Guerillas in the midst (of cabbages)

A couple of weeks back there was an attempted mid-summer-night’s mass squatting of Tempelhof Airport, so we went to see how things were going, but somehow ended up behind the line of police on Columbiadamm holding back the would-be squatters.  (They weren’t physically holding them back – most of the protesters were over in the adjoining park, making happy with techno.)

The purpose of the squat (as I understand it) was to highlight opposition to the creeping gentrification of Berlin, typified in the squatters view, by the latest plans for the recently defunct Tempelhof.  Gentrification in Berlin is a subject that I’m quite confused about.  Where, I often ask myself, do all the people come from rich enough to buy all the luxury appartments which continue to spring up around Prenzlauerberg and other parts of the city? (and increasingly in Kreuzberg 36).  Is there no recession?  Does Berlin have lots of well paid jobs suddenly, rather than a problem with long term structural unemployment, aided by an ever increasing number of out of work actors/writers/musicians?

More thoughts on that soon, but anyway, back at the airport, where, after we’d nervously ‘entshuldigunged’ our way through the police wall from the wrong side, my girlfriend commented to me that what they really should be trying is guerilla gardening.  “Why doesn’t someone break through the fence with some gardening equipment and plant rows of carrots and such?” she said.

[original image links broken, here’s some images of Tempelhoferfeld in 2012, with interventions by raumlabor]

The Tempelhof site is colossal – look at it here on Google maps, and you realise just how big.  So I don’t lie awake worrying that the whole thing will be turned into luxury housing.  Germany doesn’t have enough people who could afford that much luxury (or so I assume ).  But it does seem a shame that there’s not something a bit more radical or inspired on the cards.  The final three in the current competition are the UK’s Chora/Gross Max, Urban essences Architektur / Lützow 7 Landschaftsarchitektur*, and Graft Architekten / Büro Kiefer Landschaftsarchitektur, the latter both in Berlin.  Some links here, here and here.

There’s also an exhibition on until 10 July, 12-19.00 Uhr, at Gewerbehof Orco-GSG, Gneisenaustraße 66/67, 10961 Berlin.

*I was going to link to individual sites here, but can’t be bothered.  Architects: stop doing your sites in Flash – it’s rubbish, looks over-designed and you can’t link to individual pages.

About 15 years ago there was a previous competition, which included a typically leftfield entry from the UK’s Will Alsop (then as Alsop & Störmer):

I’m not entirely sure what an ‘economic activator’ is, but I like the idea of a big outdoor venue, a forest, canal, city farm, and…. Schrebergartens.  Schrebergartens are part of the Berlin and wider german tradition of living in apartments but putting all the gardens together nearby.  We spent much of last weekend enjoying some of the 48 Stunden Neukölln events, but in particular these ‘Kolonies‘, some of which were open to the public just for the weekend.  I’m going to write some more on this (have been off exploring some others further afield) but not right now, as must rush, and have decided better to post short and more often than my usual habit of thinking about something for weeks then not doing it at all.

PS – was just looking for a good image from the web, and notice that someone else already has.  So read theirs (in french) until I get round to it.


Traces of Terror

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

Google link

English / german, Verlagshaus Braun, 2002

Bruno Taut – Meister des farbigen bauens in Berlin / Master of colourful architecture in Berlin

Verlagshaus Braun, 2008.  Edited by the Deutscher Werkbund Berlin.

Majority of text in german and english, with some of the english texts slightly summarised. Short building descriptions are in german only, but fairly easy to work out.

Bruno Taut is accepted as one of the founding fathers of modern architecture, although his work was apparently mocked at the time by the press as an architect of ‘little people’s happiness’, which in retrospect seems an odd sort of insult.  He’s also one of those, like Poelzig or Mies, whose designs spanned the pre-modern to the modern; it often seems to be the case with figures such as these that their early work is left out of the historical account, as it doesn’t fit with the revolutionary narrative of modernism.

Not so here – the book is both a good introduction to Taut’s work, and a well-researched and thorough guide to all of his buildings in Berlin, from 1908 onwards, both destroyed and extant.  Each project is set out with example floor plans, contemporary and original images, site location plans and text.  But it’s the chronological ordering that’s so effective, as you can clearly see the development of Taut’s ideas from some relatively undistinguished buildings, through to the colourful large scale estates mentioned in the title.  This also gives the lie to the ‘hermetically sealed’ historical view of modernism; rather, the architecture develops gradually through what we know as ‘modernist’ design, and you have the feeling that creating a sleek white minimal look was in any case not Taut’s overriding aim.  In fact the colour schemes of some of the estates, generally recently restored to their former glory and reproduced in the book, could be described politely as ‘exuberant’.

There are some good essays on Taut’s membership of the Deutscher Werkbund (who are responsible for the publication of the book itself), his work with light and colour, and the preservation of his work in later years.  Incredibly, Taut built over 10,000 apartments in Berlin.  Of Berlin’s six housing estates recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status, four are by Taut; the book includes an essay on the status and preservation of Taut’s legacy.  Since you ask, the four estates are:

– Tuschkastensiedlung Falkenberg, 1913-16
– Wohnstadt Carl Legien in Prenzlauer Berg, 1928-30
Hufeisensiedlung Britz, 1925-30 (the ‘Horseshoe’ estate)
– Siedlung Schillerpark im Wedding

What was also fascinating was to discover that two of Taut’s earliest buildings are in my immediate neighbourhood, both located on what I had considered to be the architecturally barren street of Kottbusser Damm, south of the canal.  Clearly I don’t look up enough when walking down the street (I generally watch the pavement in Neukoln/Kreuzberg, where dog owners take a laissez-faire attitude).

The first is no. 2-3, a block which remained a postwar ruin until the 1980s, until it was rebuilt, bizarrely, by Inken and Hinrich Baller, who are themselves no strangers to this blog.  Originally, the block included a cinema in the lower storeys.

It’s all Taut at the front:

but Baller at the back:

Just down the road is a quite different building, but also 1909.  What strikes you most is the Arts & Crafts styling, which was never completely lost to Taut in his later work:

The book is packed with the level of detail that I like.  I was interested to note that the Haus des Deutschen Verkehrsbundes (the state traffic office) on Engeldamm, originally had its limestone facing painted over in a dark colour, which seems a little contrary to logic, but does emphasize the importance of colour in Taut’s architecture:

(Image by Julien Valle, who has also photographed brother Max Taut’s building just south on Oranienplatz. In fact he’s photographed lots of things that I meant to get round to but haven’t – well worth a look. Anyway, back at the book review…)

In some ways the sub-title ‘Master of Colourful Architecture…’ is a little misleading (as well as being slightly clunky in english) despite the inclusion of an essay on the enormous importance of colour in Taut’s work.  I make this not really as a criticism though, because what comes through most from the book is Taut’s dedication to better living conditions for ordinary people, achieved through design, and the strong influence of the english Garden City movement; more Letchworth and lawns, than Mies and modernism.