Hochhaus an der Weberwiese, Karl-Marx-Allee

Advice for exploring Berlin’s less well known architecture: always have a look round the back.

A good case in point is Hermann Henselmann’s ‘Hochhaus an der Weberwiese’ (tower block on Weberwiese), the prototype design for the rest of Karl-Marx-Allee.  It isn’t actually on the Allee at all – it’s sort of tucked away here, round the back. (Do you remember a time before Google maps? I presume we just got lost.)

Anyway, the design, built 1951-1952, comprises a ten storey tower connected to a low rise block. It’s obviously of a piece with the bombastic Stalinist wedding cake style that dominates ‘the Allee’, with neoclassical details created with ceramic tiling and a strident symmetrical street elevation.

But oddly, the massing of the building – high rise block with low rise adjoining block offset from the axis – echoes early modernism. Interesting, as Henselmann supposedly regretted his chameleon-like changing of styles to suit his political masters, and later returned to work such as the Haus des Lehrers / Kongresshalle down the road at Alexanderplatz. Which I like very much, and come to think of it, is also a tower linked to a low rise structure.

The other thing you notice about the setting of the Hochhaus is that it feels entirely unlike Karl-Marx-Allee, even though it’s so close. It stands on the edge of a small park, across from the back of the buildings facing onto the Allee’s six lanes of traffic, and feels like another place and time entirely. Almost like London’s Bloomsbury in fact, with Henselmann’s design having an oddly 1930s art deco feel to it, despite some of the detailing.

The location is also interesting for allowing a view of the different ages of Karl-Marx-Allee in one spot. Across the park, screening off the road, is one of Ludmilla Herzenstein’s blocks. Built in 1949-1950, it is extremely plain (in a good way), and has more in common with Berlin’s pre-war modernist estates.

Next comes Henselmann’s block, as the precursor to the other blocks on the main street, by Henselmann and others.

Finally, there’s a new block reaching completion, an inoffensive piece of commercial late modernism, but not unpleasant (I seem to be damning with faint praise here, and sounding a bit too much like Niklaus Pevsner).

And, of course, no 1950s east Berlin neighbourhood would be complete without some socialist realist art.

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