German
01/21
Text

Berlin

The buildings of the inner-city districts of Berlin are mostly four-to-five-storey tenement buildings with street-facing vorderhäuser (front houses) with hinterhäuser (rear buildings) accessible via areaways that vary in width but are generally narrow. The entire complex forms a characteristic block structure with a central enclosed courtyard. The vast majority of these buildings were built in the 19th century, mostly as mixed residential and commercial neighbourhoods for workers living in what was at that time the most industrialized city in Europe. Throughout much of the 20th century buildings of this type that had survived the Second World War were spurned, or even demolished, on account of their inadequate facilities or due to greening. It was not until the 1970s, with the increasingly popularity of alternative lifestyles, that an active appropriation of Berlin’s older building districts began, justified in particular by mixed use and small-scale urban qualities of these diversified districts. This positive re-evaluation finally led to a careful and object-oriented renovation of the neighbourhoods.

Over the years people’s preference for this type of building grew to such an extent that following reunification it was even pushed through as a model for the reconstruction of the city centre. Berlin is therefore an excellent example of the process of rediscovering historical cities as attractive places to live for primarily young and well-educated sections of the population. This trend is widespread mainly in Europe but also in North America.                                                                                                                             The radical breaks that have punctuated Berlin’s history, and thus its social structure and resource utilization, therefore demonstrate the remarkable mutability of the space through various forms of adaptation. Furthermore, this has taken place with building stock that has remained physically virtually unchanged for 100 years. Berlin’s apartment building districts therefore serve as particularly suitable examples for the past adaptation of open space through new uses in the process of transformation as the city reorients its residential and service sectors in line with post-industrial society. 

Furthermore, the city centre – characterized partially by its 19th century origins, but also by its war damage and radical modernization programmes – exhibits an exceptional spectrum of highly diverse spaces. Thus, in a very compact area one finds, on the one hand, the characteristic form of the Berlin tenement with its courtyard system and sophisticated structuring of public, semi-public and private open space, and on the other, the spaciously proportioned thoroughfares and pre-fabricated housing estates of the post-war decades. Thereby, the type of open space use alternates frequently, which is a phenomenon one encounters rarely in other major west European cities (that were not severely damaged during the war). The reconstruction of routes and patterns of behaviour encountered while traversing this area allow us to understand clearly the perceptions and appropriations of the various streets, squares, lanes and courtyards relevant to our investigation. 

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