Who were the great architects

From the debris to the vision of the "new" city

Status: 04/16/2021 3:47 p.m.

Many cities in northern Germany are in ruins after the Second World War. This offers architects space for utopias: They plan relaxed and car-friendly quarters in which historical buildings tend to be a nuisance.

by Stefanie Lambernd, NDR.de

The task is to clear away the rubble quickly and to rebuild the cities. Because in the mid-1940s there was an acute housing shortage, many people had to stay in emergency shelters, so-called Nissen huts. In the 1950s, there was a real construction boom. But what should buildings, residential areas and cities of the future look like? This is a question that concerns not only architects and town planners, but also citizens and politicians. While the traditionalists want to build cities like or at least similar to what they looked like before World War II, there are also proponents of a radical new beginning.

Light, air - and space for cars

These city planners and architects have visions: they envision structured city quarters through which light and air flow, with wide streets that pump traffic through the cities. These cities should be car-friendly, relaxed and green.

For some urban planners, the destruction caused by the bombing war is not at all wrong, because there is plenty of space for modern, contemporary architecture on the areas that have been freed up. And what the bombs spared, some of the post-war architects in many places sacrifice to their plans, because medieval houses and winding streets only disturb.

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Hamburg: Neu-Altona as a model project

In Hamburg, Neu-Altona is one of the examples of this radical post-war architecture. The working-class district is close to the port; only about a third of the small and medium-sized houses in the winding streets survived the hail of bombs. The post-war architects now also want to clear these houses. The architect Ernst May, one of the most important German urban planners of the 20th century, became head of planning at the world's largest residential construction group Neue Heimat in 1954 and took plans by urban planner Konstanty Gutschow out of the drawer, who under Hitler created the Führer city of Hamburg with skyscrapers on the Palmaille, relaxed linear construction, green corridors and planned wide roads. May is commissioned to demolish old Altona and build new Altona. It is the largest new building project in the still young Federal Republic. 11,000 apartments for 40,000 people are to be built there.

Separation of living, working and traffic

At that time, Neu-Altona was considered a model project for the new city in Hamburg.

May thinks nothing of the reconstruction attempts of other cities, but plans without considering historical structures. An entire quarter around Altona's main church St. Trinitatis will be demolished for this purpose. While the reconstruction in other Hamburg districts such as Barmbek and Hamm is based on old structures, Neu-Altona is seen as a model project for the new, car-friendly city. Land is being re-cut, high-rise buildings are being placed next to green spaces, and wide streets are being built. Instead of dark red brick, light bricks are prescribed. Houses that are higher than four floors get flat roofs. The basis for the development concept is a strict separation of living, working, shopping and traffic, plus generous play and green areas.

Hanover: Car-friendly city of the future

The Kreuzkirchen district in Hanover is being completely redesigned by urban planner Hillebrecht.

Even in bombed-out Hanover, the historic cityscape no longer means much to many after the Second World War. The New Town Hall from the time of Kaiser Wilhelm II is spared, but a typical city of reconstruction is emerging around it: wide streets, simple buildings and plenty of space for car traffic. Urban planner Rudolf Hillebrecht creates a traffic lane around the old and inner city and builds a tangent system, today's expressway system. It is used, for example, for modern, car-friendly urban planning. In order to implement his ideas, Hillebrecht relies on talks with the landowners at an early stage and persuades them to part with their rubble plots in the Kreuzkirchen district. In this way Hillbrecht can create a new district in a short time according to the latest standards, with individual houses in rows instead of closed streets. After all, light and air should flood the houses and apartments. Hillebrecht had some half-timbered houses that the war spared, demolished and rebuilt around the market church.

Criticism and praise for Hillebrecht's work

Critics miss a respect for the history of the city, because Hillebrecht is also tearing down historical buildings such as the river water art on the Leine and the Friederikenschlösschen. Former Mayor Herbert Schmalstieg (SPD) emphasizes in the NDR documentary Our History - Of building sins and civil protests, but also the good sides of Hillebrecht's work. For him, the car-friendly city is a modern concept to this day that justified the demolition of the remaining monuments: "If I summarize everything, I have to say, it was a win for Hanover that Hillebrecht, here in Hanover, had the planning in hand. "

Architectural utopia with a dark side

There are other examples of radical post-war architecture in northern Germany, for example in Bremen, where historical buildings are disappearing in the course of reconstruction. But in many places the utopia of the new city quickly shows its dark side: The implementation of the plans is expensive, some projects such as new construction plans for the Hamburg district of St. Georg fail due to the resistance of the owners who do not want to give up their land for modern post-war planning. In many places, the grandiose plans are making slow progress. In Neu-Altona, for example, only half of the planned buildings have been built after almost 20 years of construction. Critics criticize the desertification and lack of a sense of neighborhood in the car-friendly districts built with great visions. In Hildesheim, buildings from the post-war period were even torn down again in the 1980s in order to restore the bone carver's office, a half-timbered house from the 16th century.

GDR: industrial construction is perfected

In the GDR it was all about reconstruction until the mid-1950s, with a number of splendid buildings being built in the style of socialist classicism, the "confectioner's style". But after the end of the Stalin era, industrial construction became more important because the population needed living space. In addition, money and material are in short supply. The panel construction is being perfected more and more until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Historic buildings are still being destroyed in the 80s

Many old towns fell into disrepair due to a lack of maintenance in the decades after the Second World War. Greifswald survived the bombing war almost unscathed, but part of the medieval building fabric was still lost in the 1970s and 1980s. Greifswald will be one of three cities in the GDR that are to be redesigned in a socialist way: In a first phase of construction, a number of houses in the city center will be demolished and replaced by houses in so-called adapted panel construction.

Two more so-called redevelopment areas follow, further out there are prefabricated housing estates. Some listed buildings such as the city library are being restored, but many people from Greifswald mourn the houses with medieval structures that are disappearing. "If such an area is destroyed, then it is ultimately as if a collective amnesia is prescribed, a loss of memory," says the historian Felix Schönrock in the NDR documentary "Von Bausünden und Bürgerprotest".

The year of monument protection as a turning point

Criticism of the functional building frenzy is also increasing in the West. 1975 is considered a turning point for German urban development: In the year of the preservation of monuments, awareness rises for the old, which must be preserved. Not only in the West there are some federal states with new requirements for monument protection, the GDR also passed the so-called Monument Preservation Act in 1975. Today not only historical buildings from earlier eras are under monument protection, but also many buildings from the post-war period, such as the Hamburg high-rise buildings, the construction of which began shortly after the end of the war. Brutalism is an architectural style of the 1960s and 70s, the name of which is based on the French term "béton brut" for raw concrete. Long vilified as building sins, architecture fans now appreciate the radical look and advocate the preservation of these buildings.

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Our story | 04/17/2021 | 12:00 o'clock