Aaargh. I wish I could clone myself, and leave a copy at home blogging while other versions of me explored interesting architecture, went clubbing, sat reading in cafes and completed the (un)surprisingly time-consuming task of starting an English konditorei business. (Admittedly this last item will seem somewhat random if you don’t know me personally, but that’s what I’m mainly doing these days.)
I use the word ‘aargh’* in a sort of angsty frustated way, because there’s so much that I wanted to blog about, but haven’t had a chance.
So below is an outpouring of apparently unconnected things which I’ve seen/been on/have caught my eye recently.
Firstly, this looks really good, starting this weekend, at Kraftwerk Mitte, close to the DAZ and sort-of part of the same power station complex that houses Tresor. I think I might go along to the opening on Friday night, let me know if you fancy it and we’ll meet up. Not sure about the English version of the title – “REALSTADT: Wishes Knocking on Reality’s Doors” (?!) and can’t grasp the numbers, but it describes itself thus:
“The selection of 250 architectural and urban models and 65 exemplary projects is based on nationwide calls including the competition «National Prize for Integrated Urban Development and Baukultur». Projects were submitted by municipalities, architectural practices, universities, initiatives and individuals. In the exhibition at Kraftwerk Mitte the projects from all over Germany are fused into a temporary city, where Bremen and Aachen, Görlitz and Ulm find themselves next to each other.”
What else? Oh yes, a couple of weeks back I went on a manic but very interesting tour of the Saxony-Anhalt IBA 2010, based around 19 cities, each with its own theme and approach. This was less about ‘big architectural statements’ (in fact, one of the aims was to avoid these) and more about how to do something positive with the fact that these cities are shrinking. It’s been developed over the last ten years by the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau, (Dessau-Roßlau is included) and focuses on a different series of projects within each city/town.
(Photo above looks like a brochure, but was just a random snap, oddly).
I was first drawn toward this subject a couple of years ago, via the Shrinking Cities project and exhibition. The idea of cities shrinking on any sort of significant scale is something that feels like an alien concept, but in fact one in four cities and towns in the world are losing population. By the middle of this century, when the global population begins to fall in absolute terms, it’s going to be an issue everywhere. The demographics of all this fascinate me, and I need to write seriously about the whole thing soon.
Anyway, moving on…
Some images of the thing they call the Schwerbelastungskörper (my current favourite german word), which translates here as ‘Heavy Load-Bearing Body’, which says it all really.
(My wife waving while I took the photo – it makes us look like alien lifeforms.)
It stands as an unintentially profound monument to the sheer pompous ambition of the Third Reich; essentially a massive lump of concrete built to test the ability of Berlin’s marshy ground to take the massive weight of Hitler & Speer’s colossal but massively ugly design for a triumphal arch, as part of their plan to rebuild Berlin as Germania.
The planned arch would have stood at the end of a triumphal parade route, the ‘North-South Axis’ that ran up to the Great Dome, which would have straddled the Spree to the north of the Reichstag. When I first spotted the Schwerbelastungskörper a while back, I wondered what it was doing way out near tempelhof airport. It was then that the sheer scale of the plans hit me. If you stand on the viewing platform that places you just above the top of this vast piece of concrete, you can look north and try and imagine a road wider than several city blocks, ending in a dome larger than, well, all sorts of huge buildings stacked on top of eachother.
It’s open two or three days a week, but also as part of the ‘The Tag des Offenen Denkmals’ the other weekend. I normally find the problem such ‘open house’ days, is that there’s such an overwhelming amount to see for archi minded folk such as us, that you end up feeling exhausted before it’s begun, and see none of it. I then go on to console myself with the thought that I’ll use that year’s catalogue of all the buildings to organise small or private tours at other times of year. Which then happen infrequently.
Anyway, this year bagan the same way, with the added confusion of this year’s Berlin Festival at Tempelhof, which, as most Berliners will know, was something of a disaster, being closed early on the first night by the police (overcrowding was blamed, over-zealous security following the Love Parade tragedy the more likely reason) and the remaining acts being compressed into a few hours on the following afternoon. So I gave up on the second day, and went to see the Schwerbelastungskörper, which is nearby.
Right, then I was going to about some of the many Berlin works of Hans Heinrich Müller, the architect who built so many of those fantastic brick power and transformer stations around Berlin. But I’m too tired now, so will save this for another day. Except to say that the first one I saw is right next to the block I live in, on the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, and is fantastic.
(Above photo taken in the snow in Jan 09 – the building just to the right has been replaced with something horrible, which I also need to include in a blog post soon).
*I admit that ‘aargh’ is not really a word. More of a noise.
Events have led me to the recently-opened Direktorenhaus a couple of times lately. It’s a “permanent exhibition space for the whole neocraft-art-versus-design debate” apparently. Or, in other words, it’s a gallery space for design and craft-based work that isn’t quite pure ‘art’. Anyway, well worth going to have a look, partly because of the exhibitions that they hold there, but also because of the buildings.
In fact, you could make a day out of it and see Koolhaas’ Dutch Embassy just a block away to the east. There’s nowhere much to eat/drink in the area – we once found ourselves on a cold winter’s day inside a rather odd hotel restaurant in nearby Nikolaiviertel (which let’s face it, is an entirely odd place to begin with). The Wasserbetrieb’s staff canteen is open to the public, but Direktorenhaus hope to open a cafe soon on an upper floor of their building, which should be cool, and will have amazing views (see photos of amazing views, below). We’re talking the bit around here. anyway – it feels out of the way, but is actually quite central. Albeit ‘central’ in Berlin is oddly the bit with least in it.
The ‘Direktorenhaus’ itself is one wing of what was the old German Reichs Mint, built in 1935, and was basically just a license to print money… ha ha. It’s now a part of the Berlin Wasserbetiebe (the Berlin water company) with the original buildings wrapped around some new ones, the most notable being by Christoph Langhof, 1998-2000. Have just noticed some good shots and a bit about this over at the Deutsches Architektur Forum. Anyway, am becoming scattergun, so here it all is in an orderly fashion:
The entrance is quite tricky to find. It’s at Am Krögel. 2, so you go in on the side away from the river. And it’s helpfully unsigned.
PS – have accidentally downsized some of my images to about 4 pixels. The best ones, annoyingly. Damn Picasa and its strange export function.
Now, it should be noted that German architecture during the period 1933-45 is a complex business, with perhaps more continuity than many of the stripped neoclassical ‘banality of evil’ designs would suggest, albeit that modernism was relegated relegated to industrial buildings, where it survived at all. And one should not forget the need to consider the context of the buildings and the horrors of the regime, to avoid becoming one of those weird people with an unhealthy obsession with the subject. But, well, ooh, I love a good Nazi building, don’t you?
Something a bit scary greets you as you enter:
I guess it’s really just the facades – the interiors are less distinctive, although the staircase is lovely, and there’s the odd ‘overblown’ detail, like the neoclassical seat (see below, this bit is under refurbishment, they don’t normally leave coffee cups everywhere like this).
Those aforementioned views, possibly to be what you’ll see from the cafe:
The newer buildings immediately behind the Direktorenhaus, and to its right on the river, are by Joachim Ganz, and have some borderline-lame (in my opinion) wavy facade metaphors for water. The most interesting bit is the inclusion of some apartments in the elevation onto the Am Krögel side, with each apartment having a mezzanine level with internal glazed rooms and winter gardens.
Then, round the front, is the more Christoph Langhof building, added onto the industrial part of the 1935 mint complex, but rather different from it. It has, in my mind, a mix of early Czech modernism, that weird style that’s being used to complete Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, and Blake’s 7/Doctor Who sets circa 1978. Which overall is a good thing, I think.
The coolest scifi door in Berlin? A Dalek might suddenly come out. It’s way cooler than the actually-not-very-good door in the Chinese embassy just down the river.
I may have mentioned previously (at least twelve times) how I’m not getting out much lately to look at architecty things. So in order to have something to blog about, I thought I’d employ some nostalgia. Moments from the tale end of this summer in fact, when I was working at the Art Forum Berlin up at the Messehalle. It’s part of that site which also includes the immense 1970s bulk of the ICC (International Conference Centre) as well as the almost-certainly-doomed Deutschlandhalle.
La la la, I’m putting a line in here as the site design won’t allow me to space out the images to avoid visual confusion. So no need need to read this bit.
Not knowing the building, I’d imagined that I’d be stuck manning a stand in some dismal artificially lit exhibition cavern, and have a rubbish time. It turned out not; although the front of the ICC is all imposing overblown fascism, although you can’t help being grudgingly impressed by the entrance hall as the sunlight floods from high above – but carry on through to the back section (the restaurant area, usually my first port of call at any trade fair) and you suddenly find yourself in endearing postwar light-touch modernism. To me it had the feel of London’s South Bank during the Festival of Britain (I hadn’t been born at the time – it was 1951 – but I’ve looked at lots of pictures, and my dad used to bore regularly on the subject when I was a teenager). Anyway, it’s nice isn’t it?
I haven’t tried very hard, but haven’t found any information about the back of the building. 1950s? 1960s? Let me know if you know!
Also, straight across the road, if you’re out and about in that direction, is Hans Poelzig’s Haus des Rundfunks* (House of Radio). Not to be missed, although I only had time for a jog round during a quick lunch break, hence not many photos of it on my Flickr.
*It’s Rundfunks with an ’s’ by the way, because it’s in the Genitiv (Possessive) case. Every second building in Berlin is a grammar test…
And finally, (from that particular jaunt), as you come out of the nearest U-Bahn up at Kaiserdamm, you can see a Hans Scharoun housing block across the road. I recognised it as probably Scharoun, but guessed it as 1950s, maybe 1960s. Actually, it’s 1928-1929. Amazing really.
Was just browsing through my photos from ‘09, and have tonnes of this sort of stuff to blog, so won’t actually have to go outside again until spring. Luckily, thanks to the gift of Christmas, I have a supply of chocolate that will last until May. Happy New Year!
I took all the above photos by the way, and license them under a Creative Commons license, so you’re welcome to use them for non-commercial purposes (unlikely they’d be good enough for anything else…) but do credit me/my blog if you do use them on your own blogs/dissertations/Wikipedia etc (you know who you are!).
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!
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‘:
Last winter I visited Mittelbau-Dora, one of the concentration camps which used slave labour to build V2 rockets late in the war. It left a strong impression: a bleak snowscape with occasional fragments of the camp’s buildings and fences, and the factory tunnels where inmates were worked to death. What I found most shocking was not the existence of the Dora camp itself, but the museum’s exhibit on the many smaller sub-camps which existed across the region. Many of these camps were based in towns and villages, where they provided slave labour to local businesses. It’s easier for us to think of the camps as somewhere else, away from the public eye – ‘it wasn’t our fault, we didn’t know about it’. Records of these ‘publicly integrated’ arrangements give the lie to such an argument.
The introduction to Traces of Terror: Sites of Nazi Tyranny in Berlin makes the point that museums alone are unable to keep the public’s memory of the Holocaust alive, and that knowledge of sites and buildings where atrocities were planned or carried out is an essential part of our historical understanding. Unlike Holocaust museums in the US and elsewhere, such museums in Germany and Austria “… would be stylish counterfeits to lessen the burden of being confronted with the authentic. Imagine a flash, post-modern museum in Berlin compared to Ravensbrück, where reality can be experienced and comprehended.”
It’s a point that I agree with; even though Berlin is severely lacking in good recent architecture, and Peter Zumthor is a very good architect (and not at all ‘flash’) I do think that, had his building been completed at the Topography of Terror site, it would have become as much a mecca for architecture students, than a place for marking perpetrators.
This book is not a record of building’s erected around Berlin by the Nazi regime, but rather a thoughtful analysis of key sites. Some of these, such as Ernst Sagebiel’s Reich Air Ministry, we know as architectural symbols of the Third Reich; stripped neoclassicism, imposing, bombastic. Other locations played a more complex role, for instance the SA-Stormlokale (’Storm Locals’, I guess) – bars and restaurants which served as bases for the SA (the paramilitary group which provided the ‘muscle’ for the Nazi’s rise to power). The basements were often used as prisons and torture rooms, and they also became ad hoc police stations when the SA became officially sanctioned from 1933.
It’s also a sad reminder of how Berlin paid the price for the crimes of the Nazis. Many of the buildings featured are shown in pre and postwar condition, as well as later, during the cold war and beyond. The photographic cycle of baroque edifice / bombed out shell / rainswept parking lot / bland Commerzbank office is a salutory lesson.
To praise this book is not, of course, to criticise such guides as Matthias Donath’s Architektur in Berlin 1933-1945, (there’s a fuller version in german) which covers key buildings erected during the regime – I’ve found this an essential in trying to understand the Nazi’s architectural legacy, rather than just as a trainspotter’s guide. But Traces of Terror, with its careful commentary on each site and building, slowly builds the argument that I clumsily attempted at the beginning of this post; that to understand how these atrocities occurred, it’s important to realise that they took place in public view: at Westhafen S-Bahn station, where hundreds of thousands were deported to ghettos and death camps in the east, or at a concentration camp, not hidden away in woodland, but in a brewery in the middle of Oranienberg.
Traces of Terror – Sites of Nazi Tyranny in Berlin
Spuren des Terrors – Stätten nationalsozialistischer Gewaltherrschaft in Berlin
with a foreward by Paul Spiegel
English / german, Verlagshaus Braun, 2002
William at Baustelle mentioned to me last night that the Deutsches Historisches Museum is running a series of architectural film screenings: ‘Kunst des Dokuments – Architektur‘. It’s every thursday – tonight’s is Norman Foster’s Gherkin.
Worth going along not least to see the Zeughaus Kino itself, a ’superb example of ‘60s socialist functionalism’.
I would have flagged this up previously, but the DHM bombards me with such a huge number of press emails that I got behind with reading them, so that they piled up at the rate of several a day and I lost track. Sorry!
I’m possibly the last person to know about this (wouldn’t be the first time) but last year the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive) put around 100,000 images onto Wikimedia commons, for us all to wonder at. A link here into the page giving an overview by year (this was initially a bit tricky to find, I thought).
I’ve picked out a few images (below) which all feature architecture (since this is an architecture blog), but actually the buildings are perhaps the least fascinating element. So far I’ve only skimmed through 1919 to 1939, but the overriding impression of utter chaos, civil unrest and the rising tide of Fascism is disturbing, to say the least.
Photography is of course a self selective process, or at least used to be in pre-digital times, so is perhaps as much a record here of what was considered important then. Add to this the not inconsiderable factor of being filtered through the ‘random survival’ of time – war destruction, political repression, accidental loss. I sometimes wonder whether in a few hundred years absolutely every digital image will survive (perhaps recorded on a small chip that can be fitted in your ear, say) or whether absolutely every digital image will be lost. Or at least unreadable. Much like Betamax videos.
Mendelsohn’s Mossehaus, 1923:
The Schloss, 1919, I guess at the conclusion of the revolution:
The Europahaus, 1931:
Poelzig’s Babylon Kino, under construction, 1929:
Living with your car? Surely a bad idea…
(A comment left by Tamar, which I’ve moved up here:
The Potsdamer Platz picture with the ads is very interesting:
“Vote Hitler” (on the two signs under “Chlorodont, White Teeth”) and all of that above a confectionery (Conditorei). This is the poster in the middle:
“Schluß jetzt, wir wählen Hitler!” (we had enough! we vote for Hitler)
Next to Hitler, “Vote for a Person, not for a Party”, and since everything is so symbolic in this picture, you can also see a sign for “vegetarische Kueche”
The same building, I would imagine few month before that, with film posters – link).
The Reichstag, before fire, bombing, abandonment, reconstruction, reuse, reunification, reconstruction (again), and the return of the parliament:
Mendelsohn’s Columbashaus, Potsdamerplatz, with campaign image of Hindenberg. Later to be war damaged, then demolished:
Oberbaum Brucke, 1932 (blocked by the wall during the city’s partition, rebuilt in the 1990s by Santiago Calatrava)
The morning of the Reichstag fire:
Construction of the Reich Aviation Ministry (still standing, next door to the Topography of Terror site)
Enough already. I could keep going for hours, but will stop here. Perhaps I’ll do a proper trawl through at some point (it’s only 100,000) and make sure I have the best ones…
Yesterday the sun came out in Berlin, and there was much confusion and fear, followed by rejoicing when people realised what it was. I thought to myself: “If it’s sunny again tomorrow, I’ll set off and take pictures of some of the many things I want to blog about”.
Today is saturday. It’s cold, grey and uninviting outside, much like the last three months or so in Berlin, as far as I can remember. So I’ve decided to stay in the warm and do a blog about… well, not sure really. I’ve been looking through a backlog of things that I’ve photographed or read about but haven’t never got round to mentioning. Here are a couple.
I thought I would do a sort of ‘bunker collection page’ at some point. I’ve previously mentioned the Boros collection and the biggy on Pallasstrasse. Here’s another one, on Schöneberger Strasse, built in 1943:
It currently houses a small exhibition about the bunker itself, and also the Gruselkabinett, a kind of grisly Madame Tussaud’s type affair, if you like that sort of thing. It was retained as part of IBA Block 14, which included the construction of a new school.
The building was next to the huge Anhalter station, heavily damaged in the war, with only a bit of the entrance remaining; it’s the thing you pass on the M29 bus:
Thanks to Burak Bilgin, who I’ve nicked the Flickr image from. In fact, there’s a set of images on Flickr of Berlin 1959/1960, by Allhails, which includes a couple of the station before total demolition:
Which reminds me that I wanted to mention the M29 bus route, as a fine thing in itself. I think of it as a sort of ‘IBA express’; it runs through much of Kreuzberg and right past many of the IBA buildings which I’ve blogged about, as well as loads more interesting things which I haven’t. Might do a full guide at some point.
I also never got round to including some various blocks on my IBA list, mainly because they were just a bit disappointing, even though it was a lovely summer’s day (that’s how long I’ve put off writing anything about them).
See what I mean? Even I have to admit that not every building constructed as part of the International Bauaustellung 1984/87 really gets me excited. Actually, the building opposite the one above interested me much more; it’s on the corner of the river bank and Potsdamer Strasse, directly opposite the Neue Nationalgalerie:
It looks to my untrained eye like a 1920s modernist building with a quite cool Foster-ish two storey extension on top. In fact, have just checked my guidebook, and this is true: 1929, by Loeser & Wolff, although I don’t know who did the new part. Its facade is finely proportioned and detailed (as architecture critics would say) and I like it very much.
Anyway, while I’ve been wittering away, the sun has come out, so am off out for a late breakfast.
Post blog note: yes I did know it was Valentine’s day. Me and the missus went out that evening, since you ask.
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).