Rising from the ruins

After a break of one year, the Berlinische Galerie is celebrating its reopening with an accomplished exhibition: “Radically modern – Urban planning and construction in 1960s Berlin”. 1960s-style buildings still characterise the city, and thankfully many bizarre designs never left the drawing board.

Engelbert Kremser,  Europa-Center, Fotomontage, 1969,  © Engelbert Kremser/Berlinische Galerie, Repro: Markus Hawlik

In the draft by Engelbert Kremser (1969), the Europa-Center on Breitscheidplatz extends upwards like an organic growth. It is reminiscent of a Hundertwasser building – but without the bright colours. It looks more like a gloomy bastion from ‘Lord of the Rings’, towering threateningly into the sky. Happily, this design never saw the light of day: the ‘mound-building’ would have wreaked havoc on the layout of the square. 

 

The 1960s were a relatively short period in architecture, but for Berlin, they were exceptionally formative: no other era combines so many impressive monuments and so many hideous architectural travesties. The exhibition “Radically modern – Urban planning and construction in 1960s Berlin” is therefore an excellent way to open Berlin up to tourists, and also offers a great opportunity to make sense of a period in which the understanding of architecture was so diametrically opposed to our current thinking. These days, we prefer to move into beautifully renovated pre-war buildings, and Berlin is currently meticulously rebuilding an old Prussian castle. In the 1960s, however, tall buildings shot up into the air as architects turned radically away from the past and focussed on the future – interestingly, despite the Cold War and the desires it brought to forge clear and separate identities, to a similar extent both in East and West Berlin. The scars of World War II were covered everywhere with radical new buildings and completely redesigned squares: the GDR State Council building and the GDR Foreign Ministry, Alexanderplatz with the TV tower, which was almost constructed without its distinctive sphere; and on the other side of the wall, the Kulturforum with the New National Gallery and the new Breitscheidplatz.

Museum-Berlin_Radikal-Modern, Heinz-Lieber, Panorama-Alexanderplatz

Rolling pavements and satellite towns

Some designs thankfully never saw the light of day: for example, a ring motorway directly through Kreuzberg across Oranienplatz to relieve increasing motor traffic, or the enormous terraced housing blocks by Josef Kaiser in East Berlin, which were intended to house 22,000 people. Today, they would probably be dead satellite towns. For other projects, it’s a pity that they were never realised, like the ‘rolling pavements’ around Ku’damm, which were designed to carry pedestrians in tubes over two kilometres. Other gigantic projects, however, did come into existence: the high-rise settlements in Märkisches Viertel and Gropiusstadt. Back then, they were seen as much-desired responses to an extreme housing shortage.Georg Kohlmaier, Barna von Sartory, Rollende Gehsteige am Kurfürstendamm, Repro Bildcollage, 1969, © Georg Kohlmaier/Elisabeth von Sartory/Berlinische Galerie, Repro: Markus Hawlik

This is an accomplished exhibition, which provides information on this decisive epoch in a variety of ways, including with plans, models and photos, and ceremoniously reopens the Berlinische Galerie after a ten-month renovation. By the way: even though Engelbert Kremser’s ‘mound-building’ never came into being, two of his designs of ‘organic architecture’ exist in Berlin: the Spielhaus in the Märkisches Viertel and Café am See in Britzer Garten.

Berlinische Galerie, exhibition: Radically modern, until 26 October 2015, Alte Jakobstraße 124-128, 10969 Berlin (Kreuzberg), daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except Thursdays), www.berlinischegalerie.de

 

Photos:

Berlinische Galerie, Haupteingang © Foto: Nina Straßgütl

Georg Kohlmaier, Barna von Sartory, Rollende Gehsteige am Kurfürstendamm, Repro Bildcollage, 1969, © Georg Kohlmaier/Elisabeth von Sartory/Berlinische Galerie, Repro: Markus Hawlik

Heinz Lieber, Panorama Alexanderplatz, Fotografie, 1972, © Rechtsnachfolger Heinz Lieber, Repro: Kai-Annett Becker

Engelbert Kremser, Europa-Center, Fotomontage, 1969, © Engelbert Kremser/Berlinische Galerie, Repro: Markus Hawlik

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