A Journey to the End of the Strasse

After my rant the other day about how I didn’t think much of Berlin’s big ‘set piece’ post-wall architectural planning, I thought I’d try for something a bit more positive.

It’s occurred to me that a lot of the stuff that I really like is in the city’s neighbourhoods, and generally smaller residential projects. The sun made a special guest appearance a few days ago (Berliners stared at it for a while, confused, then continued with their lives) so I took the opportunity to take a few snaps of what’s within a few hundred metres of me, here in Kreuzberg.

Other than the first two, I wouldn’t describe many of these buildings as ‘great’ architecture, just surprisingly good buildings considering that they don’t ‘need’ to be; there are no grand gestures making statements about a reunited Germany, nothing done with postcards in mind. In Britain, there would be much less chance of this kind of thig being done well.

On the opposite corner next to us on the canalside is HH Müller’s Abspannwerk, a huge dark brick building which doesn’t look much at a glance, but is all in the detail. Built in 1924-26 as an electrical transformer station, it’s one of two still surviving which Müller designed; confusingly, part of the building is now occupied by an upmarket restaurant which takes his name.

HH Müller, Abspannwerk

It’s not ‘all that’, you’re thinking, but ooh the detailing…

H H Müller, Abspannwerk 2

H H Müller, Abspannwerk

A few hundred metres further down the canal, but six decades later, is a whole terrace of buildings on Fraenkelufer, built for the 1987 IBA (International Bauausstellung). Thinking had moved on from the Hansa quarter of the ’57 Interbau (see previous blog on this) – the new blocks are carefully inserted between retained facades of 19th century apartments, with a large landscaped courtyard behind. It’s all unfashionably postmodern – hardline modernists shouldn’t scroll any further – you won’t like it. But at the same time it’s quite genuine architecture. The wonky columns really are supporting the buildings, and it’s a patchwork, quirky development that I can imagine living in.

I’ve read, but not sure if geographically precisely true, that this particular site had already been cleared for a proposed motorway route in the 1970s. The motorway was never built, which was just as well, as it is unclear to me why the hermetically sealed island of West Berlin (as it was at the time) needed a huge orbital motorway at all. Maybe it was so west Germans could drive round and round next to the Wall in their new cars, to create some Ossi envy.

View on the canal bank:

Buildings on Fraenkelufer, 87 Interbau

Interior courtyard:

Fraenkelufer, interior cortyard, 87 Interbau

For the record, it’s by Hinrich and Inken Baller, 1982-84, as part of the IBA exhibition that culminated in 1987.

Not sure who designed the next few, and of various styles (and qualities), but the point perhaps is their proximity in such a small locality.

Church school and apartments on Lausitzer/Paul-Lincke-Ufer:

Church school and apartments on Lausitzer Strasse

…and its bell:

Church school on Lausitzer/Paul-Lincke-Ufer - bell

129-130 Reichenberger Strasse – an exercise in bright colour:

129-130 Reichenberger Strasse

A church on Plan Ufer:

Church on Plan Ufer


Finally, and you probably won’t like this, a huge concrete hospital which overlooks a quite pretty stretch of the canal at a point where it widens, with grassy banks and pleasure boats. Not a beautiful building perhaps, but the detailed design is very thorough. For some reason it feels Canadian to me – the sort of building featured in early Cronenberg movies, and evoked by Boards of Canada. You’ll have to take my word for this.

Krankenhaus Am Urban

Krankenhaus Am Urban - detail

Note the Rogers-like vent pipes – about the only detail which breaks from the austere concrete.

One thought on “A Journey to the End of the Strasse

  1. Why is Boards of Canada a constant punchline?

    Anyway, I’m learning alot from your blog, I grew up in Berlin, a city miles away in every sense of the word to my native Stockholm.
    The IBA is quite fascinating, though it often triggers gag-reflexes.

    I was wondering if you had written anything about the planned renovation and reconstruction of that quite low 50’s building (can’t remember it’s name now) next to the Gedächtniskirche? Adjacent to the Europacenter?

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