The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Baukunst der Nachkriegsmoderne: Architekturführer Berlin 1949–1979

Adrian von Buttlar, Kerstin Wittmann-Englert, Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper (Reimer, €29.95)

Reviewed by Stefan Muthesius

No city in the world can offer a greater number of Modern masterpieces than post-WWII Berlin, at least as far as the great names are concerned. Corb, Mies, Gropius, Aalto, Niemeyer, all are represented here with substantial works. Among the most noted German practitioners are Egon Eiermann and, of course, Berlin’s most original designer, Hans Scharoun.

How could this happen? Probably the principal motivation was a sense of guilt: from 1919 to 1933 Berlin had been at the forefront of architectural innovation, shamefully interrupted by the Nazi regime. After the latter had perished – and with it substantial parts of the city itself – an international outlook arose, unprecedented in its deep convictions. At the same time, a totally different wind blew from the East: Berlin’s Stalin-Allee, today named Karl-Marx Allee, presents one of the richest and most striking examples of Stalinist architectural style and urbanism anywhere in the Soviet bloc. Berlin became the test case for a sharp politicisation of C20 architecture.

All these issues are discussed in the book, though its principal division is by types of building. The picture as a whole is one of a solid, committed modernity throughout, which from the late 1950s includes East Berlin, too. With its clear maps, handy format and over 700 excellent illustrations the volume also serves as a guidebook, though note that its text is in German only. For each building shown we are told whether or not it is listed, and, lo and behold, not only are the buildings by the greater and lesser masters protected, but the majority of the 1950s and 60s works as well. A rich city indeed.