27

Hansaviertel

H intro

 

Ever since that first exhausting but exhilarating week in Berlin, when I was totally absorbed by the city’s recent history, I’ve felt quite ‘heavy’ here. I know I’m weary and have been worried about my daughter, Coco, but it’s more than that. Some kind of connection I’ve made with Berlin’s shocking past? The depressing plight of immigrants here? Or maybe the fact that living in Neukölln we’re surrounded by wannabe hipsters who wouldn’t dare crack a smile.

I’m not sure but I haven’t been able to shake the feeling. So this week I went in search of lightness by exploring a neighbourhood I’d glanced at when we first arrived – Hansaviertel.

While my thing is more about finding beauty in the ordinary, Hansaviertel is actually kind of extraordinary. In short, it’s a small neighbourhood of striking 1950s buildings that West Berlin created to outshine East Berlin.

Some quick facts… Before its current incarnation, it was a densely packed residential area founded in 1874 between the Spree River and the Tiergarten. Almost all of the houses were destroyed in WWII by air raids. Name comes from the area’s connection with Hansa cities of medieval times.

A warning – for those who don’t like the tilt-shift lens effect, there are more this week. Quite a few really. I’ve been enjoying trying to tame the beast – and then just letting it have its head and doing what it will.

Also, there are less diptychs this week and more single images – to do my diptychs I need lots of details to match up with other images – and Hansaviertel, being small and fairly homogenous, doesn’t have that many. (In fact, Berlin in general has been the most challenging city as far as my diptychs go. Maybe another reason for my glumness.)

Anyway, let’s go Hansaviertel!

 

Part 1: Altonaer Straße 3–9

Picture this. It’s after the war. Large chunks of Berlin have been destroyed by bombing. East Berlin is busy building their massive Stalinist showpiece, Stalinallee (later renamed, Karl-Marx-Allee). What’s the West to do? Try and one-up them by inviting a handful of big name architects to design buildings for an international architecture exhibition to be built in an area destroyed by the bombing – the Hansa Quarter, Hansaviertel.

Interbau, as it was called, aimed to produce a “city of tomorrow” with modern apartments set in generous parklands. 50 or so architects, including Oscar Niemeyer from Brazil, Arne Jacobsen from Denmark, Alvar Aalto from Finland and Germany’s Walter Gropius, designed a variety of apartment blocks, ranging from low-rise single dwellings to multi-storey high-rise, as well as a library, cinema, two churches and two entrances to the U-Bahn subway station.

That was 1957-1961. What I love is that today, 5o or so years later, the only thing that’s changed are the trees – they’re bigger now. Everything else is pretty much the same.

So one day last week, after wandering around the incredibly quiet neighbourhood, Coco and I spied three girls playing on the grass at the rear of one of the buildings. Partly to ask permission to photograph them, partly to score Coco an impromptu play-date, I wandered up to the parents sitting nearby.

Turned out the ‘parents’ were Helga, mum of seven year old Juno, and Christian, dad of seven year old Valentina and five year old Emilia. The seven year olds were friends and this was a holiday get together.

Helga explained that she and Juno, together with her husband and son, lived in the building in front of us – one of the Interbau buildings, designed by Fritz Jaenecke and Sten Samuelson from Sweden.

The incredibly friendly and welcoming Helga raced upstairs to grab a few books for me about Hansaviertel – she’s a huge fan and while she only rents in the building, loves living in one of these iconic buildings.

And yes, Coco got to play. For. Hours. On. End.

A most excellent first experience of the “city of tomorrow”.

 

Altonaer Straße 3–9

Altonaer Straße 3–9

 

 

 

 

Helga

Helga

 

 

 

 

the location of their apartment block - pre-WWII and now

the location of their apartment block - pre-WWII and now

 

 

 

 

rear view - 1957 vs 2012

rear view - 1957 vs 2012

 

 

 

 

Juno, playing in her 'backyard'

Juno, playing in her 'backyard'

 

 

 

 

Emilia

Emilia hooping it up :: 1

 

 

 

 

yellow flowers in the garden

yellow flowers in the garden

 

 

 

 

Emilia hooping it up

Emilia hooping it up :: 2

 

 

 

 

5 year old fun

5 year old fun

 

 

 

 

7 year old fun

7 year old fun

 

 

 

 

and the 9 year old's idea of fun?

and the 9 year old's idea of fun?

 

 

 

 

joining in the fun

joining in

 

 

 

 

Emilia adds to Juno's drawing

Emilia adds to Juno's drawing

 

 

 

 

and still they play

and still they play

 

 

 

 

tired and tuckered out - time to call it a day

tired and tuckered out - time to call it a day

 

 

 

 

home - heim - same thing

home - heim - same thing

 

 

 

 

Part 2: And beyond

We spent the following days checking out some of the other buildings around the neighbourhood. Sadly for Coco we didn’t come across anymore hula hoops or hula skirts, but we did find some amazing examples of 1950s architecture set amongst masses of green.

 

time has stood still since 1957 in Hansaviertel

time has stood still since 1957 in Hansaviertel

 

 

 

 

before the bombs fell

before the bombs fell

 

 

 

 

70 odd years after the bombs

70 odd years after the bombs

 

 

 

 

then and now - the church

then and now - the church

 

 

 

 

after the bombing - and now

after the bombing - and now

 

 

 

 

by Dane Arne Jacobsen

by Arne Jacobsen

 

 

 

 

we're not in Neukolln anymore Coco

we're not in Neukolln anymore Coco

 

 

 

 

by American Walter Gropius

by Walter Gropius

 

 

 

 

no talking :: 1 - the local library

no talking :: 1 - the local library

 

 

 

 

no talking :: 2 - Dietrich, fomer photographer

no talking :: 2 - Dietrich, fomer photographer

 

 

 

The building that probably catches most people’s eye is the one that sits on enormous ‘V’ shaped feet, designed by Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. Aside from its ‘floating’ quality, I particularly liked the stairwells, with their different colour tiles and doors and transluscent glass.

 

by Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer

by Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer

 

 

 

 

what I'd do for a comfy bed in there

what I'd do for a comfy bed in there

 

 

 

 

cmulti-storey living :: 1

multi-storey living :: 1

 

 

 

 

multi-storey living :: 2

multi-storey living :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The mosaic

A large glass tile mosaic adorns one of the walls of the Hansaplatz U-Bahn station, apparently designed by a fella called Fritz Winter in 1958. I loved it so much I hung around it for ages, using it as a backdrop to capture those who passed by.

Like Christoph, who lives in the area and works in computer science; his genes have blessed him with incredibly youthful skin – he’s 55, looks 45 – at the same time as cursing him with muscular dystrophy.

 

Christoph

Christoph

 

 

 

 

Lisa, who works right next to the U-Bahn station at Hansabücherei, the local library. She has a tattoo on her shoulder of some of Lady Gaga’s lyrics from the song, ‘Born this way’ – “That’s me, exactly.”

 

Lady Gaga on Lisa's shoulder

Lady Gaga on Lisa's shoulder

 

 

 

 

Another Lisa and Ann-Marie, two young girls from an African background who were walking past with their mum and dad. They were in a rush so all I found out about them was they lived in Wedding, just north of Hansaviertel.

 

Lisa and Ann-Marie

Lisa and Ann-Marie

 

 

 

 

Helmut, originally from Austria, now living just outside Berlin. He loves Berlin because “you are free to be who you want to be.”

 

Helmut

Helmut

 

 

 

 

The lovely 74 year old Hanke was riding past on his bike with his seven year old grand-daughter, Jasmin, when I hailed them down. I took their photo – and then, when I discovered Hanke lived in one of the Interbau buildings right behind us, I asked if we could have a look. Not once did they wince.

 

Hanke and Jasmin

Hanke and Jasmin

 

 

 

 

Jasmin

Jasmin

 

 

 

 

Klopstockstrasse 30, by Alvar Aalto

Hanke's home :: 1 - the entrance to Klopstockstrasse 30, by Alvar Aalto

 

 

 

 

Hanke's home :: 2 - rear of building

Hanke's home :: 2 - rear of building

 

 

 

 

Jasmin and her opa on the balcony

Jasmin and her opa on the balcony

 

 

 

 

I didn’t take any pics of Hanke’s apartment mainly because as warm and inviting as it was, it just looked like any regular apartment – you wouldn’t have known it was inside an Alvar Aalto designed building.

Hanke told me he’d been born in the area in 1938 and had lived in the Aalto building for 40 years, since 1972. Imagine the changes he would’ve seen, from pre-war to now. Amazing.

 

That was it for my portraits-in-front-of-mosaic.

Two details of said mosaic…

 

the U-Bahn near the Spree river

the U-Bahn near the Spree river

 

 

 

 

suddenly summer

suddenly summer

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the weather, Berlin’s ‘winter’ disappeared as quickly as it had arrived this week. In its place was hot hot weather without a drop of rain – until yesterday…

 

after the rain

after the rain

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

When Helga first showed me her books with photos of Hansaviertel before the war, I couldn’t believe it. The area looked so 19th century ‘normal’, with rows and rows of densely packed homes and little green. Now it feels so much lighter, like one big park with a few interesting buildings scattered around it. Even if it was all about politics at the time, who cares. It’s now a unique corner of Berlin that seems frozen in time and incredibly serene – until the hula hoops and hula skirts come out to play.

 

 

 

hot, tired, bored - the full catastrophe

hot, tired and bored - the full trifecta

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

I went in search of lightness this week and found it. As did Coco. She loved tearing around the place with her new found friends. I tried to photograph more of them playing together but kept getting the evil eye – “Mum, it’s a game, we can’t just stop.”

She had such a great time. Which is why I don’t mind sharing the photo above. It was on a different day, when I was hanging around the mosaic waiting for people to walk by. I looked around to see Coco just sitting there, with an expression that just says it all. It’s so unusual to see her looking like that – normally she’s all smiles the moment I point the camera at her. But she was so hot – and tired, and bored – she just sat there. I think that’s when I said, okay, let’s go get some ice cream. Problem(s) solved.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Julie Mackenzie

 —

See you next Monday.

 

26

Gropiusstadt

G intro

 

Having checked out the northern bit of the borough of Neukölln in the last post, I thought it would be interesting to have a nose around the southern end.

While there are a handful of different neighbourhoods in the south, I was particularly keen to explore one that used to sit right on the border with former East Berlin. My interest was piqued by Tim M, a blog follower, who said of south Neukölln: “These massive high-rise social housing estates look weird now because before they were jammed right up against the Berlin Wall; now it’s long gone and they are right next to meadows.”

I loved the image and went in search.

Couldn’t find them. Found a meadow. Found where the Wall once was. Found a distant horizon with large buildings on it. But could not find what Tim had described.

On our marathon walks, however, we did come across an interesting area in south Neukölln called Gropiusstadt, and in particular, a building called Gropiushaus.

Shall we?

 

Part 1: Gropiushaus – The building

Towering apartment blocks have always fascinated me. I may not want to live in one but their massive bulk is somehow compelling as is the thought of all that humanity living in such close quarters.

When said massive bulk is designed in a semi-circular shape with some cool retro-modernist features, well, who can resist?

Gropiushaus is just one of many buildings designed by Bauhaus star, Walter Gropius, in the area called Gropiusstadt. Apparently Gropius wanted the buildings to be just five stories high but when the Berlin Wall shot up, they couldn’t be as spread out as he wanted – instead they had to be made much higher. 

So a whole load of towering blocks ended up being built between 1962-1975 right on the border with East Germany.

Apparently Gropius aimed to make a living area that was “orderly and calming through unity”. Sadly, his dream didn’t come true – pretty much ever since Gropiusstadt was born, it’s been known as a problem area.

Today, 40,000 people live in Gropiusstadt.

Some of whom live here..

 

honey, I'm home :: 1

honey, I'm home :: 1

 

 

 

 

honey, I'm home :: 2

honey, I'm home :: 2

 

 

 

 

honey, I'm home :: 3

honey, I'm home :: 3

 

 

 

 

Having snapped it from the outside, I wanted to get inside this towering edifice to explore. Normally at this point on similar excursions I face two obstacles – a locked security door and Coco, who stands rooted to the spot, refusing to “break in”. But this time she led the charge, waiting for someone to open the door and then slipping inside just as it was about to close.

We hopped in the tiny elevator – really, it was two people max. – and shot up to the top. The lift opened and there it was – blandness. Clean, slightly curved blandness. But then star Coco spied two doors – out she flew – it was the small, semi-circular balconies we’d seen from below. Hooray for Coco!

 

 

birds eye view

birds eye view

 

 

 

 

view from the top

view from the top :: 1

 

 

 

It was the first time I’d seen Berlin from any sort of height and it felt so good to see out far and wide.

 

view from the top :: 2

view from the top :: 2

 

 

 

 

As I was busy snapping, Coco was continuing her stellar performance as chief explorer of the day – she discovered the other door on the balcony led to the stairwell. I had been wondering where all the graffiti and ‘self-expression’ was in south Neukölln…

 

love and hate in the stairwell

love and hate in the stairwell

 

 

 

 

neighbourhood pride

neighbourhood pride

 

 

 

Although Gropiushaus doesn’t sit right on the former border, you don’t have to walk far before you hit the green stuff that Tim had talked about.

 

wilderness on its doorstep

wilderness on its doorstep

 

 

 

 

Once we’d found the green fields, I was keen to see if I could find some of those buildings – the ones that used to be jammed up against the Wall and were now sitting next to nothingness.

Now, it’s a little confusing but as far as I understand it, there was never just one Berlin Wall. There were two – with the bit in the middle called the ‘death strip’. So I assume that the green fields you can see in the image below were this so-called ‘death strip’. See the tiny buildings on the horizon? I thought maybe they were the elusive buildings.

We were all set to make the trek over to them when the heavens opened – it was one too many rain storms for a week so we high-tailed it back to the nearest U-bahn station.

The buildings remain a mystery.

 

the former 'death strip' :: 1

the former 'death strip' :: 1

 

 

 

 

the former 'death strip' :: 2

the former 'death strip' :: 2

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Gropiushaus – The People

Actually, not so many people, just a handful really. Of kids. (I don’t know why given that Berlin has a population of over 3.5 million but I can never seem to find many people – except at the markets. Are they all on summer holidays maybe? It’s just weird.)

It was our second visit to Gropiushaus and I wanted to meet some of its residents. Coco and I had been loitering outside one of the front doors for some time when suddenly this gaggle of six kids piled outside, slurping giant cups of noodles.

There were three brothers from a Lebanese background and one sister and her two brothers from Serbia. The very sweet Gina isn’t in any of the photos except for the first one because she was too busy helping me corral the boys – they were full of beans as well as protestations of love for Coco. After weeks of hanging out in hip-cool Berlin it was so refreshing to be amongst mischief and high spirits again. (Not that they show it in the images below – they all went quite serious when I pointed the camera at them.)

 

weather pattern - windy with rain

weather pattern - windy with rain

 

 

 

 

the building layout

the building layout

 

 

 

 

an unbreakable bond - brothers Hasuna and Ahchmetto :: 1

an unbreakable bond - brothers Hasuna and Ahchmetto :: 1

 

 

 

 

an unbreakable bond - brothers Hasuna and Ahchmetto :: 2

an unbreakable bond - brothers Hasuna and Ahchmetto :: 2

 

 

 

 

Gino

Gino

 

 

 

 

fussball crazy - Humudi with little Lio

fussball crazy - Humudi with little Lio

 

 

 

 

four of six

four of six

 

 

 

 

hood vs hat - Humudi

hood vs hat - Humudi

 

 

 

It would have been good to have talked to the kids about their lives in south Neukölln but aside from Gina, they didn’t speak much English – and I speak zero German.

We did, however, run into a man living in an apartment block next door to Gropiushaus who spoke pretty good English. He was a happy, chatty sort of fella, taking the opportunity to walk his dog in between downpours. When I asked him what life was like in the area he explained that his building was fine because it was filled with ethnic Germans, but that Gropiushaus, peppered as it was with “Turks and Arabs who make a lot of noise” wasn’t so great.

How will it all end I wonder.

 

Part 3: A tale of two Neuköllns

North and south Neukölln face similar challenges of cultural integration, poverty and unemployment.

But at first glance, they appear to be worlds apart. The north, filled with grungy graffitied low-rise buildings and slowly being hip-ified, the south, a more suburban environment with massive towers that are severe and ‘brutalist’ but graffiti-less (aside from the stairwells) – and not a hipster nor traveller with roller-suitcase in sight.

North Neukölln on the left, south Neukölln on the right…

 

worlds apart :: 1

worlds apart :: 1

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 2

worlds apart :: 2

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 3

worlds apart :: 3

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 4

worlds apart :: 4

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 5

worlds apart :: 5

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 6

worlds apart :: 6

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 7

worlds apart :: 7

 

 

 

 

And just to keep you on your toes – south Neukölln on the left, north Neukölln on the right…

 

worlds apart :: 8

worlds apart :: 8

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 9

worlds apart :: 9

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 10

worlds apart :: 10

 

 

 

 

worlds apart :: 11

worlds apart :: 11

 

 

 

Part 3: Some interesting types

A big fan of the different fonts and lettering on the U-bahn stations, one day I stopped at 11 of the stations between north and south Neukölln to snap their delightfulness. Aside from the different combinations of tile colour and fonts, I particularly like the signs that contain an umlaut – two dots essentially that sit above the vowels a, o and u. The o always looks to me like a face, a very surprised face.

These are my favourite three…

 

north Neukolln

north Neukolln

 

 

 

 

south Neukolln :: 1

south Neukolln :: 1

 

 

 

 

south Neukolln :: 2

south Neukolln :: 2

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Gropiushaus is just one small part of Gropiusstadt of course – and Gropiusstadt, just one small part of the southern tip of the borough of Neukölln. So for all I know it might not be representative at all. But if it is, south Neukölln would appear to be an uncomfortable mix of peoples with vastly different cultures living in a strange environment of towering apartment blocks.

Yet that’s not necessarily the thing I’ll remember about the place. What will stay with me are those vivacious kids, slurping their noodles, making eyes at Coco, racing around – living in the moment in other words, and for them, the moment is äökäy.

 

On the ‘home front’

Many thanks to all those who left some lovely, encouraging comments after the last post. I soaked them up like blotting paper and felt instantly brighter. Helped along by Rachel, a blog follower living in Berlin who had her husband take Coco off my hands for a few hours to play with their kids so Coco could have some kid-time and I, some kid-free adult time hanging out with her. It worked a treat. Danke Rachel! 

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Jane Howard

 —

Summer is back so barring a sudden return of the rains I’ll see you next Monday.

 

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