From Bauhaus to Our House (about 20 mins by bike)

Just a quickie to promote the Modell Bauhaus, opening this week at Martin Gropius Bau until 4th October.  It combines the forces of the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, who between them are displaying around 1,000 objects; it’s the largest ever Bauhaus exhibition.  More is more, as Mies didn’t say.

Anyway, went to the press opening this morning and would recommend going.  The exhibition is well designed (chezweitz & roseapple) and organised chronologically, with each period allocated a colour (referencing Johannes Itten’s colour sphere, apparently).  The final room, detailing the closure of the Bauhaus in 1933, ends in black.

Also included is Do-It-Yourself Bauhaus, artist Christine Hill’s installation occupying much of the main atrium (see first two pics).

If for some reason this enormouse dose of seminal modernism is not enough for you, the Gropius Bau is also hosting its leg of the Le Corb tour – Le Corbusier, Kunst und Architektur, which I haven’t seen yet.


Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt vs The Royal Festival Hall

One is an iconic concert hall and cultural venue, a piece of seminal, forward-looking ’50s architecture set on the south bank of the river in a capital city recently devastated by war.

The other, by contrast, is an iconic concert hall and cultural venue, a piece of seminal, forward-looking ’50s architecture set on the south bank of the river in a capital city recently devastated by war.

I’m writing this post because every time I visit the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, (House of World Cultures) in Berlin’s Tiergarten, I’m struck by how completely different, and by how very similar it is to London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Friday night was a busy one at the HKW (as I’ll call it from now on) – a double bill of Horace Andy and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry / Adrian Sherwood.  A shame really that we didn’t get in (just went on the spur of the moment for standby tickets), although curiously one of the best evenings I’ve ever spent failing to get in somewhere.  A spectacular summer storm passed over, momentarily quenching the pleasant smell of pot smoke wafting up from the garden area forming part of the gig venue.

Anyway, the HKW was built as part of the 1957 Interbau, which also included the Hansaviertel.  The building was designed by american architect Hugh Stubbins and was a gift from the US – a built embodiment of the Marshall plan and America’s support for postwar european reconstruction. The main concert hall is effectively an independent box suspended from the spectacular arch which spans the whole of the building; in fact it’s the central idea of the design.

The RFH (as it’s often known) is a little older, built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain, on a tight budget in a bankrupt Britain still on rationing. The design is by Leslie Martin, Peter Moro, and Robert Matthews (founder of  RMJM) from the London County Council’s Architects’ Department.  The main concert hall is essentially an independent box sitting within the form of the larger building, which is only apparent at roof level when viewed from outside.

Images above by Jamie Barras (an impressive collection of London buildings on Flickr)

Images below by Mark TJ:

I rather like both buildings, to be frank, but I feel a little bit sorry for the HKW on occasions – generally the occasions when there just isn’t anyone much there.  The problem is twofold. Firstly, the HKW is in the middle of nowhere – handy if you’re Angela Merkel, less handy if you live somewhere in the rest of Berlin (of course due to Berlin’s recent history and ‘unusual planning issues’, the centre of Berlin is the middle of nowhere, but that’s a discussion for another day).  The second problem is that the Haupstadt is just not a very populous place as big cities go.  It often feels to me like a city built for a much bigger population, who promptly left, and were replaced by a smaller group of partygoers who’ve been squatting ever since and can’t believe their luck.

These days you can hardly move on London’s South Bank; a single stretch of river bank now plays host to a whole swathe of cultural buildings, venues, restaurants and the like.  So much so, that even north londoners make the fifty metre journey across the Thames to visit.  (They don’t go any further than the South Bank of course – you can’t get a cab back).

The HKW on an average sunday, on the other hand, rather reminds me of the RFH on a sunday in the late 1970s, when it too seemed a slightly lonely place, plagued at the time by my own personal demon of not having done my school homework for school the next day).

Both are beautifully carried through, full of that attention to detail, although ironically much of the RFH was not built to last, and the building in its current external form was reworked a few years later with a significantly different, stone-clad design.  In truth, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that actually the detailing of the RFH beats the HKW hands down.

The RFH is also a bigger building, feeling more generous with its space, which I guess is a little unfair to the HKW; presumably both were built to the size required by the brief.  But the HKW seems a little enslaved by its structural engineering – that great big arch with the curved hall beneath are the big idea.  The rest of the building is relatively unremarkable by comparison.

So it’s the Royal Festival Hall, isn’t it?  Perhaps if the HKW had been by a german architect, more like say, Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonie not far away at the Kulturforum.  D’oh!  Actually this would have been a much better comparison wouldn’t it?  I love the Philarmonie, including its detailing.  Perhaps this has actually just been an exercise in homesickness, realising what I really miss about London – not the traffic, the cost, the 2 hour journeys to get from A to B, but maybe, on some days, the crowds; the sheer weight of people in a city bursting at the seams.

Ooh, just one other thing.  If (like me) you’d been generally uninspired by the various block-like government buildings around the Reichstag, try cycling (slightly drunkenly) past them late at night.  They’re better.

Right, off to photograph the Philharmonie…

Mauerfall, Part 1

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 accommodation.

Thanks to Julie (see comments) who noted this useful link:

Anyway, I’ve elected to start at Michael-Kirch-Platz. 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) by the stonework detailing.  Currently a local activist squat by the look of it:

Post blog note, August 2017: more recently, the building was ‘cleansed’ of both its squatter residents and its history, with a rather bland renovation:

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, and now a unique and integral part of Berlin’s urbanity:

And of course that strange self-built ‘Haus am Mauer’: