When World War II was over, many Berlin districts lay in ruins. One of the most devastated neighbourhoods was Tiergarten’s Hansaviertel, where nine in ten buildings were destroyed. The upper class residences, the magnificent homes of the pre-war Bohéme almost completely vanished from the face of earth. Many of the residents – an eclectic society with members such as Käthe Kollwitz, Kurt Tucholsky, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Else Lasker-Schüler and many more famous artists, writers politicians and so forth – had fled and sought asylum. Others had already been dead by the time the war was over. Thus a whole neighbourhood was irretrievably destroyed, both socially and in terms of town planning.
At the time, Hansaviertel provided an unique opportunity for city planners to rebuild a whole area from scratch. The initial task was to loosen the development in the central parts of the city, to basically decentralise it and make much room for green areas. But when Cold War began and Berlin was stuck in the middle of the conflict, both the East and the West seized every opportunity to show off their superiority in every aspect of public life here. After the Sowjets abandoned the initial plan set up by all occupation forces and started to build Friedrichshain’s superb Karl-Marx-Allee along the lines of Moscow’s, Hansaviertel promised to be the ideal area for architectonical countermeasures.
By the early fifties, the properties had to be parcelled out afresh, and in 1953 an international competition was arranged. The Interbau 57 (a part of a nation-wide series of architectural exhibitions) was brought into being and provided the suitable context for development. Iconic architects such as Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, Egon Eiermann were invited to design and build the new Hansaviertel by standards and in the style of modern architecture. Conceived as a council housing, different types of buildings were erected: batteries of tower blocks, ribbon buildings and, in addition, a small village of single-family houses and two modernist churches. Loosened with lavish green areas, the edifices were allowed to breath and stand for their own.
We took the opportunity to take a walk in the neighbourhood and open ourselves to its atmosphere. Sara, her visiting French friend Achraf and I spent an afternoon ambling along the vicinity, climbing the tower blocks and sneaking in every corner we’d possibly find in order to get in touch with the stunning architecture. “It doesn’t feel like Berlin”, Sara admitted when we submerged in the strangely calm mood. Indeed, Hansaviertel appeared to us like a village in the city, completely isolated from the busy life it’s surrounded by.
We were amazed. It felt like we immersed back into the fifties, witnessing a modernist dream. Our jaws dropped, we didn’t even think about disturbing this unique atmosphere with petty talk and decided to silently relish what our eyes could perceived. On that note, I’ll leave you with our impressions and strongly advise you to visit Hansaviertel on your own!
Watch out for tomorrow’s post when we’ll show you the amazing interior of one of the Arne Jacobson designed estates!