Tag des offenen Denkmals


We’ve already established how bad I am at listing architecture-related events.  But by way of further proof: I failed to mention yesterday’s Lange Nacht der Museen (long night of the museums) or last weekend’s Tag der offenen Tür der Bundesregierung (the ‘Open House’ day for federal government buildings).

So let me put this right by mentioning the forthcoming Tag des offenen Denkmals, on the 13th September.  Literally the ‘day of open monuments’, it covers more than monuments, and more than one day (a great number of the buildings are open on the 12th as well.

Struggle through the typically poor website (this is Germany, so no clues given, such as images for the buildings listed) but if you can pick up the free catalogue around the city, it’s much more readable.  Especially on the bus.

Essentially, the ‘day’ seems to cover just about every building in Berlin of interest that isn’t new – so there are plenty of modern classics in there.  Most have guided tours (although generally in german).

Far too many buildings to mention here, but they include the Haus des Lehrers:

the Bauhaus Archiv, the Hansaviertel, multiple buildings on, and tours of, Karl-Marx-Allee, Scharoun’s Staatsbibliothek, Mendelsohn’s Metallarbeiter building:

…. the Le Corbusier Haus, churches, bunkers, factories, private houses and all of the major, and the recently UNESCO listed modernist estates around the city.

I’m going to have a lie down now, as have become too excited.

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


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


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.

The Hansaviertel vs Karl-Marx-Allee


In the east, Karl-Marx-Allee. A 2km long triumphal route of overbearing, neo-classical blocks that’s more Moscow than Mitte. On first sight, it has all the architectural subtlety of a wedding cake, with neoclassical features thrown uncomprehendingly onto the giant facades of soviet prefab-system blocks. Many of the buildings of Karl-Marx-Allee (previously Stalinalle, and originally Frankfurter Allee) seem hard to love. At Frankfurter Tor, the apogee of the street’s design, two huge towers top the nine storey blocks, forming a formidable eastern gateway to the city. Apparently inspired by Schinkel, they look awkward and oddly proportioned, like something stuck on top of a UK supermarket to obtain planning permission.

Karl-Marx-Allee towers


And meanwhile, over in the west, the Hansaviertel. A mix of blocks of flats and individual houses, designed by a virtual who’s-who of modernist architecture for the 1957 Interbau – an international housing exhibition. It includes designs by Arne Jacobsen, Walter Gropius, Max Taut, Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer. It would have even had a version of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation block (the first of which is in Marseilles), but this was located in nearby Charlottenburg as it was too large to fit on the Hansa site.

In the Hansaviertel (Hansa quarter, in translation), understatement rules, with clusters of assymetrical modernist buildings interspersed with green spaces. It’s a lovely location – the estate rises up out of the trees of the Tiergarten’s northern edge, with individual modernist houses giving way to taller blocks of flats, each set amongst trees and landscaping. There are no grand ceremonial routes here.

Egon Eierman

The Hansa ticks all the right design boxes; an impeccably dressed party guest, disdainfully eyeing the Allee’s vulgar Ossi gatecrasher.

So why is it Karl-Marx-Allee that I’m drawn to? Why that sense of fading grandeur as I cycle toward Alexanderplatz on a cold January night, the chandeliers of the Kino International twinkling through the freezing air?

It’s some of the later, individual buildings that really appeal to me; Cafe Moskau, the Kino International, and the Kosmos. A real sense of GDR glamour survives in them – they retain most of their original features, and the quality of the architecture prevents them becoming just kitsch.

Kino International

Surprisingly (to me at least) these buildings form part of the later (1960s) stage of the Allee’s construction. My initial impression was that it was a microcosm of Soviet architectural history, with early modernist intentions giving way later to overscaled neoclassical monstrosity. Actually, the Allee’s history is complex, and its architecture often wrongly attributed. The International and the Kosmos were both designed by Josef Kaiser and Herbert Aust, and I assume that they also did Cafe Moskau on the other side of the street.

A good place to start exploring is Henselmann’s prototype for the rest of the Allee, Hochhaus an der Weberwiese. Round the corner, back on the Allee, is Café Sibylle, a fabulous GDR cafe which also has a permanent exhibition about the Allee’s history.

There’s a good article in the International Herald Tribune, celebrating last year’s 50th anniversary of the Hansaviertel, describing how the area is once again becoming a hip place to be. Apartments there are sought after by a new generation of architects, designers and media folk, the angle being that this is no museum piece. Fair enough. But for me there’s something slightly self-satidfied about the Hansaviertel, confident in its coolly understated design (there’s nothing understated about the twin towers at Frankfurter Tor).

Hansaplatz, containing a theatre, small shopping centre and U-bahn station, has become quite run-down, and I’m guessing is yet to catch up with the ‘rebirth’ of the area. It does however include a small visitor centre with a lot of information on the Interbau and related topics.

The block by Niemeyer is his only German building (besieged, the day I saw it, by a group of Brazilian architecture students who took turns photographing each other sitting in the crux of its huge V-shaped support columns).

Niemeyer block

For me the most successful of the towers is the one by Hans Schwippert, although oddly there’s no entrance space or atrium at all – the separate entrance doors lead directly to the stairs and to the ground floor flats. For an Expo building, I had expected something grander: glass, steel and a couple of Mies Barcelona chairs \perhaps.

Hans Schwippert tower

The nearby Akademie der Künste, designed by Werner Düttmann, was built later than the Interbau, and the site was originally intended for other housing (but not, I think, for the Le Corb block). Being the kind of person I am, I loved the detailing – to the right of the entrance, rainwater is directed off the building at roof level then falls freely to onto an enclosed square of uneven stones concealing the drain.

Some more images here at Flickr.

Maybe my views are tainted because the architectural style (if not the quality of ideas) of the Hansaviertel became the default style of the western world for the next fifty years. Location is a factor too; Karl-Marx-Allee runs right through Friedrichshain, one of the livelier parts of the city, especially at night. As soon as you turn off into the side streets, away from the imposing Stalinist blocks, the true east Berlin urban fabric of late 19th century streets reasserts itself, with hundreds of cafes, bars etc.

Perhaps this is all being a little unfair; no-one who chooses to live in the Hansaviertel is looking for the edginess and nightlife that you find in the city’s east. But it’s also ironic that Karl-Marx-Allee was the grand statement of formal, centralised planning, but now lies at the centre of Berlin’s more ‘chaotic’ side; its nightlife and culture. The Hansaviertel, a demonstration of the west’s less dictatorial planning and its liberal values, feels much more the museum piece.

Trainspotting: The Hansaviertel

Here’s the complete list of architects who designed buildings in the Hansaviertel, although if you’re wandering about, the information is clearly set out on some location signs, and you can get a guide leaflet at the office for a couple of euros.

Hans Ch. E. Müller, Berlin
Günther Gottwald, Berlin
Wassili Luckhardt+Hubert Hofmann, Berlin
Paul Schneider-Esleben, Düsseldorf
Bezirksamt Tiergarten Amt für Hochbau Berlin
Willy Kreuer, Berlin
Ernst Zinsser + Hansrudolf Plarre, Hannover, Berlin
Luciano Baldessari, Mailand
J.H. van den Broek + J.B. Bakema, Rotterdam
Gustav Hassenpflug, Munich
Raymond Lopez + Eugène
Hans Schwippert, Düsseldorf
Werner Düttmann, Berlin
Otto H. Senn, Basel
Kay Fisker, Kopenhagen
Max Taut, BerlinFranz Schuster, Wien
Egon Eiermann, Karlsruhe
Oscar Niemeyer, Rio de Janeiro
Fritz Jaenecke, Sten Samuelson, Malmö
Alvar Aalto, Helsinki
Pierre Vago, Paris
Walter Gropius + The Architects’ Collaborative, Cambridge Mass. + Ebert, Berlin
Klaus Müller-Rehm + Gerhard Siegmann, Berlin
Ludwig Lemmer, Berlin
Paul G.R. Baumgarten, Berlin
Eduard Ludwig, Berlin
Arne Jacobsen, Kopenhagen
Gerhard Weber, Frankfurt/M.
Alois Giefer + Hermann Mäckler, Frankfurt/M.
Johannes Krahn, Frankfurt/M.
Wolf von Möllendorff + Sergius Ruegenberg, Berlin
Sep Ruf, Munich
Günther Hönow
Bodamer + Berndt, Klaus Kirsten, Berlin
Johann Heinrich StrackThe Interbau also included the Hugh Stubbins’, Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt to the east of the Hansaviertel, and the Corbusierhaus in Charlottenburg.

…and Karl-Marx-Allee: more trainspotting.

The earliest buildings, built 1949-50, are by Ludmilla Herzenstein, an associate of Scharoun.

The largest blocks, which include both pairs of towers, built 1951-52, are by architectural chameleon. And I use the term ‘chameleon’ advisedly; I was amazed to discover that the Karl-Marx-Allee blocks were by the same architect as the Haus des Lehrers and Berlin Congress Centre, just along the road at Alexanderplatz (links are to posts where I’ve blogged about both).

The remaining blocks are by various architectural ‘collectives’, individually headed by Egon Hartmann, Hanns Hopp, Kurt W. Leucht, Richard Paulick and Karl Souradny.

As previously noted, the Kino International, and the Kosmos (now a multi-screen) are by Josef Kaiser and Herbert Aust.