06 June 2022, 11:36
Berlin: Restoration after World War II

As we prepare to rebuild our cities, it's time to take a look how it was done with the others. Therefore, we continue to talk about the post-war restoration of different cities in the world. A little while ago, we wrote about British Coventry  and Polish Warsaw. This time, the story is about Berlin after World War II, told by Carola Hein — professor of history of architecture and urban planning from the Netherlands.

After aerial bombardments and street battles at the end of the war, the center of Berlin was destroyed by about 80%. And in 1945, the city was divided into 4 zones, which the United States, France, Britain, and the USSR were responsible for. Generally speaking, however, two parts of the city could be distinguished: one under the Western influence and another one under the Soviet influence. This was reflected in their rebuilding as well.

In the western part of Berlin, architects sought to break completely with the monumentalism of Hitlerite Germany and design new green areas so that people could feel free. It was meant to be a symbol that the Nazi regime was over.

Some architects saw Berlin with modern roads and overpasses, but also paid tribute to the traditional architectural forms for the city. Others, such as Hans Scharoun and Wils Ebert, wanted to create a city plan without any lines and axes that used to converge to the center. They rejected them so much that the squares and the historic center had no ties at all. In addition, there were pioneering proposals at that time — to build shopping centers and skyscrapers. Other researchers, the French, wanted to build skyscrapers and several central avenues, but the idea was rejected due to similarities with Soviet and Hitlerian approaches.

In the eastern part, which had a strong influence on the Soviet ideas, reconstruction had to be carried out monumentally. They planned to erect multifunctional zones, wide boulevards, and large squares where military parades could be held.

Despite the rivalry between political groups, architects and urban planners of different zones still continued the dialogue in the 1950s. They created a plan according to which the streets would combine and create one architectural landscape in the future. However, this was before the construction of the Berlin Wall, when it became clear that there would be no unification.

The competition of the creators envisaged the search for ideas on how to express different political views in architecture, what urban aesthetics will look like. But eventually, it all led to the emergence of buildings of a similar type in both parts of Berlin. After all, it was necessary to build quickly and to build a lot to meet the need for housing. Subsequently, the construction of such single-type houses became the norm of urban planning.

Considering the experience of Berlin, Carola Hein advises Ukrainian cities to:

  • Gather professional people for discussions, exchange experience with other countries. The discussion will lead to the search for solutions.
  • Remember that architects' competitions are always about values and ideas of where we want to go in the following decades.
  • Think about which ruins are worth preserving, and what we wish to say with еруь. In Western Germany, for example, there were many buildings that were not fully restored. This was done to leave a sign that Germany had started a war, and to what destruction this had led. This is a reminder to generations.

For a complete record of the Berlin rebuilding speech and lessons for Ukraine, please visit the link. And the next article will feature more tips from Carola Hein.

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