Background information

“We like to live modern“, states a household appliance company on the back of the Interbau catalogue from 1957. To live modern meant to live in functionally furnished apartments in the middle of an urban cityscape. To have a parking space directly in front of your door and to take the elevator to the 10th floor. In the German post-war era, the so-called reconstruction of cities stood as a sign of a new societal and political orientation, and not only sought to clear out the Wilhelmian era wardrobe, but also dispel the shadow of a national socialistic past. Along with this wish - that of having the possibility to start from zero hour - the destruction of the city seemed to be nearly accommodating in this respect.

That which was still enormously modern and future-oriented in 1957, at least in Western Germany, was classified a few years later as “faceless“ and “cold.“ In Wolf Jobst Siedler´s influential text-pictorial essay “Die gemordete Stadt“ (“The Murdered City“, 1964), the Hansa district is depicted as an example of the death of the “city organism.“ The book and the homonymous film by the Bauwelt Editor-in Chief, Ulrich Conrads, proclaims a return to old, ornamental and winding metropolises (at the same time in the GDR, the concept of the townscape in the form of pre-fabricated settlements (Plattenbau) in the open countryside was asserting itself). Today, many questions tie in with the history of perceiving the Hansa district. For one, the question of the new district being an example of “a city of tomorrow,“ rather, it instead already being “of yesterday“ or “this evening,“ as Karl Otto posed. Even Hubert Hoffmann complained that with the finally realised Hansa district, it was more a matter of a “building block game“ that excluded more complex draft proposals. The urban developmental disposition of the Hansa district connected to the International Style of pre-war times, which was already being criticised by the CIAM (Congress Internationale de l’Architecture Moderne). Contrary to functionalism, the idea of particularity took form. On the other hand remained the consideration of how the presently observed valorisation of architecture and design from the 50´s and 60´s can be more than mere retro-chic. How can one reflect on these concepts without either merely reaffirming or rashly disregarding them.

The Hansa district is more than an open-air museum comprised of individual buildings designed by famous architects (54 architects from 13 countries and 10 landscapers). Initiated by the senate of Berlin and primarily financed through public funding, it was desired that a visionary townscape - an expression a democratic societal order - emerge from the heavily destroyed inner-city areas north of the Tiergarten. After all, in 1949, the GDR had already issued a “National Re-construction Program“ and in 1952, the first segment of the Stalinallee had already been completed. The ideal of the “structured and aerated“ that was already leading in the first competitive call for proposals (1953), distinguished itself from the “dictatorially oriented buildings“ of socialistic modernity, as well as from the dense Berlin “sea of stone“ (“Steinmeer“) of the 19th century. The loose relationship of the individual tenements to one another, opening-up within park-like green outdoor spaces, seemed, in comparison, to be an embodiment of a community of free people. It was, however, also the realisation of a projected way of building during war times, where the destruction of large areas by air raids was to be prevented.

The realisation of such a project in a central urban area was only possible because, for one, the old Hansa district still lay in ruins until the beginning of construction, not to mention that an all-encompassing land reform needed to be enforced. That means that the individual pieces of land were acquired, also partly dispossessed, and consolidated via the “Stock Company for the Reconstruction of the Hansa District.“ That the old Hansa district was about a middle-class Jewish district, allows the district to be seen as a land division to be praised in the future, and at the same time as the past forgotten.

As a part of the Interbau, the programmatic exhibition “the city of tomorrow“ briefed the visitors about the “correct“ usage of a modern living settlement. This didactic display and the resulting publication in 1959, was primarily about viewing urban development as a possibility for societal control. The future of the city was conceptualised as a bundling of urban and bucolic qualities. Green spaces should comprise city centres, concretely as well as metaphorically, and herewith, make possible (again) a hygienic lifestyle. Underlying this was a vehement rejection of the contemporary “disorder within our cities“, caused by mechanisation, the break-up of the family, and the out-of-control burden of transportation and traffic. This urban development could, with this demand, be formative, or even have healing effects on the quality of life.

selected bibliography

Werner Durth: Stadt und Landschaft – Kriegszerstörung und Zukunftsentwürfe, in: Durth / Düwel / Gutschow / Schneider (Ed.): Krieg – Zerstörung – Wiederaufbau. Architektur und Stadtplanung 1940–1960, Berlin 1995.

“Utopie und Hansaviertel“, in: Bauwelt, Vol. 18, 1957.

Werner Sewing: “Reflexive Moderne. Das Erbe des Team Ten“, in: Sewing, Werner: Bildregie. Architektur zwischen Retrodesign und Eventkultur, Berlin 2003.

Das Hansaviertel 1957–1993. Konzepte, Planung, Probleme, ed. by Bezirksamt Tiergarten von Berlin, Abt. Bau- und Wohnungswesen, Naturschutz- und Grünflächenamt, Berlin 1993, p.35.

Geist / Küvers: Das Berliner Mietshaus, 1984:

die stadt von morgen. gegenwartsprobleme für alle, ed. by Karl Otto, Berlin 1959.

Göderitz / Rainer / Hoffmann: Die gegliederte und aufgelockerte Stadt, 1957.

Vogler / Kühn :Medizin und Städtebau, 1957.