New kid on the block.


In recent days, I’ve done little but run the cafe*, make and deliver cake, which means that I don’t get out and about to see  architecture in far flung parts of Berlin much.

*although hardly single-handed, as my wife would be quick to point out.

Moritzplatz, however, is where I deliver cake twice a week; one drop-off at the co-working space Betahaus, the second at the cafe deep inside the former industrial block / now shared art workshop-space / home of the fabulous Ritte Butzke club, that is Aqua Carre.

Anyway, most Berlin architects will be familiar with Modulor, the suppliers of everything an architect needs to to sketch and model their creations. As well as providing useful boards and clips for making our cafe menus. Modulor is about to move into its new and highly ambitious premises on one corner of Moritzplatz (well ‘edge’ really – it’s a roundabout).  It’s to be called Planet Modulor, and as well as hosting Modulor’s own expanded premises, will also have many other occupants including a publisher, a bookshop, bakery, gallery and cafes. I notice that Dan Borden has just written about it in his regular archi column in ExBerliner, so I won’t repeat his fine words, but instead post some pictures of when the building was under construction.  Grand opening on 13 – 16th June, apparently.


The building retains the concrete frame of the former Bechsteinhaus with additional insitu cast concrete.  What made me smile was that the cast concrete is then being clad in a special cladding which makes the building appear to be made of… precast concrete.  Telling fibs to tell the truth, or whatever it was Mies claimed when the ‘Elf and Safety made him put fire protection over a steel frame, which he then covered in fake steel beam casings. Or something. (I’ve never really been much interested much in the ‘Greats’ of modernism and their attendant mythologies.)



I like the panelling though, so that’s alright.

Directly across the road from this piece of cool neo-brutalism is the fabulous Prinzessinengarten, a temporary garden-come-city farm growing all sorts of interesting things, on the landlord’s proviso that everything can be moved on within a few weeks, hence everything, including many of the trees, are in large planters.  Before the war, a Wertheim department store stood on the site, a signifier that this was once the major retail hub of this quarter of Berlin, never rebuilt, since (as anyone who’s sad enough to have read major portions of this blog will know) this end of Kreuzberg became something of a backwater when the Berlin effectively made it into a peninsula, on the edge of nowhere much. Immediately north of Moritzplatz was a major crossing checkpoint, now occupied by a used car lot and, naturally, a branch of Lidl.  The U-Bahn continued to run through Moritzplatz, but ran non-stop through East Berlin, with stations in the east closed off and guarded.  Strange times.

(Image is of the department store. Not of Lidl.)

Apropos of nothing much, I’ve just come across the image below, while I was looking for the ones above, which I took last summer.  Because Berlin is built on a swamp, every new building with a basement needs to pump water out of the construction site around the clock, hence the enormous pink and blue pipe systems that you still see running down the streets.  In the case of Modulor, they needed to run them round Prinzessinen’s perimeter for some reason, whilst still maintaining access, which led to some fabulous moments like this (now long gone, sadly)


So it’s all going on at Moritzplatz, basically – I recommend going to check it all out.  And remember that you heard it here, er, second.

Linienstrasse 40, BundschuhBaumhauer Architekten


The scaffold recently came down on BundschuhBaumhauer’s new apartment block on Linienstrasse, on the northwest corner of Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Our group got a sneak preview, courtesy of its architect Roger Bundschuh, so a few snaps included below.

The building was co-designed with artist Cosima von Bonin, and actually started as a project for a public sculpture nearby; when this didn’t work out, architect and artist decided to try for something on a bigger scale…

I was a bit rude about the design for this a while back, and was taken to task by Roger, who offered to better inform me with a site visit.  Obviously, rude not to take the offer up, and I have to admit that my concerns about tapering angular staircases were unfounded (I didn’t fall down/up them, and didn’t leave with a headache).

What’s most surprising, when you first turn the corner and see the building, is how incredibly like the architect’s early renderings the real-life building appears.  Much thought was given to how to make the building look as massive and dense as possible (’massive’ in the sense of ‘full of mass’, rather than ‘very big’).  The structure is insitu cast concrete, with a colour additive to make it as dark as possible. Its texture is deliberately rough cast, which is hard to make out from my (typically poor) images.  The overall  impression from the outside of a vast immoveable object, slightly alien. The interior, with the windows closed, is eerily quiet despite the busy Torstrasse below; a result, apparently, of the building’s foundations not being directly connected to the ground, being poured onto a raft of insulation material.

Actually, I think the windows ‘as built’ are much better.  The rendering looks awkwardly proportioned when you compare the two.

Anyway, what I like most about the building is its total lack of compromise, its ‘modern’ modernism in the face of Berlin’s current architectural conservatism.  It took four years to get through planning, in the face of opposition from the local conservation society, responsible for the Platz where it’s located. Hans Poelzig masterplanned the Platz and designed many of its buildings, including the Babylon Kino – the society felt the new building to be out of keeping, preferring a recreation of the missing Poelzig block – an argument I’m finding increasingly tedious.

More images, as ever, on Flickr, and below.

Do stay tuned to the blog for future building visits – I have a plan for late May to do a ‘mini-IBA’ tour around Kochstrasse, as I now have some contacts who live in two of the blocks there, plus of course the much talked about  Hejduk Tower nearby.  We have a Facebook group, if you’re down with that sort of thing.

Still here…


It’s been manic lately, so not much time to blog, sorry. So instead, a few snaps of things I’ve been up to recently, like a sort of intermission, while I’m away. Will have a bit more time next week, so prepare yourselves for more incisive, thoughtful and witty writing on architecture. Then be disappointed, and just read my blog instead, ha, ha.

The Tag des Offenen Denkmals was good fun, although I got lazy on the sunday (2nd day) and decided not to do much.  Did the Akademie der Kunst (new branch on Pariserplatz) in which the highlight was the basement (below) and the Haus des Lehrers, in which the highlight was the bit where they stopped the dumb corporate light show in the main chamber so we could actually have a good look at it:

… an amazing school on Lausitzerplatz (which I’ve mentioned before, part of the IBA) which I was able to go round with Werkfabrik, the original architects:

and from tomorrow, I’ll be manning a stand for Art in America magazine, over at the Art Forum Berlin:

Popping across the road to see Hans Poelzig’s wonderful Haus des Rundfunk (House of Radio)

and wondering why so much new architecture in Berlin is just so, well, crap. This, the Zoofenster building, which could have been so much better.

Will write lots about each of these very soon. Promise!

Zu Hause


The recession doesn’t seem to have greatly slowed the gentrification of the poor-but-central parts of Berlin.  From where I sit, I look across the Landwehrkanal into Reuterkiez, a rapidly trendifying area of new nightlife and newly annoyed neighbours.  Old Ecke bars are closing on a daily basis, and being replaced by the Berlin cliché of bar-galleries, replete with 1970s cast-off furniture and randomly exposed brickwork.

Gentrification is most visible in Berlin where the Wall left a swathe of open spaces, which have gradually been filled in.  Nearly all will be gone within the next five years, I would guess.  Below are a few snaps I took the other evening on my way into Mitte, mainly of the sites being infilled around where the upper part of Dresdener Straaße meets Waldemarstraße (still a blank patch on Google maps at time of writing).  Note the line of the wall, visible as a double line of cobbles across the road, in at least one of these:

Here’s what I thought had happened:  in the early 1990s after the wall came down, a huge amount of capital flowed into Berlin, invested on the assumption that the newly reinstated capital would grow significantly and become a bustling metropolis once again.  The big money went into office construction and such-like (see Potzdamerplatz in particular) but was later followed by lots of smaller investors pouring their Irish and Spanish euros / British pounds into buy-to-let apartment speculation.

Then everyone suddenly remembered that Berlin had no real industry anymore (east german industry had all closed by this point).  The only ‘industry’ to speak of was government, and even then most cicil servants still secretly lived in Bonn and commuted.  Berlin had spent lots of money on its new infrastructure but recouped not much at all through business tax, and is now very broke.

Some days, all the above seems to be true.  The Berlin government certainly is broke, and it seems that a range of terrible, lacklustre designs are waved through by planners on the basis that ‘anything is better than nothing’.  The ongoing development of the Media Spree has ground to a halt.  But no-one seems to have told housebuilders, who are carrying on regardless.  There still appears to be a steady stream of luxury apartments going up, at least at all points east.  Recession-proof Berlin?  Seems unlikely.

So I welcome comments from economists,  investors, planners, architects or builders who can explain this.  Are people moving from west to east because it’s cheaper?  Are people moving back in from surrounding Brandenburg, where they spread out to over the last two decades?  Or is it just my selective perception, where I spot all of the relatively small number of new buildings going up?  Do get in touch if you know the answer.

Haus of Pain


An update on ‘Carloft‘, the bizarre new apartment block round the corner from me (Kreuzberg SO36) which allows you to take your car to bed with you. Or at least bring it into your apartment, with the use of a big lift. From the sales site, it looks like you have to have quite a flash car if you want to live there (not really worth paying for all that extra space just to keep an old VW campervan in your living room I suppose, although that would be quite cool – you could put guests up in it and they wouldn’t have to buzz to come in and use the toilet).

The whole thing is bemusing, as Kreuzberg isn’t really the sort of place people have expensive cars. In fact it’s the sort of place where most people don’t have a car at all. Schöneberg perhaps? Maybe the developers spotted a gap in the market for people who live in Kreuzberg with nice cars and want to avoid having them torched (there’s been quite a lot of this going on in Berlin lately).

Whatever your view on such things, Carloft in nearly-finished form is a disappointment. I was expecting a glass facade which you could gaze at in awe as cars moved silently between floors, even though you hate the whole idea on principle. In fact, Carloft looks like an old 1930s garage building converted into apartments, with a singular lack of flair. In fact, it appears that the car isn’t even quite in your apartment, but in a semi-open bay next to it. Which could have been a nice balcony instead.

The concept, for those who struggle with the idea of a car, a loft, and a lift:

And some images of the outside

Aesthetically though, it could be worse. Even closer to me, on Paul-Lincke-Ufer itself, they’re demolishing a perfectly good two storey 60s building to build a piece of apology architecture:

I use the term ‘apology architecture’ as it’s designed to apologise for its presence; not for this building any recognisable style (especially modernism) which might offend. It’s timeless, but in a bad way. The worst thing is that just to the left, out of shot, is H H Müller’s rather wonderful Abspannwerk, which was clearly designed to form part of a continuous terrace, which the existing building continues. The new building will create an unnecessary gap, in order, I guess, to create far more (saleable) frontage facing obliquely onto the canal.

Is every new residential building going up in Berlin wrongheaded pastiche? No. There’s some possibly wrongheaded cutting-edge modernism as well , currently emerging out of the frozen ground up on the junction of Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße and Tortraße, by architect Roger Bundschuh and artist Cosima von Bonin, called L40. Lots of images, and floorplans, over here at Dezeen.

Actually, I quite like the look of this. It’s different from the neo-wedding-cake approach (e.g. Paul-Lincke-Ufer) and the default-setting modernism-lite (most of Prenzlauerberg) – it’s actual Architecture, with a capital ‘A’. I assume the surface is intended to be dark grey shuttered concrete, giving it the look of a converted military installation. Which can be a good thing, I think. Nonetheless, I used the word ‘wrongheaded’ earlier, as the floorplans seem to be utterly enslaved by the shape of the building’s footprint (the comments section on the Dezeen piece is worth reading).

Nice as it undoubtedly is to live in a contemporary art gallery, one is given to wonder whether the digital rendering of an interior, viewed on a flat screen, reflects how such pointy rooms will feel when you’re actually in them. What if our own curvy, wide angle, binocular vision makes something quite different of the spaces, so that we’re unable to walk up one of those acute staircases without bumping into the wall and feeling queasy?

I’m not sure anyone living there would invite me round anyway, so have decided not to worry.

Post-post note:

It’s only fair to say that just after I posted, Roger Bundschuh sent me a surprisingly friendly email, offering to let me have a look round the building as it progresses, and pointing out that that, at the very least, my final statement is incorrect.  This caused me to re-read what I’d written, and I was surprised at how randomly harsh I’d been.  I won’t rewrite it, since that’s not in the spririt of ill-informed, self-opinionated blogs like mine, but I have written the paragraph that you’re reading now.

Architektur clips


I came across this site recently – a collection of architecture related video clips, mainly Germany based, with quite a few Berlin gems.

Best is this one – a beautifully shot short film about Ostkreuz station, soon to be rebuilt.  The soundtrack, of Berlin’s minimal-click-house grooves, is perfect.

Other Berlin-related goodies include Libeskind’s recent courtyard infill to the Jewish Museum, a New York / Berlin comparison (filmed on the Spree, from my favourite boat) which looks at the upside of Berlin’s bankruptcy, Berlin’s Hungarian Cultural Institute in action and much more.

That’s another day filled then…

Categories : New construction   Oddities

Talking of bunkers…


Speaking as a pedant (although I admit to numerous mistakes on this blog, which I try to put right when spotted) I’ve noticed all sorts of errors in press articles about the Boros collection – a rather fabulous conversion of one of Berlin’s best looking bunkers into a private gallery, for millionaire Christian Boros. Completion was earlier this year.

So just for the record, the bunker was built in 1942 to a design by Karl Bonatz for the Reich railroad company.  It wasn’t designed by Albert Speer (there are no surviving Speer buildings in Berlin, as far as I know).  It wasn’t built personally for Hitler, and it wasn’t part of Hitler and Speer’s plans for Germania.

The conversion was done by Jens Casper by the way.  Boros Collection home here.

Needless to say there’s a zillion good images if you just pop ‘Boros collection’ into Flickr, but a couple of images here (before and after conversion).

Die Temporäre Kunsthalle ist geöffnet!


A slightly ironic title, as the opening of this temporary building has been an extended affair: the ground breaking ceremony, the opening of the outside of the building (yes, the logic defeats me too) and finally, last night, the opening of the inside of the building, with the first part of Candice Breitz‘ video installations.

The mayor was there at the ground breaking and at last night’s bash – I don’t know if he was at the ‘opening of the outside’ as I didn’t go (I wasn’t sure how you could open just the outside of a building). Anyway, that’s my last mention of the mayor, as he hardly needs my single grain of publicity on his expansive media beach.

Well worth a trip though. You can’t miss it - it’s the enormous blue and white thing near the Berliner Dom, pictured below, the building itself designed by Adolf Krischanitz.

I’m a bit of a fan of Breitz as well.  Of her initial three pieces here, Working Class Hero is the best (in my view), featuring twenty-five larger-than-life-size faces singing along in unison to unheard (by us) John Lennon album.  There’s often a gap, presumably for an instrumental part of the song – the momentary silence and the wait for them to sing again is oddly unsettling.  The other ones follow the same idea; Queen (Madonna) and King (yep, Michael Jackson).

Worth a visit to that whole area in fact – the huge demolition site of the former Palast der Republik (across the road from the Berliner Dom on Unter den Linden). It’s maybe not a place you’d go regularly if you live in Berlin, as it’s something of a tourist ground zero. But the day-by-day disappearance of the Palast, with only a shrinking number of its vast concrete stair towers remaining (as at yesterday), is a fascinating site.

Image courtesy of IsarSteve – I love the way the shadow of the Fernseturm falls on the Park Inn hotel. (I say ‘courtesy’ – I haven’t actually asked him, but I’m hoping he won’t mind.)  A view that will eventually be obscured by the construction of the Humboldt Forum (I refuse to use the term ‘reconstruction of the Schloss).

The Temporäre Kunsthalle, by the way, has a surprisingly good architecture section in its bookshop. I pored over it for a while, until the assistant started glaring at me due to the way I was balancing a glass of wine precariously close to a weighty tome about O M Ungers.

See earlier post on the Kunsthalle, which includes my rant about the planned Humboldt Forum.

All just a facade?


First, an image of the new Temporäre Kunsthalle, which is, at the time of writing, literally just a facade. The building is essentially a box, the exterior a blank canvas, onto which a design by artist Gerwald Rockenschaub has been painted. The art inside won’t be ready until the end of October.

The simplicity of the design makes the photo look like a montage, although it’s real (I took some photos, but the press images were better, so I used one of those).

Of course what you can’t see in the image (well you can just make out the last bits of staircores) is the Palast der Republik, still being demolished, seemingly by one guy, who only works weekends.   Eventually, it will make way for a sort of replica of the baroque Stadtschloss (Berlin’s original royal palace), to be known as the Humboldt-Forum.

I say ’sort of’ replica, as the plan is to create a dog’s dinner involving the rebuilding of three of the four sides, plus an interior courtyard.  The elevation onto the Spree, and much of the interior, is to be in an unspecified ‘modern style’. Whatever that means.  The project’s website is here, and in keeping with the overall concept, is fantastically badly designed. Oddly, the same organisation publishes a very professional looking newspaper, which I think comes out monthly, and is lightyears better than the website.  I’ve discovered that Berlin is not a website sort of place (as you’ll know if you’re Googling for proper information but keep getting my site).

Essentially the building will be used to house collections from Berlin’s existing major museums.  An original plan to make it the home of the state library (ZLB) has apparently been reduced down to a token amount of floor space.

“The Humboldt Forum will be the Pompidou Centre of the 21st Century” claimed the head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation recently.  This seems extremely unlikey, given that the design seems to be a failure of imagination in terms of what could be achieved, and also because, well, it will look like a great big baroque palace.

To quote the Berliner Zeitung:

“The idea of the Humboldt Forum on the Schlossplatz, this lively, modern, democratic combination of a central library, the museums of non-European cultures, and the university collection, is dead. Stone dead.

Why did this disaster occur? The idea of the Humboldt Forum fell victim to the wish to reconstruct the palace façade. The total area of land would actually have been sufficient to accommodate a museum, a library, a university collection, exhibition space, cinemas, cafés, and event space — but only if the building is not restricted to the cramped confines within the Baroque palace façade. If the façade is rebuilt, then only 50,000 square meters, out of the available 160,000-square-meter area (of Schlossplatz) is left over. And Berlin and the federal government want to build as quickly as possible … to prevent a new generation from discarding the palace façade idea.

Thanks to the palace façade and the rush to build, the ZLB – which has been promised an extension for over 20 years – will have to continue to wait until the politicians finally understand that a broad national education has something to do with the economic and cultural success of a country.”

Oh well.

(Image is one I took at the press launch for the Temporary Kunsthalle construction, back in June. Palast der Republik in the background. More images, including the Mayor looking very smooth, here.)

Spreeufer für Alle!


Kreuzberg is changing again.

Thirty years ago, the area was a dead-end zone along the western side the Berlin wall, slated for large-scale demolition to make way for an inexplicable new motorway plan. Its blocks were in a semi-ruinous state, occupied only by squatters and those too poor to move elsewhere.

In the 1980s the IBA intervention halted this decline and rejuvenated communities, rebuilding blocks and interweaving new schools and amenities into their cores. Of course, the ironic but inevitable long term result was that people like me (middle class people) decided it was the place to move to (”it’s so vibrant darling, so fashionably down at heel…”).

So as a person undermining the established local community, it would be totally hypocritical of me to criticise the next wave of invaders. But here goes…

Around the corner from me is a building still under construction called ‘Carloft’, the idea being that you can keep your car in your apartment with you. This involves giving a lot of floorspace over to carlift machinery, but the flats look pretty big to begin with.

Most existing Kreuzberg residents don’t have cars, and when they do, I’m not sure they’d feel the need to spend a fortune on keeping them in their apartments. But maybe ‘apartment-car’ people are the future.

Website here, if you fancy one (an apartment, not a car).

Anyway, onwards to the point.

This weekend (13th July), a local referendum will ask residents of east Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain whether they support or oppose the MediaSpree; the expansion of the media/office zone along the banks of the river Spree to the east of the centre. There was a protest march today (one thing you can rely on in Berlin is that protests will have really good sound systems) which appropriately passed by Alvaro Siza’s Bonjour Tristesse block. (The banner hanging from the window reads as my header.)

The referendum choices are complex, but seem to boil down to a vote against further large scale development on the banks of the Spree, or continued development with some cycle paths and walking routes.

Some links: (the ‘no’ camp) (the development proposals)

I feel for Berlin’s government here; it has aspirations to be something other than ‘poor but sexy’ (in the words of our mayor) and I guess that the Mediaspree plans are one way this will happen. But whichever way the vote goes, I can’t see eastern Berlin’s world of party beaches and squats lasting indefinitely. It will be a great loss, even if they’re able to move on elsewhere. A still greater loss would be if the long standing communities north and south of the Spree were also forced to migrate.