Locals fought back against gentrification and saved a disused airfield for use as a giant park. Outrage over the country’s flood of colossal public works boondoggles probably helped.
In 2014 Berliners fought for, and won, the preservation of the airfield of Tempelhof, a decommissioned airport near the city center, as an extraordinary and minimalst park – more an un-park – instead of turning it over to developers for housing-retail-office complexes. I was there in the fall and I loved the sweeping uninterrupted emptiness which in good weather fills with people doing everything people do in parks.
They didn’t just vote to keep the site as green space, they voted in a law to preserve the airfield untouched and completely ban alterations and permanent structures of any kind – but only for ten years, as I understand it. There will be no landscaping, no trees, no sports fields or playgroundsm except on a narrow outer perimeter band. Just one flat featureless grass expanse the size of Central Park, crossed, of course, by runways. In my hour or two there I saw no benches or rest rooms. (I later learned there are four restrooms on the perimiter) But that hasn’t stopped the park from becoming enormously popular.
I recently learned that virtually nothing in English has been written on the man who was arguably the most important German architect since World War II. And so I wrote what is only the second English-language article (and only Wikipedia entry) on Wilfried Stallknecht*. By “important” I mean “had the greatest influence on buildings in Germany”. He didn’t redefine architecture as we know it or create a revolutionary visual language, and his buildings are neither beautiful nor dramatic, but he may have had the most influence on the largest number of buildings. The wide influence stems from two innovations dating from 1958: prefabricated apartment buildings that went on to house millions, and a single-family house design of which 500,000 were built.
Rare heathland habitats thirty minutes from city center
Recently I saw in a documentary these sheep next to the high-tech Herzog & de Meuron starchitect stadium in Munich (about twice the size of New York’s Citi Field) and had to find out what was going on. It turns out the area is a nature preserve consisting of rare chalk heathland remnants and it is indeed adjacent to the stadium. Nothing in English has been written about the site, to my knowledge. Continue reading “Landscape with Sheep and Stadium, Munich”
The world’s longest building is a 3-mile-long resort built by the Nazis that never opened and lay vacant for 72 years following its completion in 1939, apart from some uses by the military. Its first tenant as a resort was a youth hostel that opened in 2011, occupying an eighth of the structure. Soon after that the German state sold off half of the remainder to real estate investors, who in turn began selling it off as million-dollar vacation apartments. This follows a established pattern of intentional wealth redistribution from the middle- and lower classes to the ultra-rich, as the former social-democratic state sells its assets at below-market value to speculators. (A typical example is Berlin, which has sold off 80% of its public housing stock to investors who routinely turn 1,000-percent profits in the deals.)
It’s called Prora, it’s on the Baltic sea, and in a straight line it would stretch the entire width of Manhattan and across the Hudson River to New Jersey. It’s nearly impossible depict the whole building in photographs because in any view that shows it in its entirely, all that’s visible is nondescript grey line.Prora resort is highlighted
I forgot to take a picture of the one where I didn’t realize I was in the women’s room because the irregular curved mark on the door that I figured was just scuffed paint was in fact a scribbled “D”, meaning “Damen”. A woman walked in – I was just washing my hands – and let out a bemused but jolly sort of “mm-HM!”-type sound which I figured must be Cologne dialect for “Hi!”, so naturally I cheerfully said “Hallo” back, still thinking the bathroom was unisex. It wasn’t until later that I pieced it all together.
The chicks were at a Japanese restaurant in Berlin.
St. Louis’ Tower Grove Park is said to have the largest intact collection of Victorian-era park pavilions – a dozen or so – outside of London’s Kew Gardens. Also, there is abundant evidence of St. Louis’ once-large German population, long since dispersed and assimilated nearly without a trace. The zinc stag came from Berlin; there are statues of Alexander von Humboldt and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (sometimes called “father of the American military” for his essential service in the American Revolution and who was trailed by rumors and public accusations of homosexuality), and others by a German sculptor.
The glass box is VW’s Transparent Factory, 10 minutes from the baroque palaces and churches that most people associate with Dresden and earned it the name ‘Florence on the Elbe’. A literary-philosphical talk show called ‘The Philsophical Quartet’ was sometimes filmed there during its 10-year run, because Germany is the kind of place that has literary-philophical talk shows. To prevent birds from hitting the glass, outdoor loudspeakers play ‘territory taken’ bird sounds.
2. Revolutionary bi-level train station with unusual configuration of terminal tracks in the central hall flanked by raised through-tracks on either side, 1898. Renovations c.2006 by Sir Norman Foster including teflon-fabric roofs which won countless architecture awards yet have had ongoing leak problems.
3-6. Adorable interconnected courtyards with shops and housing known as the Kunsthof. Everyone raves about Berlin’s Hackescher Hoefe but this is great too.
Nearly sixty years of rebuilding erased almost every example of the massive damage Dresden experienced in its much-debated bombing. However, informed locals can identify which buildings have been restored or amended – and in some cases rebuilt from the ground up as historical copies – at various times from 1945 to the present – architectural palimpsests. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a tour guide like my friend Roland who can read the buildings and urban forms like a paleontologist digging through layers of fossils.
These are rare examples of remaining visible damage.
1. Intact ground floor of five-story building c.1910 (now one of the country’s many non-shame-attached sex stores)
2. In almost all cases, new construction has filled in gaps; this is an exception.
3-4. Destroyed church, now a lapidarium where statues, monuments and stone building elements are stored, such as this DDR-era monument.
5. Dormers at the top are post-unification (1990) additions to the original 1920s building. The center section is most likely a signifcant alteration from the 1990s that kept the original 20s stone window surrounds.
The lack of museums covering communist-era East Germany is startling. The few DDR* museums that exist are zero-budget independent shoestring operations such as this one that simply took over a few floors of an unrenovated office building, not even in Dresden itself but in a town just outside it. The government seems to have little interest in documenting East German history. Exceptions include the main German history museum in the little, not-centrally-located town of Bonn (West Germany’s capital until unification) and two small DDR-related museums in Berlin that only opened around 2011-13.
The sinks are not a display. The photo is here to show the curious German (European?) habit of having sinks out in the hallways of office buildings.
*DDR was East Germany, Deutsche Demokratische Republik. West Germany was BRD, Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany)
The topographic survey diary on a long strip of paper was created by Augustus II “The Strong”, Elector of Saxony and later King of Poland, an avid and knowledgable surveyor, vital patron of arts and architecture and supporter of a variety of scientific endeavors.
On the large world clock, only the single large surface rotates, so the hour numerals on each of the 360 dials pass under the hour hands, which hang directly downwards, unmechanized.
This blog covers environmental, architectural and public space topics in Germany that are timely and relevant to these fields but on which there is hardly any information available in English, and in many cases none at all – with occasional digressions into non-Germany-related design topics. (My recreational blog is here.) Richard is an urban ecologist with a Ph.D. (Doktorat) in forest ecosystems. Continue reading “About”