Previously I wrote about Germany’s abundant and well-funded industrial heritage sites where disused rust-belt facilities are repurposed into multi-use parks with landscaping, nature, culture and recreation coexisting among the dramatic metal and concrete relics. Here I will cover more of the remarkable architecture both new and old.
In many sites striking new pedestrian / bike bridges connect public spaces that are separated by roads, rivers and other obstacles. They help make up for the country’s otherwise abysmal modern architecture which stands in sad and ugly contrast to the rich variety of fresh and exciting buildings in pretty much every other western European country.
The first one is a unique type of drawbridge in Duisburg that stretches up to lets boats pass, without opening as such, like one of those stretchy watchbands made of metal links, or a cat’s back, which has earned it the nickname “cat’s-hump”.
Lately I have been discovering Germany’s many extraordinary Industriekultur and Industrienatur sites, which are decommissioned rust-belt industrial facilities repurposed into hybrids of historical monument, recreation park and nature reserve. The sites are cleaned up, the enormous concrete and rusting metal structures largely left in place, the buildings – including numerous architectural landmarks – restored, and the grounds are partly landscaped with ultramodern design and partly allowed to be re-greened by nature running its course.
The buildings are renovated into diverse combinations of arts venues, recreational facilities or opened for tours. But the most striking features are outdoors where the industrial and the natural are interwoven.
I cannot get over how much of this stuff there is and how well-funded it is. There are hundreds of these sites throughout Germany; the greatest concentration is the Ruhr region, Germany’s rust belt. They are linked by bike paths and region-wide sequences of green spaces as well as extensive networks of regional culture agencies providing a vast assortment of Industrieroute planners, maps and guides.
One site that has gotten attention in the US is Landscape Park Duisburg-North, which the New York Times calls “the quintessential park of the 21st century”, its “nightmarish hulks… almost mythic in their lurid grandeur”.
“The law’s construction ban won’t be overturned, only the paragraph that contains it.”
In a controversial move that stunned Berlin’s park users and fans of its abundant green space, the Berlin city council recently announced it is free to ignore at will a construction ban in its largest park which was formally enacted by a citizen referendum that won by a landslide less than two years ago. The park, Tempelhofer Feld, is a former airport with an airfield the size of Central Park, one and a half times the size of Berlin’s next-largest park, the centuries-old Tiergarten, and the referendum – which was not merely advisory but understood to have the force of law – dictates that it remain in its current state, an undeveloped airfield crossed by two mile-long runways, with a ban on landscaping and permanent structures except for a handful of restrooms and kiosks around the perimeter.
The airport closed in 2008 and lay in a state of limbo for 6 years, its airfield open to visitors as a provisional park devoid of any facilities and its terminal – built in the 1903s by Hitler and for decades the world’s largest building – largely empty although occasionally rented for trade fairs and corporate events. Citizens undertook the city’s arduous referendum process (petition, then an entire second petition, then vote) to save the field and runway as a park, enact an inviolable 10-year construction ban and rescue the site from its likely fate – backed by the mayor, the city government and deep-pocketed developers – as a residential /office/ retail complex with golf courses, with non-binding promises of unspecified amounts of “affordable” housing. Some renderings showed a heavily landscaped, resort-style park in the middle. The ensuing voter referendum won 64 – 36 %(I covered the story here).
Then in December 2015, the city decided it needed some area within the park boundaries for refugee camps (yes, they call them camps; more on that below) and stated its legal right to ignore the referendum which virtually all parties agree has the force of law. Citizens were outraged.
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