Berlin: Built in Three Distinct eras

Berlin was built over a couple of centuries and boasted grand apartment buildings, Town houses and homes that were accompanied by magnificent government buildings built in varying types of Renaissance styles.

With World War II came the Allied bombings of Berlin that commenced the 1942 and continued unabated until 1945, the effects of which decimated the city.  The bombing raids where well-coordinated to cause the most amount of damage: the first round of bombs would pierce the roofs, the next ones would damage the roofs and were followed by incendiary bombs meant to undermine the structural integrity of buildings that used lumber for structural support.

The result was devastating:  millions of homes destroyed, millions of homeless people, collapsed infrastructure, hunger and starvation that lasted for at least a decade when efforts by local government with financial help from abroad began to pump funds into reconstruction.

The first order of business was to build quick, affordable and practical housing for these destitute wartime survivors.

A few of the prewar housing stock was left in poor or inhabitable condition but renovating them was not a solution for the massive amount of homes needed.  Over time, these homes were renovated and you can see some examples of them scattered throughout the city center.  My GUESS is that they represent less than 10% of the current housing stock.

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So city planners took land available throughout the periphery of East Berlin and, adopting the modernist style principles of Le Corbusier (tower-in-the-park solutions) began building large-scale apartment buildings.  Over 3.5 million where homeless when the war ended so the solution had to be on a massive scale and it had to be done quick so these complex were designed to house 20,000; 50,000 and as much as 100,000 people in each cluster.  In West Germany Architects were called to task and they created more than 3 million housing units between the 1950’s and 1970’s including Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, Walter Gropius’ GropiusstadtMärkisches Viertel, etc.


Gropiusstaadt – Former West Germany


East Germany (GDR) suffered from similar shortages but their solution was a lower quality product made of prefabbed construction (Plattenbau) which mostly result in less appealing housing.  Examples include Marzahn, Fennpfuhl and others


Fennpfuhl – typical East German Plattenbau

It is my IMPRESSION from driving around that 70% of the residential stock of the inner city is some form of modernist architecture with slight variations attributed to location (East or West Berlin), architectural nuances (mid-rise vs. high-rise) or the changing City official needs over the decades (tower-in-the-park design, mega blocks, etc).

Sometime in the 1980’s residential construction slowed down and did not pick up until a decade or so after the reunification.  Reunification caused a flood of East Germans to relocate to West Berlin due to its better housing, infrastructure, jobs, etc.  Planners needed to build housing to accommodate the projected 5 million new “settlers”.  But jobs where not forthcoming and half of that population eventually moved to West Germany cities like Munich, Frankfurt, etc where jobs where plentiful.

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Did you notice that only one of the pictures was of a residential building?

It took the better part of 15 years for Berlin to emerge from the reunification crisis and the accompanying fiscal deficits due to infrastructure, East German relocation, housing, social services, etc. and be able to focus on creating a new wave of growth.   Starting around the beginning of the new millenium a flood of large parcels of land previously occupied by the wall was auctioned off to multinationals such as Sony, Mercedes Benz, etc. who acted as master planners.  They hired world renown architects to build office, residential, hotel and retail properties that now shine a light on the third wave of Berlin Rebuilding.

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Again, some of the world’s most renown architects were hired to build:  Frank Gehry’s DZ Bank Helmut Jahn’s Sony Center’s “Mount Fiji”, Norman Foster’s Reichstad; Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum; The British, Netherland, Saudi Embassies to name few.

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Berlin is a wonderful city to visit, dine, walk, shop but it is especially interesting for those who love mid-century architecture.  


And all of this was done on……….


My trusted Peugeot 150cc.  Great to zip around town in (even when the temperatures dropped below 30F (0 degrees C)!


For more about German Bikes please click here


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