When World War II was over, many Berlin districts lay in ruins. One of the most devastated neighborhoods was Tiergarten’s Hansaviertel. Nine in ten buildings were destroyed.
The upper class residences – magnificent homes of the pre-war Bohéme – completely vanished from the face of earth. Many of the residents belonged to an eclectic society. Käthe Kollwitz, Kurt Tucholsky, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Else Lasker-Schüler and many more famous artists, writers and politicians had fled and sought asylum.
Others had already been dead by the time the war was over.
Thus, a whole neighborhood was irretrievably destroyed, both socially and in terms of town planning.
The history of the Hansaviertel architecture
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 de-centralise it and make more room for green areas.
But the 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. The Sowjets started to build Friedrichshain’s superb Karl-Marx-Allee along the lines of Moscow’s. So the West reacted: Hansaviertel promised to be the ideal area for architectonical countermeasures.
By the early 50ies, the properties had to be divided out. And in 1953, an international competition was arranged. The Interbau 57 (a part of a nation-wide series of architectural exhibitions) was created 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.
Taking a walk through iconic Hansaviertel
Conceived as a council housing, different types of buildings were erected: batteries of tower blocks, ribbon buildings. And in addition, a small patch of single-family houses alongside 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. “It doesn’t feel like Berlin”, Sara admitted when we submerged in the strangely calm mood.
Indeed, Hansaviertel appeared to us like a city in a city, completely isolated from the busy life it’s surrounded by.
Hansaviertel is a modernist’s dream
We were amazed. It felt like we immersed back into the 50ies, 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 perceive.
While we were walking in agreed upon silence, we encountered a sophisticated and elegant lady. Wondering why three young people would loiter her sacred streets, she promptly invited us to see her lavish and gorgeous Arne Jacobsen apartment within the Hansaviertel. You can read more about her impeccably styled Bauhaus here.
Then we got pretty lucky: on top of one of the buildings, construction workers had set up to do their job. The doors to the rooftops were wide upon, which gave us a chance to get a good glimpse of the city from above.
A few years ago, it was discussed wether Hansaviertel should become a UNESCO world heritage site. Alas, it wasn’t added to the list. I still highly suggest taking a walk in summer among the beautiful Bauhaus architecture. As the neighborhood is lushly decorated with green, it makes for a nice design specific walk.
A little detour to the Tiergarten, and to the decadent Schloss Bellevue, will yield an entirely different image of the Berlin than the clichéed Kreuzberg or Neukölln.