Berliners, taking on City Hall and big business, rescue its largest park from commercial development

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.

 

Tempelhof pano 1 wide
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.

Continue reading “Berliners, taking on City Hall and big business, rescue its largest park from commercial development”

The near-anonymous architect who defined the postwar German cityscape – and why boring design is important

1970s social housing surrounded by green in the middle of Berlin.
1970s social housing surrounded by green in the middle of Berlin.
Pass-through to the kitchen was innovative when Stallknecht designed it around 1959. Photo is from 1974.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Stallknecht and his team were the first to build apartment buildings using prefabricated panels. Continue reading “The near-anonymous architect who defined the postwar German cityscape – and why boring design is important”

Landscape with Sheep and Stadium, Munich

Rare heathland habitats thirty minutes from city center

 

Froettmaninger Heide - urban nature reserve at Munich Arena 03

 

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 beach resort built by the Nazis. It never opened.

 

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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.aerial bing 1 crop enhance 50Prora resort is highlighted

Continue reading “The world’s longest building is a beach resort built by the Nazis. It never opened.”