Out of the Ashes A New Look at Germany's Postwar Reconstruction
Part 4: 'Better People through Better Construction'
Often, as was the case with the latter, the experts were full of praise. But the rest of the population was skeptical. "If I had 16 million marks, I would buy something else," one visitor wrote in the guestbook. Another simply wrote in French: "My opinion: all merde." Now dilapidated, the building is now set to be demolished.
"Of course, with hindsight, it's easier to say that not everything was successful," says Albert Speer, the son of the Nazi architect and minister of the same name. "But you must remember what it was really like in 1945." The younger Speer, who was born in Frankfurt in 1934 and is now an urban planner himself, says that, after the war, the idea of modern architecture was associated with the utopian vision of "creating better people through better construction."
Architect Christoph Mäckler, for his part, believes that modernism was popular because enlightened souls didn't want to be reminded of the past. "Simply putting two columns next to each other was considered fascist," he says. And he should know: In 1947, his father, the former master builder Hermann Mäckler, even proposed giving Frankfurt's cathedral a flat roof.
In its desperate attempt to create modern, car-friendly, "honest" cities, Mäckler says, his father's generation forgot that a viable city "is about beauty, and beauty is linked to the history of the place you are building in."
Indeed, when Germany's postwar renovators were deciding where to put their residential clusters and schematic developments, the historical significance of these locations was the last thing on their mind. Which is why so many preservationists in Germany are lobbying for the resurrection of unforgotten buildings and complexes.
As early as 1989, for example, the "Knochenhauer Amtshaus," a splendid half-timbered house erected in the central German city of Hildesheim in 1529 and destroyed during World War II, was brought back from the dead, replacing the Hotel Rose, an ugly cement building dating back to the 1960s. In the western city of Wesel, a citizens' action group has long been lobbying for the reconstruction of the unusual Flemish Gothic façade of its 490-year-old city hall. And, in Hamburg, people have even taken to the streets to demand the preservation of the few remaining houses in the Gängeviertel district.
Less than a mile away in Hamburg as the crow flies, one can watch the development of the 157-hectare (390-acre) HafenCity, a modern quarter that will have little in common with the narrow, winding, working-class districts of old. The contrast will be stark -- but charming harmony could result nonetheless. New does not necessarily mean inhospitable.
The quarter is being developed on former docklands not far from the main downtown area of this growing city. Once the project has been completed, the district will be home to enough offices, shops and restaurants to employ about 40,000 people. In order to breathe some life into the district, a third of the entire space has been earmarked for residential housing.
A Far Cry from the Postwar Era
HafenCity is an ambitious urban planning concept that is a far cry from the projects of the postwar era, when satellite towns were erected willy-nilly in largely isolated rural areas. Here, kilometers of quayside footpaths are to frame the metropolitan office and residential areas. A marina and a university are also planned. And with its Elbphilharmonie concert hall, the city is building itself nothing less than a new trademark, a kind of German Sydney Opera House.
Financially a bottomless pit, the exciting building of curved glass and red brick seemingly floating on the River Elbe will draw millions of visitors from around the globe and give Hamburgers themselves plenty of grounds to identify with their hometown once more. Or, at least, that's what the developers hope.
Düsseldorf has already gone through a similar development. The old city harbor was rezoned and developed, complete with buildings by international star architects like David Chipperfield and Frank Gehry. The quarter has been a major success.
Stuttgart 's 'Project of the Century'
It remains to be seen whether a similar project in Stuttgart will be as successful. After more than two decades of planning, in February construction finally began on "Stuttgart 21," the largest development project in Germany.
The terminus station and its associated tracks in the heart of the city are to disappear and be replaced by a modern through station built 11 meters (36 feet) underground. According to the plans of Düsseldorf-based architect Christoph Ingenhoven, huge futuristic outward-bulging portholes will flood the platforms with daylight from above.
In their current form, the tracks and crossings cut a wide swath through Stuttgart. But, once they have been taken underground, the planners envisage a new city center being established on a roughly100-hectare (250-acre) site, complete with office blocks, apartments, parks and recreational facilities.
"How often does a major European city get a chance like this?" asks Wolfgang Drexler, the vice president of Baden-Württemberg's state parliament and the project's director of communications. "This visionary transportation solution will give the entire region a boost." Given that the city is surrounded by hills and bursting at the seams, there's no denying that the additional space will be a blessing. Still, most inhabitants are ambivalent about it. Indeed, while planners raved about the "project of the century" when construction began, demonstrators chanted "Pack of liars! Pack of liars!"
- Part 1: A New Look at Germany's Postwar Reconstruction
- Part 2: The Intellectual Divide
- Part 3: The Spiritual Failure of Suburban Developments
- Part 4: 'Better People through Better Construction'
- Part 5: The Berlin Model