A West Berlin Utopia: The Hansaviertel

You might remember that a few weeks ago I was invited to take part in a tour, which included the Karl-Marx-Allee in the eastern half of Berlin. The title of that tour was the Divided City, and it covered the differing approaches to architecture and post-war reconstruction either side of the Berlin divide (there was no wall at that point). From Karl-Marx-Allee we jumped on the U- and S-Bahn to cross over to the west and the Hansaviertel, a residential quarter tucked away in a bend in the river at the northern boundary of the Tiergarten Park.

The Hansaviertel was built between 1957 and 1961 as part of the Interbau (International Building Exhibition) and featured the work of 48 different architects. Unlike the fairly unified approach of the developments in the east, the architects of the Hansaviertel created residential buildings in a variety of permutations, from high rise, high density blocks of flats, to single, detached houses and all manner of styles in between. In that sense, the approach in the west was to create a neighbourhood that allowed for individual choice and the different social strata of society, which stood in contrast to the “Palaces for the People” being built over in the east.

The architects involved include many of the great names of the mid-twentieth century, including Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Hans Scharoun and Max Taut. Although it is possible to see what they were trying to do with the quarter, it still felt as if they had missed something in the execution as we wandered around the (admittedly) leafy streets of the neighbourhood. Perhaps it was simply the absence of a focal point, of a community and public space… I don’t know. According to our guide on the tour, the Hansaviertel is one of the more deprived corners of Berlin, despite its architecturally legacy, which stands in interesting contrast to the Karl-Marx-Allee, where those representative buildings have become highly prized.

Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton

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