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Entrance to Interbau in the Hansaviertel District, 1957

In 1948, Berlin was a divided city - the political split after the Second World War was finalised with currency reform and the blockade. The eastern and western sectors also chose different approaches when it came to urban development. Stalinallee in East Berlin and the West Berlin Building Exhibition Interbau in the Hansaviertel district are an expression of this division.

Berlin was destroyed in the war. To prepare for reconstruction, a delegation of leading architects and urban developers from the GDR travelled to Moscow. Based on instructions from their Soviet colleagues, they formulated the 16 principles of urban development. The centre of Berlin and Stalinallee were planned as the central backbone of the capital in just a few weeks. Monumental residential complexes for workers were created with historic stylistic elements derived from the formal language of Karl Friedrich Schinkel by the architect Hermann Henselmann. The fundamental principles of traditional urban architecture were observed for the urban development processes. Today, Karl-Marx-Allee, as this avenue has been known since 1961, stands as a cultural monument of European importance.

The City Of Tomorrow

In response to Stalinallee, Interbau 1957 presented a model for the city of tomorrow. Under the leadership of Otto Bartning, the new, upper-class Hansaviertel district became a prestige project to demonstrate the superiority of the West over the East. Based on an urban development competition, 53 internationally renowned architects were selected. The old block structure was replaced by a mixture of high-rise and low-rise buildings in the heart of a park landscape. The Hansaviertel district is now considered an example of large-scale modernist refurbishment for urban developers.

The international architecture exhibition Interbau opened on July 6, 1957 in Berlin's Hansa neighborhood. It came to be seen as a tangible example of Germany's modernization and a side effect of the Cold War. According to the statistic, 1.4 million people visited the exhibition.

Competing With the East

A response to the GDR's first major reconstruction plan, Interbau was intended to "demonstrate the new, democratic western Germany to the outside world, which was on the side of the French, British, Italian and Americans, not only politically but also culturally," said Bernau. This attitude may explain the project's exorbitant cost. Instead of reconstructing post-war ruins and making use of the old infrastructure, property was redistributed, streets were rebuilt and the Interbau exhibit was viewed as a counterbalance to the monumental structures of 1950s East Berlin.

The City of Tomorrow

In preparation for the exhibit, an architecture contest was announced. Willy Kreuer and Gerhard Jobst took the prize with their relaxed building ideas. In place of the old barrack-like block developments, they generated space by more freely positioning their buildings. Public parks were a top priority in what was supposed to be the "city of tomorrow": A zoological garden was integrated into the Hansa neighborhood, which was encircled by high-rises, apartment blocks, single-family homes, and churches. Shops, restaurants, a movie theater, a library and the subway at Hansa Square were to make up the heart of the district. By the time the Interbau exhibit ended in 1957, only 601 of today's 1,160 apartment units were completed. The remaining 35 apartment buildings were finished by 1960.

Help From Abroad

Fifty-three architects from around the world, some of them internationally renowned, were invited to help. Oscar Niemeyer from Brazil, Arne Jacobsen from Denmark, Alvar Aalto from Finland and the German Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius were among them. Also Jacob Berend Bakema, Luciano Baldessari, Paul Baumgarten, Johannes Hendrik van der Brook, Eugene Beaudouin, Le Corbusier, Werner Duttmann, Egon Eiermann, Kay Fisker, Alois Giefer, Reinhold Gotthilf, Gunther Gottwald, Walter Gropius, Gustav Hassenpflug, Hubert Hoffmann, Willy Kreuer, Gunter Honow, Fritz Jaenecke, Johannes Krahn, Ludwig Lemmer, Raymond Lopez, Wassili Luckhardt, Eduard Ludwig, Hermann Mackler, Wolf von Mollendorff, Hans Muller, Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer, Hansrudolf Plarre, Sep Ruf, Sten Samuelson, Paul Schneider-Esleben, Franz Schuster, Hans Schwippert, Otto Senn, Hugh Stubbins, Max Taut, Sergius Ruegenberg, Pierre Vago, Gerhard Weber, Ernst Zinsser participated.

Arne Jacobsen, who fled to Sweden during World War Two because of his Jewish ancestry, built four houses for the Berlin exhibit, all in the style of Mies van der Rohe's 1930s villas. Oscar Niemeyer's only project in Germany was completed in honor of the Interbau event. His eight-story apartment block set on V-shaped supports celebrates its 50th anniversary this year -- its creator's 100th birthday. The House of World Cultures, then a convention center and an apartment block by Le Corbusier in the Charlottenburg district were later integrated into the Interbau project. The entire Interbau collection received landmark status in 1995.

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thedani, August 26th, 2021
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