Disappointment at Prager Platz (but enlightenment at the Technikmuseum).


A lovely evening here in Kreuzberg, sat on the balcony watching the sun go down.  My partner (soon to be wife) is off on her hen night, so what to do?  A drug-fuelled night of depravity with a group of erotic dancers?  No, it’s Saturday night, I want to do something special.  So a spot of long overdue blogging.

I was on an errand the other day (back when it was rainy and cold here in Berlin, a period that lasts from roughly October until the end of May), and this errand took me through Prager Platz, another part of – you guessed it – the 1980s IBA.  Along with the development up at Tegeler Hafen,  it stands physically apart from the rest of the IBA programme.

It didn’t help that it was cold and raining of course, but there was something distinctly underwhelming about this particular piece of urban design.  Nothing wrong with the idea; the recreation of a 19th century square using contemporary architecture.  And I’ve long become accustomed, probably too much so, to some of the PoMo excesses of the aforementioned IBA.  But I found the Rob Krier block frankly a little scary – hard to put my finger on exactly why (perhaps Tragedy Hatherley can help here, whose way with words and seemingly colossal output always put my infrequent posts to shame).  Why though is there always something of ancient Rome about Krier’s buildings, often with nightmarish almost-but-not-quite-abstract sculpture.  Something a little too unrelaxed and self-consciously odd?

I tread carefully here, because there’s architecture that I’ve not initially loved, then have subsequently campaigned to save, but architecture the like of John Hejduk’s is absent here.

Part of the problem for me is that there was nothing good round the back.  So often with IBA buildings, particularly in Kreuzberg and Luisenstadt, further to the east, you get nothing very impressive on the street elevation, but much more excitement in the interior courtyards (the Höfe, to give them their correct plural-of-Hof name).  Secret gardens, cascading balconies, wavy elevations, overgrown ruins and the like.  None of that here, perhaps because this a richer and, pre-IBA, a more developed part of town.  We’re talking West-end, Wilmersdorf/Schöneberg, and actually the strength here is the understated and pleasantly sleepy1950s domestic architecture, which is beginning to exert a strange hold on me (more about this another time, except to say that I’ve started fantasizing about living in a well-to-do part of West Berlin of this period, rather than the parts that you’re meant to fantasize about).

So anyway, onto the buildings, architects and such things.  I include this kind of detail, in the probably errant belief that it lends my blog a little depth and class.  Or whatever.

The overall idea seems to have been jointly by Rob Krier and Gottfried Böhm, with Klaus Kammann acting as Berlin contact architect for each of the buildings.

Firstly, that scary Rob Krier block (you’ll remember him, brother of Leon, who is/was architectural advisor to Prince Charles -  both brothers big noises in the why-does-it-present-itself-so-like-Scientology New Urbanism movement).

In classic PoMo style, there are elements that at a glance appear to be structural, but then obviously aren’t.  A bit like a later James Stirling building, except not as good.  Like this bracket supporting the balcony, but actually just pretending to, ho, ho.

Next, the residential block by Gottfried Böhm, an architect with a long career with some good work. But not here, to my taste at least.  It’s quirky enough, but I was strangely taken with the idea that Richard Rogers could have done the same building in a High-tech stylee (if the British High Tech folk had been interested in such lowly things as housing back in the 1980s).  Still, I noticed recently that someone had tagged my blog on Delicious as ‘ugly Berlin architecture’ (I decided to be flattered) and this will add to their collection.

What to do with all those spare tiles? Oh, I know, let’s cover the whole building with them…

…and a building by Carlo Aymonino, who, unlike Rob Krier, actually is italian, although he hasn’t included any clay pantile roofs, rusticated balconies, false brackets etc.  It’s hiding behind a tree though, for some reason:

It seems that where the shopping centre now stands, there was a plan to build a municipal leisure pool, library and an adult education centre.  I didn’t venture into the shopping centre, but it didn’t look like any of these things would be located here.  Do correct me if I’m wrong.

Perhaps I’ll return to all of this at some future point in a different frame of mind, but for the time being, inspired by the aforementioned Mr Hatherley, I’m going to press on with a longer post than usual (which isn’t saying much) by switching subject to something I do like. Nothing to do with the IBA!  Plus, all photos guaranteed to depict a sunny day.

I was cycling about round the Tempodrome recently.  It’s a permanent, concrete version of a kind of big circus tent, which previously really did exist as an actual circus venue in various locations around Berlin, once hosting an event featuring both Westbam and Einstürzenden Neubauten, which must have been good.  The Neues Tempodrome is a faint echo of the original, being given more to Coke-sponsored major rock tours than anything more leftfield. It also has the Liquidrome beneath, but you can look all this up on Wikipedia if you want.  It was built, as many such big german things are, by GMP (von Gerkan, Marg & Partner).

The flower pots are very large, by the way.  I got my girlfriend to stand next to one for scale, but don’t like to feature her in the blog, so you’ll have to imagine her standing to the right of the closer one, being about the same height as it.

More interestingly, it is built on the site, and on the remains, of the Anhalter Bahnhof, one of the capital’s largest stations before the war, but which was demolished postwar after heavy bomb damage and lack of anywhere to need to trravel to from West Berlin.  If you live in Berlin you’ll be familiar with the bit that still stands:

But on the other side of the Tempodrome, there are remains of the station platforms and tracks, which rather reminded me of a recent post by the ever-reliably interesting Charles Holland at Fantastic Journal, telling of the self-consciously hip and not-so-hip reuse of abandoned urban industrial architecture.  The difference here being  that Berlin is virtually made of this sort of thing, with far too few inhabitants to pay attention to it all.  Not quite as self-consciously a piece of ‘Architecture’ as New York’s High Line, but the Anhalter Bahnhof tracks run into a series of derelict and semi-derelict spaces which previously formed one of the largest interchanges/good yards in Europe. Remains of the platforms can be seen, with some landscaping at the ‘neater’ Tempodrome end with beds of railway gravel marking out the route of the tracks.  The whole thing is being allowed to slowly turn into woodland, deliberately I assume.

I’m slightly baffled as to how the tracks are at the same level as the Tempodrome, far above the level of the front of the station; perhaps someone can explain…

I’ve come to believe that I’ll never be able to embed Google maps, but if you look here, you can see the Tempodrome, and the site of the Anhalter Bahnhof (the white circle in a rectangle, centre top) with the goods yards and tracks running through a large site to the south, still partly empty.  But a large part of the area, including the three vast ruined turntable sheds, have been incorporated into the Deutsches Technikmuseum.

As you pass by on the main road, the very prominent (and apparently very expensive) new building of the Museum looks impressive enough.  I guess any building with a Dakota bomber hanging off it would be impressive anyway, but I’ve recently realised that structurally the whole building is something rather fantastic.  Essentially, it’s a colossal pillar in the centre, from which the rest of the building (and the aeroplane) is suspended.  You might counter that this is a rather Grimshaw-esque approach; create a structural problem and then try to solve it.  Whatever.  But it does become more apparent if you explore round the back, where they’ve done this:

It appears to be a structural frame with the columns taken away, but you’re actually seeing the bottom end of the suspension rods, holding up the floors.

It’s by Ulrich Wolff and Helge Pitz, 1995-2001 by the way.  Apparently building costs were such that when originally finished, there was no money for anything to go in it.  But I say ‘apparently’ because architect bloke down the pub told me, and you can’t believe everything he says.

I also love that from the south, only the ‘head’ of the building is visible, appearing like some vast piece of abandoned german industrial machinery.  Built on top of a bunker.  Which I can’t believe wasn’t at least part of the intended effect.

Some other images included, as there’s all sorts of other recent and less recent structures nestling in the undergrowth.  The museum itself is also well worth a visit, if you’d like to see some of this from the other side of the fence.  Plus if you get a chance before the end of June, this looks very interesting.

Guerillas in the midst (of cabbages)


A couple of weeks back there was an attempted mid-summer-night’s mass squatting of Tempelhof Airport, so we went to see how things were going, but somehow ended up behind the line of police on Columbiadamm holding back the would-be squatters.  (They weren’t physically holding them back – most of the protesters were over in the adjoining park, making happy with techno.)

The purpose of the squat (as I understand it) was to highlight opposition to the creeping gentrification of Berlin, typified, in the squatters’ view, by the latest plans for the recently defunct Tempelhof.  Gentrification in Berlin is a subject that I’m quite confused about.  Where, I often ask myself, do all the people come from rich enough to buy all the luxury appartments which continue to spring up around Prenzlauerberg and other parts of the city? (and increasingly in Kreuzberg 36).  Is there no recession?  Does Berlin have lots of well paid jobs suddenly, rather than a problem with long term structural unemployment, aided by an ever increasing numnber of out of work actors/writers/musicians?

More thoughts on that soon, but anyway, back at the airport, where, after we’d nervously ‘entshuldigunged’ our way through the police wall from the wrong side, my girlfriend commented to me that what they really should be trying is guerilla gardening.  “Why doesn’t someone break through the fence with some gardening equipment and plant rows of carrots and such?” she said.

Now, the Tempelhof site is colossal – look at it here on Google maps, and you realise just how big.  So I don’t lie awake worrying that the whole thing will be turned into luxury housing.  Germany doesn’t have enough people who could afford that much luxury (or so I assume ).  But it does seem a shame that there’s not something a bit more radical or inspired on the cards.  The final three in the current competition are the UK’s Chora/Gross Max, Urban essences Architektur / Lützow 7 Landschaftsarchitektur*, and Graft Architekten / Büro Kiefer Landschaftsarchitektur, the latter both in Berlin.  Some links here, here and here.

There’s also an exhibition on until 10 July, 12-19.00 Uhr, at Gewerbehof Orco-GSG, Gneisenaustraße 66/67, 10961 Berlin.

*I was going to link to individual sites here, but can’t be bothered.  Architects: stop doing your sites in Flash – it’s rubbish, looks overdesigned and you can’t link to individual pages.

About 15 years ago there was a previous competition, which included a typically leftfield entry from the UK’s Will Alsop (then as Alsop & Störmer):

I’m not entirely sure what an ‘economic activator’ is, but I like the idea of a big outdoor venue, a forest, canal, city farm, and…. Schrebergartens.  Schrebergartens are part of the Berlin (and wider german) tradition of living in apartments but putting all the gardens together in one place nearby, known as Kolonies.  We spent much of last weekend enjoying some of the 48 Stunden Neukölln events, but in particular the Kolonies, some of which were open to the public just for the weekend.  I’m going to write some more on this (have been off exploring some others further afield) but not right now, as must rush, and have decided better to post short and more often than my usual habit of thinking about something for weeks then not doing it at all.

PS – was just looking for a good image from the web, and notice that someone else already has.  So read theirs (in french) until I get round to it.