Living with Sin Germany Comes to Terms with its Ugliest Buildings

Turit Fröbe

By

Part 2: 'Time Heals Lots of Wounds'


Not long ago, Bauer launched a project called "Liebe deine Stadt" -- "Love Your City" -- in which he sought to counteract the belief held both in Cologne and elsewhere that the city is ugly. Each month, he placed the phrase "Liebe deine Stadt" in gigantic cursive lettering on the top of a particularly monstrous edifice. He wanted to draw people's attention to what he thinks is the unique beauty of the kind of modernist architecture that makes wide swaths of Cologne painful to look at.

"Nobody would think of putting such a structure in the middle of a city anymore," Bauer said of the telecommunications building. "But it was a symbol of the dawn of the media age. If you look closely, you can see that the designers showed a loving attention to detail. I wanted to sensitize people to modernist, postwar architecture."

He claims he was successful. "I think I was able to generate a new openness to this kind of architecture," he says.

It is a goal that many in formerly communist eastern Germany have taken to heart as well. After the war, East Germany too sought to reconstruct as quickly as possible and, as across Eastern Europe, relied heavily on pre-fabricated concrete slabs to slap together both residential high-rises and imposing administrative buildings. Other structures too were put up with little apparent regard for aesthetics.

A Hated Scar

These days, after years of young people turning their backs on the east for job opportunities elsewhere, depopulated municipalities in eastern Germany have begun demolishing some of the now empty communist housing projects that blight their towns.

Some structures, however, have remained. Jena, for example, located just southwest of Leipzig, inherited a series of outsized pipes snaking through the heart of town and used to provide heating to entire city quarters. Not only are the pipes an eyesore, but they also serve the problematic function of slicing the city neatly in two. A plan to bury them proved too expensive for the financially strapped municipality.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: A Successful Transformation

But instead of resigning itself to living with a hated scar running the length of town, Jena leapt at a 2004 idea proposed by master's student in architecture at the Bauhaus University in nearby Weimar. Dana Kurz suggested that, instead of getting rid of the hated pipes, why not teach people to love them?

In the ensuing years, a series of projects -- transforming one section of pipes into a living room setting complete with an oversized couch; turning another corner into a classical music stage; using parts of the pipes for several art projects and involving locals in beautification schemes -- has managed to do just that.

"At the beginning, we started by saying they aren't that bad and decided to make something positive out of them," Kurz told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We didn't want to hide them, but rather turn them into a kind of theater backdrop. They have a dynamic, a flow."

'Like an Aldi Supermarket'

It is exactly the kind of project that Fröbe imagines for the dozens -- hundreds, even thousands -- of architectural sins which dot German cities across the country. She says that, in an age when cities "all look the same, like an Aldi supermarket where everything is always in the same place," it is a city's signature buildings, some of which may indeed be hideously ugly, which can help residents develop a feeling of identity.

"Many cities don't take care of these buildings because they are no longer fashionable," she says. "But if they just let them sit there and don't do anything with them, there is no way for people to develop a positive feeling toward them."

Architect Mäckler, in his way, agrees. "Time heals lots of wounds," he says. "People can get used to a lot of things even if they are totally ugly. But I still think you have to do what you can to improve them."

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