (Lin­den­str. 9-14, Mitte) into an ir­reg­u­larly an­gled sil­ver struc­ture that could sym­bol­ize the tor­mented his­tory of the Jews in Ger­many, and Nor­man Fos­ter's re­mod­el­ing of the Re­ich­stag (Mitte) and the de­sign of its new glass cupola, which can be vis­ited by ap­point­ment, of­fer­ing a view of even more new ar­chi­tec­tural pro­jects tak­ing shape in the city.

The Shell-Haus (1932) is fa­mous for its wave-like façade.

The Beisheim Cen­ter on Pots­damer Platz houses the RitzCarl­ton Ho­tel.

1956-1957 (West): Haus der Kul­turen

der Welt

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Germany

© PressReader. All rights reserved.