Tour of the Hufeisensiedlung, 22nd July 2012

2012.05.09

The tour cancelled in June now rescheduled for 2pm on 22nd July.  All other details the same:

Ben Buschfeld and his wife Katrin Lesser (www.katrin-lesser.de) conduct private tours of the estate; Katrin is a landscape architect; her great-grandfather was Ludwig Lesser, a luminary in the field.

Length 1-1/2 to 2 hours, cost €7 per head, departing on foot from U-Bahn station Parchimer Allee at street level, on the corner of Parchimer Allee and Fritz-Reuter-Allee.

The tour will hopefully conclude with a visit to Taut’s Home (www.tautes-heim.de), designed by Bruno Taut and faithfully restored with furnishings of the era. This is a holiday flat, so if that property happens to be occupied, Ben will show us around his private home — also designed by Taut — and show photos and documentation of the Taut’s Home renovation.

Max 20 participants. In the event of poor weather we’ll reschedule.

If interested, let me know via Facebook, or jimhudson40 (at) googlemail.com

Categories : Bruno Taut   Early modernism   Event

Mauerfall, Part 1

2009.07.06

I’m not one for being up-to-date or cutting edge with my blog content (I’m more of a ponderer) but even I have noticed that 2009 is of course the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

To this end, I thought I’d start a series of posts about Berlin places and buildings on its route. I’m not doing them in a particular order, but I might at some point renumber these to make a sort of ad hoc guide. There’s actually a very good cycle guide to the entire route (now also available in English) nearly all of which we’ve cycled. There’s a bit to the north of Berlin which we missed, because we found a rather good restaurant, and lunch ran over schedule.  You can do it in three days comfortably – we just cycled to the nearest station and came home each evening, then restarted the next day at the same point, so I can’t make recommendations for accomodation.

Thanks to Julie (see comments) who noted this useful link: http://www.berlin.de/mauer/mauerweg/index/index.en.php.

Anyway, I’ve elected to start at Michael-Kirch-Platz, which I would insert here as a Googlemap, but can’t get it to work, so here’s a link instead.

I feel really strongly that if you want to get a feel for the wall and its history, far better to get a good book on it and walk some stretches like this, away from Checkpoint Charlie and the tourists.

In case you didn’t know, the Wall (die Mauer) was not really a wall as such – more a series of fences, barriers and heavily guarded strips which formed an inpenetrable barrier around West Berlin.  In central Berlin the outermost line usually took the form of the familiar concrete slabs with tubular concrete section on top that’s become the image of ‘The Wall’.  There’s still bits all over the place:

All this sort of thing you can read elsewhere I’m sure, so back to Michael-Kirk-Platz.  It’s one of those many spots in Berlin where you find yourself so surrounded by history that the place seems somehow to be resting, exhausted, hoping for a quiet life from now on.  The wall ran across the bridge over the Spree (top right hand corner of map) then followed the curve of the old Luisenstadt canal (filled in early in the 20th century but its route still clearly visible, and now a long thin park) down to Michael-Kirk-Platz, where there is still a small lake remaining (the Engelbecker – angel basin) before dropping south.  Confusingly, everything to the south and east of the wall at this point was in West Berlin, everything to the north and west was in East Berlin.

It emphasizes Kreuzberg’s strange isolated location in the already isolated West Berlin of the Cold War years; the allies divided Berlin into sectors which generally followed the district lines, and the wall followed these when it went up, so at Michael-Kirk-Platz divided Kreuzberg in the south-east from Mitte, the central district of the East German capital.

The Kirk (church) itself was heavily damaged in WWII bombing and the nave is now just a shell; only the transepts, main tower and apse are now enclosed and in use:

This was on a poster by the entrance – you can clearly see the small lake and the route of the disused canal heading running south:

Another image from the board, showing the wall pre-1989.  You can just make out a guard tower to the right, in the ‘death strip’.  The church was in West Berlin:

Taking a walk around the Platz is a brief history of the last 100 years of building in Berlin.  Taking a turn about the square from north west, anticlockwise:

First are a group of refurbished east german Plattenbau housing blocks:

…standing right next to some recent new apartment blocks – nothing to write home about in architectural terms, but representative of post-Wall reconstruction and of the area’s not-so-creeping gentrification:

The apartments face across the Engelbecker to older 19th century blocks – before 1989 this would have been a view looking from East Berlin over the wall into the West (the wall running where the line of trees is).  I’m often struck by how strange a situation it all was – the two worlds able to look across at each other every day:

Then, on a different note, a piece of seminal early modernism by Bruno Taut, mentioned in my earlier post:

Off to its left is a block which I know nothing about – at first glance an east german Plattenbau, but on closer inspection older, perhaps Nazi-era (I think) judging by the stonework detailing.  Currently a local activist squat by the look of it:

Walking away from the Platz along the line of the canal/Wall to the north, you witness the amazing contrast between the carefully kept park, with new private apartments behind:

and immediately opposite, an increasingly rare scene here – people living in that other place, in a range of (often) dilapidated vehicles and makeshift buildings:

Refurbished buildings still stand alone in large open plots, created by allied bombing and postwar clearance – now a unique and integral part of Berlin’s urbanity:

And of course that strange self-built ‘Haus am Mauer‘:

Bruno Taut – Meister des farbigen bauens in Berlin / Master of colourful architecture in Berlin

2009.06.03

Verlagshaus Braun, 2008.  Edited by the Deutscher Werkbund Berlin.

Majority of text in german and english, with some of the english texts slightly summarised. Short building descriptions are in german only, but fairly easy to work out.

Amazon link

Bruno Taut is accepted as one of the founding fathers of modern architecture, although his work was apparently mocked at the time by the press as an architect of ‘little people’s happiness’, which in retrospect seems an odd sort of insult.  He’s also one of those, like Poelzig or Mies, whose designs spanned the pre-modern to the modern; it often seems to be the case with figures such as these that their early work is left out of the historical account, as it doesn’t fit with the revolutionary narrative of modernism.

Not so here – the book is both a good introduction to Taut’s work, and a well-researched and thorough guide to all of his buildings in Berlin, from 1908 onwards, both destroyed and extant.  Each project is set out with example floor plans, contemporary and original images, site location plans and text.  But it’s the chronological ordering that’s so effective, as you can clearly see the development of Taut’s ideas from some relatively undistinguished buildings, through to the colourful large scale estates mentioned in the title.  This also gives the lie to the ‘hermetically sealed’ historical view of modernism; rather, the architecture develops gradually through what we know as ‘modernist’ design, and you have the feeling that creating a sleek white minimal look was in any case not Taut’s overriding aim.  In fact the colour schemes of some of the estates, generally recently restored to their former glory and reproduced in the book, could be described politely as ‘exuberant’.

There are some good essays on Taut’s membership of the Deutscher Werkbund (who are responsible for the publication of the book itself), his work with light and colour, and the preservation of his work in later years.  Incredibly, Taut built over 10,000 apartments in Berlin.  Of Berlin’s six housing estates recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status, four are by Taut; the book includes an essay on the status and preservation of Taut’s legacy.  Since you ask, the four estates are:

- Tuschkastensiedlung Falkenberg, 1913-16
- Wohnstadt Carl Legien in Prenzlauer Berg, 1928-30
- Hufeisensiedlung Britz, 1925-30 (the ‘Horseshoe’ estate)
- Siedlung Schillerpark im Wedding

What was also fascinating was to discover that two of Taut’s earliest buildings are in my immediate neighbourhood, both located on what I had considered to be the architecturally barren street of Kottbusser Damm, south of the canal.  Clearly I don’t look up enough when walking down the street (I generally watch the pavement in Neukoln/Kreuzberg, where dog owners take a laissez-faire attitude).

The first is no. 2-3, a block which remained a postwar ruin until the 1980s, until it was rebuilt, bizarrely, by Inken and Hinrich Baller, who are themselves no strangers to this blog.  Originally, the block included a cinema in the lower storeys.

It’s all Taut at the front:

but Baller at the back:

Just down the road is a quite different building, but also 1909.  What strikes you most is the Arts & Crafts styling, which was never completely lost to Taut in his later work:

The book is packed with the level of detail that I like.  I was interested to note that the Haus des Deutschen Verkehrsbundes (the state traffic office) on Engeldamm, originally had its limestone facing painted over in a dark colour, which seems a little contrary to logic, but does emphasize the importance of colour in Taut’s architecture:

(Image by Julien Valle, who has also photographed brother Max Taut’s building just south on Oranienplatz. In fact he’s photographed lots of things that I meant to get round to but haven’t – well worth a look. Anyway, back at the book review…)

In some ways the sub-title ‘Master of Colourful Architecture…’ is a little misleading (as well as being slightly clunky in english) despite the inclusion of an essay on the enormous importance of colour in Taut’s work.  I make this not really as a criticism though, because what comes through most from the book is Taut’s dedication to better living conditions for ordinary people, achieved through design, and the strong influence of the english Garden City movement; more Letchworth and lawns, than Mies and modernism.

The Britz 'Horseshoe' Estate, Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner

2008.10.11

Another sunny day, and a trip to one of city’s Pioneering Modernist Works. I phrase it like this, because I have a list of all the buildings and places I should see, but don’t often make the effort, because I come across so many other interesting things just wandering randomly through odd parts of the city.

Anyway, the Britz estate was built to designs by Bruno Taut (with a block by Martin Wagner), between 1925 and 1933, and is known as ‘the horseshoe estate’ (Hufeisensiedlung) due to the horseshoe-shaped design of the central block. A good summary on the Berlin.de page here, and a page from the always-handy Housing Prototypes here.

I took quite a few images, all in a Flickr set here.

Like much early modernist design, you’re struck by how, well, very modern the buildings seem, I guess in part because of so much later modernist pastiche. But what surprised me was that actually much of the architecture, interesting though it is, is of secondary importance to the kind of place the Britz estate is. The overall impression I got was a much stronger connection with the English Arts & Crafts and Garden City movements than with pioneering German modernism, despite how much we’re taught about the links between the two.

Much as I knew I should be looking at this sort of thing

…I was equally fascinated by this other sort of thing:

- by the slightly mysterious maze of pathways between the private gardens. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia; I can imagine what it must be like to play here as a kid (unlike the UK, children are still allowed out in Germany, without the security of a Humvee or other military vehicle).

Having said that, I didn’t really see anyone much that friday morning, child or adult.

Although the architectural style on the Horseshoe estate side was markedly different from those across the street, the mood seemed quite the same. Peaceful, quiet, neatly trimmed gardens; an old fashioned, well established working class neighbourhood.

One side:

and the other:

Having read what a shame it was that many of the building’s original detailing had been lost, I couldn’t find any evidence. There seemed to be quite strong enforcement of window replacement etc, including colours, which in the case of the windows are clearly important on some of the low rise block designs, where all frames have identical De Stijl-like designs.

These particular houses are arranged in terraces with access via their southern orientated gardens. You can therefore walk along pathways giving access to the gardens/houses on one side, and look into the gloomier rear of the houses in the next row. I noticed several were empty or being refurbished; in the end property, recently redone, were clear signs of a middle class design-aware type moving in, their attempt to use period furniture strangely incongrous (a good commentary on that sort of thing here, by the by).

An almost rural feel within the horseshoe itself, designed around a pre-existing pond, apparently. I stood and watched as a lone heron took off from the water and settled in a nearby tree.

The main entrance route to the horseshoe, which has the feel of an abandoned Olympic stadium structure:

And what I’m guessing is the row of Martin Wagner-designed houses:

Anyway, tempting as it is to witter on like someone showing you their holiday slides, I’ve put the rest here.

Post-blog note:

Of course, this is an rather superficial commentary, based entirely on my personal response to the place. If this was a proper blog, I would have explained the background; that to understand the ideas behind the estate, you have to understand that its first residents would have largely moved from utterly squalid, overcrowded conditions, have fought through a disastrous war, crippling inflation and economic collapse, and that such a place could have seemed like heaven on earth in a place a unstable as Weimar Germany. I also make no comment on the appeal of the emerging ideas of modernism and how well they fitted with the need for cheap construction by local housing authorities, or attempt to reconcile Bruno Taut’s outlandish theorising at the time with the calmness and practicality of his housing designs.

Which all goes to show that if you really want to know about something, best to get hold of a good book about it.

An interesting article here about the protection of Berlin’s modernist estates, by the way.