No longer a blog. More a cry for help.

Someone shoot me.

Cycling up through Neukoln yesterday (a less salubrious area to the south of not-always-that-salubrious Kreuzberg) I noticed this, at the junction of Donaustrasse and Reuterstrasse.  “Nothing special” you say. “In fact, eugh, just some horrible 80s postmodern dreck. Take it away and show me some nice new cool stuff”.

And I know you’re right.  But I can’t help myself.

It caught my eye because I thought the facade is nicely proportioned, then when I got closer I noticed that the left and right ends of the facade are not in fact just that – a facade* – with a space behind them open to the sky. 

So I’m acquiring a taste for 80s postmodernism.  When it was just Berlin IBA stuff, I could excuse my strange prediliction on grounds of its historical importance, and witter on about the need for integration in the urban fabric.

So do please leave an abusive comment; it might bring me back to my senses.


Some, er, interesting concrete formwork around the entrance

Note that the top floor right hand two windows have no room behind them, with the same thing on the left hand side…



*Damn.  I just used the title “it’s all just a facade” on my previous post, when it would have fitted even better here.  Maybe a theme is emerging, and it’s all about to get a bit Robert Venturi?  Decorated shed anyone?


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.)

Mind the gap.

You know how it is with blogging.  You have a good idea for a post, full of wit and wry insight into the human condition.  Then half way through, your attention wanders and you happen across another blog saying much the same thing, only better written.  And featuring a moody black and white image.

There’s just such a post here, explaining the origin of a house of curiously homemade appearance, complete with vegetable garden, located on a strange triangle of land surrounded by roads on Bethaniendamm.  I’d cycled past regularly, and often wondered how it came to be there; Berlin still has many squatted buildings and abandoned industrial sites now occupied by ‘alternative’ groups, but this one lies in a much less peripheral location (so I thought) and seemed so much the work of a single creator.

The Berlin wall used to run here, and the land in question was a vacant patch up against the western side – a peripheral place – which returned to the centre with the fall of the wall.  It was apparently colonised by a local resident who has managed to hold onto it to this day, by dint of it falling between two local authorities – although it has ended up in the rather more flexible borough of Kreuzberg.  I won’t add more detail as it’s all there on the WAUA site, but I will agree with the closing sentiment that such ‘interstitial settlements’ are to be cherished.

I can’t help worrying though that there is less and less of this in Berlin; the strip of land running alongside has recently been ‘relandscaped’, and the whole area to the north and west has been, or is about to be, developed into private housing and Mediaspree-related office space.

I notice that the WAUA blog (stop me if I’m becoming obsessive here) has also covered the Alexa centre at Alexanderplatz (yep, done that one) as well as a piece on the Berliner-Schloss, which I’d planned to do shortly.  None of my posts have thoughtful black and white images, but to create added value in a crowded market, I aim to ensure that each one I do has at least two colour shots, so here’s the other one. 

Admittedly it shows much the same thing, but from a bit further away.  Enjoy.

Hinrich and Inken Baller, Winterfeldtplatz

You remember Hinrich and Inken?  The husband-and-wife team who did the apartments on Fraenkelufer for the IBA – you can see an earlier post on it here.

I’ve said before that I really like the Fraenkelufer buildings; the mix of new and old, the arrangement around the inner courtyard and the pedestrian routes into it.  Many people don’t like them though*, with major problems such as leaky roofs often quoted.

Anyway, across town is another (non-IBA) block by the Ballers, on Winterfeldtplatz.  Crap camera-phone photos again as I’d actually gone shopping at the market with my better half – she wasn’t in an ‘archiwandering’ mood, so I had to capture the images secretly, while holding bags of carrots.


Surprisingly, given the stormy day, and my poor quality camera, these photos are quite flattering; the overall effect, in situ, is perhaps just a very 1980s block of flats.  I say this because a friend who was with us, who is generally neutral on such matters, described them as ‘just another dodgy 1980s block of flats’.

And I had to agree; unlike Fraenkelufer, I don’t think these work.  This is simply a single block , which looks much cheaper, with spindly, tacky looking balcony rails, and horizontal concrete balcony floors.  These don’t curve upwards like those at Fraenkelufer, which makes the facades less interesting.  Although on the plus side, they become useable space, and don’t direct rainwater into your flat.

There’s a school and pool complex just down the road (photos another time, when I have fewer carrots) also by the Ballers and to a similar aesthetic, although it goes quite mad with an exuberance of overhanging balconies and ‘organic’ metalwork detailing.

Still, back with the apartment building, it’s fair to say that they’re very much ‘of their time’ and I’d bet that the penthouse level if pretty sought after (although was it Picasso who, when living in Paris, claimed that he always had lunch in teh Eiffel Toer as it was the only place in the city where you couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower… ?).

An interesting comment (and a better photo) on someone’s Flickr site here by the way.


*When I say many people, I mean some friends in my block.  Although they are architects, and remember the buildings when they were new.

IBA Berlin 1987 Flickr Group

Regular viewers will have realised by now that I have three methods of procuring the images on this site:

1.  Taking a snap with my camera phone as I wobble past, often without getting off my bike. These are easy to spot, and often feature my thumb, or a passer-by junping out of the way.

2.  Borrow my girlfriend’s digi-SLR, and point it at things without ever knowing or caring what most of the buttons are for.  This accounts for most of the images so far.

3.  Noticing that someone else has put a much better photo on Flickr, and pilfering it, with only a mumbled apologetic footnote.

Obviously method no.3 is by far the best, as it saves me valuable time, which I will spend wisely (by sitting in the cafe next door, pondering on the nature of architecture).

To this end, I’ve started a Flickr group here.  It’s just for IBA 1987 images, as this is the strongest thread of this blog.

At the time of writing, it has only two members (me and my girlfriend) and no images.  So I’m off to invite joinees and add some myslf, but please do join up and add your own.