What was conceived as an afternoon stroll in Hansaviertel became a tête-á-tête with one classy and sassy local. The distinguished lady shared her Hansaviertel stories and home with us. Having moved in as one the first residents and belonging to the few who still live there, she was both proud of her unique neighborhood and upset about new inhabitants who wouldn’t appreciate the splendid homes they moved into.
Back in 1958, she and her husband were convinced by an architect friend to invest in one of the few properties that were offered here.
“We didn’t have much more than five thousand Deutschmark – we were hardly older than thirty years, but our parents provided us with the money we needed. We were really happy that we were awarded the contract for the very last property available; we were lucky because open kitchens were unpopular back then.”
After we took a walk in her neighborhood, she invited us home to let us curious visitors see what one of the single-family houses, designed by Arne Jacobsen, looked like from the inside.
For the International Building Exhibition 1957 in Berlin, the Interbau, the Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen designed a residential complex with four atrium houses lined up next to each other, his only in Germany. The single-story houses are conceptually connected to the unrealised project of a settlement near Carlsminde in Sölleröd / Denmark and represent a constructive analogy to the Söholm III houses in Klampenborg / Denmark.
The one-story building stretched away from the road, guiding into a wondrous realm. “We do not hear a single noise from the street. It’s so calm, that over the years I became severely sensitive to any loud sounds.” The house was silent, indeed. When we entered the building, we found an unexpected design and architecture treasury behind the unremarkable facade.
The lady of the house proceeded to show us around. She pointed out every single piece of furniture, told us the name of the Bauhaus designer and sometimes how she and her husband had acquired it. Room after room, our jaws dropped even more, but the most amazing feature was the garden (in fact, the gardens, of which one is constructed as an interior courtyard).
“Jacobsen didn’t design a house, he designed a garden that stretches indoors. The house is merely a continuation of the garden that is connected to the living room by this front of panorama windows. Living in and with nature was his vision and so do we live here.”
She continued to tell us about Jacobsen’s ideas and how the family integrated the green into the building. “Over there, Jacobsen built a patch that literally reaches from the courtyard into the living room. However, my husband needed the space for his desk so we put boards and carpet over the gravel bed.”
I asked how the family could’ve kept their home so perfectly intact. “Over the years, we renovated three times. Of course, we had to fix minor and few major things, too. However, we placed much value on keeping every detail true to original.” The doorhandles, the expensive night storage heater, even the facade paint of the now heritage-protected building remain original. “But the actual novelty were these panorama windows” – resembling those of the famous Farnsworth House – “, because they couldn’t build them as double-panes in such big sizes. We had to replace them from time to time. You can imagine, that this was an energy-sapping endeavour.”
The family gets approached by many desperate strangers, asking if they knew about properties in the area that were to let, or at least if they could show them their house. A couple of years ago, the family received more than 300 enquiries within a year, asking if they were granted a chance to see the Jacobsen house from the inside. It was the grand jubilee of the modernist village of Hansaviertel.
“One of the letters was sent by a reputable British architect association. Of course, we couldn’t turn them down. Especially not since they would travel all the way here to see our house.”
In any case, we were happy to have this unique opportunity. The lady of the house saw us politely to the door. We thanked her most sincerely, said goodbye and stepped back into the street. We were assured once again: Indeed, the house was silent.