Exhibition Foyer

1920: A Crisis Year

The Creation of Greater Berlin

The Greater Berlin Act was passed by the Prussian Parliament on 27 April 1920 and came into effect on 1 October 1920. The passing of the act came just a month after the Kapp Putsch at a time when both Berlin’s and Germany’s future was uncertain. It coincided with the severe crisis that followed the First World War and the end of the Spanish Flu pandemic. It was one of the most important events in Berlin’s 800-plus years of history and came as a result of decades of disputes between the individual municipalities in the greater Berlin area as well as between Berlin and Prussia.

Although Greater Berlin wasn’t created until 1920, it already existed socially, economically and structurally for some time before then. Industry, the military and the neighbourhoods favoured by the wealthy had all increasingly been moving to the edges of the old city of Berlin since the 1880s. Siemens set up a base in Spandau, Borsig set up in Tegel, while AEG moved to Hennigsdorf and Oberschöneweide.

The military also began to oc­cupy more of the city’s surrounding areas, including Döberitz, ­Jüterbog, ­Kummersdorf and ­Wünsdorf. New, grand residential areas emerged in the west (Westend), north (Frohnau), east (Karlshorst) and particularly in the southwest (from Grunewald to Wannsee). Large numbers of unskilled workers remained in the city centre, especially in Moabit, Wedding, ­Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukölln. The old town became the city centre. Commuter railway lines, natural and arti­ficial waterways and large arterial roads held the new city together.

The most important event in Berlin’s history is the city’s incorporation in 1920.

The new Berlin was formed in 1920 by consolidating 8 cities, 59 rural communities and 27 agricultural estates – a total of 94 municipalities. It became a single municipality. […] Greater Berlin is subdivided into 20 administrative districts.

There was constant friction between the former individual municipalities of Greater Berlin […]. The municipalities tried to steal efficient taxpayers from one another […]. The act passed on 27 April 1920 put an end to the conditions that allowed this to happen.

It is debatable whether the current city boundary of Berlin will be sufficient for the future.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

On the Eve of the Creation of Greater Berlin:

The Spanish Flu Pandemic of
1918 – 1920

A chart showing mortality rates related to Spanish Flu in New York, London, Paris and Berlin between June 1918 and March 1919. The Spanish Flu killed more people worldwide than the First World War, but had been largely forgotten until the coronavirus pandemic restored it to public attention. Somewhere between 27 and 50 million people lost their lives over three waves of infections between spring 1918 and 1920. More than 40,000 people in the Greater Berlin area died from the disease. At that time, municipalities like the Prussian state were unable to implement measures to contain the pandemic. The chart shows the peak of the pandemic in the autumn of 1918. Note that it is missing continuous data from Berlin.

National Museum of Health and Medicine (Silver Spring, USA), no. Reeve 3143

The Kapp Putsch in March 1920

The Kapp Putsch by Else Hertzer. Germany’s young democracy appeared to be faltering in mid-March 1920, just over a month before the passing of the Greater Berlin Act. The Ehrhardt Brigade marched from Döberitz to Berlin via the Heerstrasse (now Bundesstrasse 5 federal highway). The soldiers wore a white swastika emblem on their helmets. The imperial government managed to flee to Dresden and later moved on to Stuttgart. Wolfgang Kapp, an East Prussian civil servant, declared himself the new Chancellor. The subsequent general strike was the largest in German history and ultimately forced the putschists to surrender. Hertzer’s painting shows soldiers on a Berlin street at night. The diffuse light shining aggressively from the vehicle headlights spreads fear.

Hardly worth reporting

The birth of Greater Berlin was not a brilliant event that dominated the front pages of the newspapers. Neither on April 27, when the Prussian State Assembly approved the merger by a wafer-thin majority, nor on October 1, when Greater Berlin became a reality. On the contrary: the decision in favor of Greater Berlin was worth only a scrawny piece of news, which hardly differed from newspaper to newspaper. The headlines were delivered by other events, such as the consequences of the Kapp Putsch and the international situation.

Jonas, dieses Bild mache ich
Berlin stock exchange newspaper,
Evening edition from 27th of April 1920

Champions for Greater Berlin

The creation of Greater Berlin did not come out of nowhere. Great efforts – and great personalities – were needed in order to overcome tough resistance. It is astonishing that some of the key figures have been forgotten. Mayor Martin Kirschner was a huge proponent of Greater Berlin and served as chairman of the jury for the Greater Berlin Urban Planning Competition of 1910, and Greater Berlin would not exist with the strategic skills of Mayor Adolf Wermuth. Finally, it was Mayor Gustav Böß who determined the fate of the city during the turbulent 1920s.

Largely Forgotten:
Mayor Martin Kirschner

Martin Kirschner on his way to visit Buckingham Palace, London, in 1910. Georg Reicke, the second mayor of Berlin, sits to his right.
bpk, no. 30034621

Martin Kirschner served as mayor of Berlin between 1899 and 1912 during a period of turbulent growth and campaigned for the creation of Greater Berlin. He influenced the results of the Greater Berlin Competition (1908–1910) through his role as chairman of the jury. During Kirschner’s time in office, the idea of Greater Berlin as a single municipality did not catch on and it was only possible to set up a Joint Authority in 1912.

Largely Forgotten:
Mayor Adolf Wermuth

Adolf Wermuth in the fountain courtyard of the State Library on Unter den Linden at the library’s opening in 1914.
Photo Willi Römer; bpk, no. 700141738

As mayor of Berlin from 1912 to 1920, Adolf Wermuth fought vehemently for the creation of Greater Berlin as a single municipality. It is thanks to Wermuth’s strategic skills that Berlin has the scope and the two-tier administrative organisation that we still know today.

Largely Forgotten:
Mayor Gustav Böß

Gustav Böß and Karl Seitz, the first mayor of Vienna, on the balcony of the Rotes Rathaus town hall in June 1929.
Photo Georg Pahl; German Federal Archives, no. 102-07938

Gustav Böß, a local politician with the German Democratic Party (DDP) and city treasurer, was elected mayor in 1921, just one year after Greater Berlin was created. He was the key decision maker in the municipal urban development process for the single municipality during the Weimar Republic until the end of his term in 1929.

Renée Sintenis:
A Little Bear for Greater Berlin

The new, bigger Berlin needed a new heraldic animal that would differ from the bears of the old Berlin. It needed an animal of the Weimar Republic to distance it from the empire. Renée Sintenis created Berlin’s most famous bear in 1932. Her bear is a clumsy, dishevelled little creature, hardly awe-inspiring, but lovable nonetheless. A slightly modified 1956 version of the bear standing on its hind legs with its front paws raised has served as the Golden Bear award at the Berlinale film festival since 1960.

Photo Bernd Sinterhauf; K. Knauf collection

Town halls aplenty

The countless more or less grand town halls dotted throughout the city and its metropolitan area show that Greater Berlin came as a result of consolidating many towns and municipalities. Back in 1920, most of the town halls were still relatively young, dating from the imperial era. No other major European city has as many town halls as Berlin. They are evidence of the fact that the city has overcome municipal fragmentation, but also that the municipalities have lost their independence.

Exhibition Room 1

On Track

Rail Transport Issues

Train stations have provided structure to the greater Berlin area since long before Greater Berlin was established. They were the most important engines of urban development in the imperial era. They created new places in the city: the squares in front of stations, station roads, and the areas behind stations. However, there was no central train station before 1920, just a ring of several terminus train stations surrounding the city centre. Today, the new central train station is the destination for long-distance rail transport arriving to the entire city. Its opening in 2006 gave rise to the construction of a whole new district in an area that was on the periphery when the city was divided.
Photo Philipp Meuser, 2020

The greater Berlin area came about as a result of the railway. High-speed rail transport made it possible to build the suburbs. The formation of Greater Berlin led to fundamental reform of the public transport system. A single, unified municipal transport company was created in 1928: Berliner Verkehrs-AG (BVG). The reforms affected buses and the U-Bahn, but they were primarily focused on trams, which were the most important means of transport in the city at that time. Following the Second World War, the local public transport network was largely separated. Trams in West Berlin closed, but the underground U-Bahn network was expanded on both sides of the wall. An outer railway ring was built in order to bypass West Berlin. After reunification, a new system of train stations was created, thereby reducing the importance of the divided city’s two central train stations: Zoologischer Garten and Ost-Bahnhof. At the same time, the project of the century was finally carried out: the north–south main rail line.

Gustav Böß, mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929 Berlin Today: City Administration and the Economy

Berlin is the most important European rail hub for freight and passenger traffic.

Berlin’s tremendous development is thanks in part to the insight and drive of the former Prussian rail authorities and current German National Railway authorities.

The facilities at Berlin’s train stations and station forecourts are outdated. A continuous north–south main line (must be created).

Merging the city’s urban transport companies and standardising the fare system gained widespread recognition among both the general public and experts. The Berlin example served as a model for others.

One of the most important tasks of the Berlin city administration is to expand the high-speed rail network as quickly as possible.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Pedestal from the Elevated Railway

Three-roller load-bearing pedestal from the elevated railway line at Schlesisches Tor, 2020. The double decoupling of guideways and the supporting construction continues to protect the elevated line from material fatigue.

Greater Berlin: A Child of the Rails

Even in the years before the First World War, Berlin needed an extensive high-speed rail system in order to transform the city centre and ensure the swift growth of the greater Berlin area. The two ‘station streets’ (Leipziger Strasse and Friedrichstrasse), which carried passengers from key train stations to the city centre, became the most important main streets in the city centre. The high-speed rail system also enabled the rapid rise of the centre of the New West area at the Zoologischer Garten station as well as the expansion of the villa colonies in southwest Berlin and elsewhere. It also promoted further migration of industry to the outskirts of the city. The Prussian Railway Division orchestrated the rail-guided expansion of Berlin, in particular from the 1880s onwards. The radial rail network led to a star-shaped settlement pattern, and this relatively sustainable basic city pattern is still tangible today.

The Network of the Circular Railway, Light Railway System and Commuter Lines

Greater Berlin Union, Administrative Report Covering the Period of the Union’s Existence from 1 April 1912 to 30 September 1920 (Berlin, 1920), p. 58

A map of commuter lines in 1920. All of the lines end outside the boundary of Greater Berlin. Around half of the lines were single-track, and some were also long-distance lines.

Commuter Line Stations

Velten train station, pictured in around 1920. Velten was the terminus of the Tegeler Bahn line in the northwest of the city (see adjacent map of commuter lines).
Postcard, Axel Mauruszat collection

Diagram of the Expansion into the Suburban Area

A dynamic model of radial urban expansion developed in 1911. Richard Petersen’s star-shaped settlement pattern shows the desired form of modern urban development: Growth takes place along the lines radiating out from the centre, with commuter train lines providing the supporting framework. The growth corridor condenses at the train stations. Building density reduces as you move outwards from the central core. Open spaces stretch between the lines radiating out from the centre, reaching all the way into the central core. Petersen was a transport planner and, together with Rudolf Eberstadt and Bruno Möhring, won third prize in the Greater Berlin Competition (1908–1910) with the radial urban expansion model.

‘Transport Tasks of the Greater Berlin Union’, lecture held at the Schinkel Festival of the Architects’ Union of Berlin, 13 March 1911 (Berlin, 1911), p. 29

The Long Search for a Central Train Station

Berlin’s lack of a central train station was seen as a serious failure even during the Greater Berlin Competition (1908–1910). Numerous competition entries proposed having two central train stations, which would be connected by an underground line running from north to south. Lehrter train station was selected as a suitable location for the north station, while the Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology) would be the site for the south station. The plans for a proper central train station at the site of the former Lehrter station were set out in considerable detail during the Weimar Republic. Nazi-era planners then moved the site of the northern central station further north towards Gesundbrunnen. When the city was divided, Lehrter station lost its significance due to its position on the periphery of both East and West Berlin. The new central station opened here in 2006 – after around 100 years of planning.

Proposals Submitted for the Greater Berlin Competition

Terminus station of the Lehrter Bahn line, opened in 1871 and pictured here from the southeast in around 1930. Lehrter station has been considered the ideal site for the northern central station since 1910.
Berlin Mitte Archive, no. AK-6952

Proposals During the Weimar Republik

A 1921 plan designed by Bruno Möhring showing a new central area at Lehrter station with a high-rise building in the background.
Bruno Möhring, ‘The Advantages of Tower Blocks’, lecture held at the Prussian Academy of Civil Engineering, 22 December 1920 (Berlin, 1920), p. 5, fig. 4

The Plan for Two New Large Train Stations during the Nazi Era

The second draft of the southern station designed by Albert Speer in 1940. The north and south stations were both part of the plans of the General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital in Berlin, a central state authority led by Albert Speer.
Photo Wolfgang Schäche collection, Berlin

Central Train Stations in the Divided City: East Berlin

East Berlin: The central train station in Friedrichshain at the end of the 1980s. The station is now once again named Ostbahnhof, as it was from 1950 to 1987. It was called Schlesischer Bahnhof until 1950.
IRS (Erkner) / Scientific Collection, no. D1_1_3_2A-005

Central Train Stations in the Divided City: West Berlin

West Berlin: Zoologischer Garten station in May 1970.
Photo Willy Pragher; LA BW, StA Freiburg, W 134 no. 92231

A New Central Train Station

The central train station pictured from the south at Washingtonplatz. The new cube berlin building designed by 3XN Architects is also visible.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

BVG: A Child of Greater Berlin

A city having a single, central transport company that uses a standardised fare system is not something that should be taken for granted, as it’s not always a given. It wasn’t until after Greater Berlin was established that it was possible to get past the situation of having several competing private and public transport companies. The crowning achievement of all of this was the introduction of a fixed fare of 20 pfennigs in 1927. This fare also allowed for passengers to change to another line. Berlin’s public transport company, Berliner Verkehrs-Aktiengesellschaft (BVG), was founded in 1928 and was the largest transport company in the world at the time. City Councillor for Transport Ernst Reuter spearheaded the foundation of the company.

The Tram and U-Bahn Network

‘City Transport’ on and under Alexanderplatz by Richard Matz in 1930. All transport levels are visible here. Alexanderplatz was one of Greater Berlin’s most important traffic hubs and it was a key testing ground for radical experiments in the city centre during the Weimar Republic. However, its redesign only reached the half-way point.
Berlin, Berlin: An Exhibition on the History of the City (Berlin, 1987), pp. 474 / 475

The rail network was further expanded after Greater Berlin was established. Trams made up 50 per cent of the total public transport system in 1928, while elevated and underground lines made up 15 per cent. In the years after 1945, trams were considered old-fashioned in West Berlin and the system was closed down.­

BVG Company Housing Complexes

Knobelsdorffstrasse depot in Charlottenburg was designed by Jean Krämer and Otto Rudolf Salvisberg in 1930. The BVG site was used as a bus depot and grain warehouse from 1968 onwards. It’s now the site of a bicycle shop.
40 Years of the Berlinische Boden-Gesellschaft (Berlin, 1930), after p. 132

Combining tram depots with housing for tram employees was an approach unique to Greater Berlin. The residential buildings were built by a company-owned housing association: the non-­profit Heimstättenbau. Jean Krämer was the outstanding architect of these complexes. He has largely been forgotten today.

After 1990: A Rail Renaissance

Berlin’s rail system was reorganised following German reunification. A new structure was developed, discussed and agreed on and ultimately implemented within a very short space of time. The Federal Ministry of Transport opted for the mushroom model, and this has provided structure to Berlin since its adoption in 1992. It would now fulfil two dreams: determining a central train station on the exact site that was proposed one hundred years ago and developing the underground, long-distance North–South main line, which brought with it another key new major train station: Südkreuz. Work is also underway to expand the tram system and in particular, to reintroduce trams to the western part of the city. That’s not all. The city is growing and local and regional transport must be rapidly expanded, yet the necessary shift towards sustainable transport must be considered. The first plans are in place as part of the i2030 transport project.

Breathtakingly Fast: The Railway Mushroom Model

The mushroom model combines axis and ring elements. It was decided on in 1992 and approved in 1995. It came into operation in 2006 with the central train station.
Deutsche Bahn AG

After reunification, it was by no means clear how the unified rail system should be reorganised. Discussions focused around two models: the mush­room model and the ring model.

Initially Almost Overlooked: The New Südkreuz Station

A 2012 aerial photo of Südkreuz station from the southeast.
Photo Philipp Meuser

Südkreuz station went almost unnoticed as it quietly developed in a hidden location. The urban development opportunities that a key train station like this presents were also overlooked for a long time.

The Outer Railway Ring: A Forgotten Treasure?

Propaganda on wheels: ‘The Berlin outer ring is the most significant new construction of rail track since 1945’. A demonstration moves through the destroyed city on 30 November 1958.
Photo Schubert; DBAG Historical Collection

It was well known to East Berliners, but not so much to West Berliners: The outer railway ring connects the radial routes of the suburban transport system. It was initially scaled back after reunification. Its potential was yet to be discovered.

Potsdam Central Station (formerly Pirschheide): platforms and on the former track-side signal box, 2020. The former central station was one of the most important stations on the outer railway ring during the German Democratic Republic. After reunification, it, and indeed the ring, became less important.
Photo Harald Bodenschatz

Expansion of the Tram Network

‘Trams for all of Berlin: The 2038 tram and bus network.’ The proposal presented in 2000 was ­developed in cooperation with the ‘Working Group on Trams’, an association of civil society initiatives.
Holger Orb / Tilo Schütz, Trams for all of Berlin (Berlin, 2000), insert

The revival of the tram is an unmistakable real­ity. Not only are we seeing a push to bring back trams to the western part of the city, plans are also in place to massively expand the tram network. However, it is not yet clear how trams will be integrated into the public space in a way that’s compatible with the city.

Big Plans:

The i2030 master plan developed in 2019. The i2030 project promotes the rapid, large-scale expansion of local and regional transport. It’s a joint project between Deutsche Bahn and the Berlin-Brandenburg Transport Association (Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg; VBB).
i2030 project

The i2030 project involves the states of Berlin and Brandenburg working with Deutsche Bahn and the Berlin-Brandenburg Transport Association to plan multiple sub-projects focused on adapting infrastructure to increased requirements in the coming years. In future, it will be necessary to consider whether the outer railway ring – constructed by the German Democratic Republic to detour around West Berlin – can still play a key role.


Exhibition Room 2

On The Road

Road Transport Issues

The imperially named Kaiserplatz and Kaiserallee are now known as the far less imperial-sounding Bundesplatz and Bundesalle. The names alone speak volumes, both nationally and internationally. Main streets and their squares represent cities far beyond their centres. They give them their distinct shape. In the 1960s, transport planners transformed Kaiserplatz, then a neighbourhood square, into a traffic junction with a separating tunnel and they turned the former Kaiserallee into a motorway-like transit route. A crossing city motorway was also added to the mix. This became a model for car-oriented cities. The public realm lost its beauty and many of its functions as a result of the associated risk of accidents, noise and air pollution. The city has now been presented with a historic opportunity to regain the appeal of its main streets and squares, and locals are deeply committed to this goal.
Photo Philipp Meuser, 2020

Greater Berlin started out as a rail-oriented city, but it became more and more car-centric over time. The first car-focused plans were considered during the Greater Berlin Competition in 1910 and began taking shape during the Weimar Republic. Plans were further developed during the Nazi era and reached their peak with the planning and partial construction of the outer Berliner Ring orbital motorway. After the Second World War, the car-oriented expansion of East and West Berlin was dramatically accelerated. This resulted in the construction of a partial inner ring road in West Berlin as well as the transformation of major arterial roads. These costly urban redevelopment projects have been to the detriment of the city’s green spaces, footpaths and pedestrians as well as trams and cyclists. City streets and town squares became areas dominated by cars and traffic.

The strong development of the German automobile industry shows that we are heading towards a situation similar to that which exists in the US. Buying a car will no longer be a luxury in the future. In reality, it’s hardly a luxury today. We have to get to a situation where this is a possibility for the middle- and working-classes.

Berlin needs new ring roads in the city centre and new arterial roads out of the city. The rise in motorised traffic must be supported with dedicated motorways, as has already happened in other world cities like New York, London and Paris. Berlin needs more than just wide streets. It needs organically-designed squares that city traffic can pass through quickly, safely and conveniently.

Expanding Berlin’s transport network is absolutely necessary for economic reasons. The more transport is increased, the more business is stimulated. […] We cannot be afraid to tear down and demolish anything in our way, even if what was there was dear to us.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Right of Way for Cars!

Berlin’s fascination with cars began very early on. ­Hermann Jansen was awarded first place in the Greater Berlin Competition for his entry proposing radial roads for cars so that they could ‘put the pedal to the metal’, as he put it. In 1913, preparations began for the construction of the world’s first motorway to be used exclusively by cars. Known as AVUS, the 19-kilometre, controlled-access racing circuit opened almost exactly one year after the formation of Greater Berlin. Berlin was already being planned as a car-oriented city in the later years of the Weimar Republic, but it really began to take shape during the Nazi era with the partial construction of the Berliner Ring orbital motorway. After the Second World War, both East and West Berlin opted to develop car-centric infrastructure. Initially, however, there was very little traffic in both parts of the city.

Around 1910: Cars in the Greater Berlin Competition

AM TUB, no. 20544

One of the first examples of car-oriented planning for Greater Berlin: Hermann Jansen’s winning entry to the 1910 Greater Berlin Competition envisaged five main intersection-free radial roads.

AVUS (Automobile Traffic and Training Road)

Rudolf Caracciola drives a Silver Arrow along the
new hazardous steep curve in 1937. The new Mercedes building is visible in the background. The AVUS 100 initiative will use this photo to promote the 100th anniversary of the race track in 2021.
Photo Heinrich Hoffmann; akg / Imagno, no. 1047784

The Automobile Traffic and Training Road, better known as AVUS, was famous the world over for motor racing and speed records, but also because of the fatal accidents that happened there. It became a public access road to the Berliner Ring orbital motorway in 1940.

Construction of the Outer Berliner Ring
Orbital Motorway during the Nazi Era

Original signature, 1936: A bridge arch before the introduction of the Berlin to Szczecin section into the Berliner Ring motorway and before the east lane was opened. The camera is ­pointed in the direction of Bernau. The bridge was designed by architect Friedrich Tamms.
General Inspector for the German Road Administration, Three Years of Work on Adolf Hitler’s Roads (Berlin, 1936), p. 25

The outer Berliner Ring orbital motorway is one of the most far-reaching legacies of Nazi-era urban development. Its construction marked the beginning of the era of the car-oriented city.

Construction of the Inner (Partial) Orbital Motorway
since the 1950s

A motorway plan for Greater Berlin in 1957: The plan was to surround the centre with radial routes and have the inner Berliner Ring orbital motorway largely follow the route of the Ringbahn S-Bahn line.
Senator for Building and Housing, Planning and Constructing Transport Networks (Berlin, 1957), p. 15

In the 1950s, both East and West Berlin worked intensively on planning a motorway network for the city centre. A partial orbital motorway was built in the West Berlin section of the city.

The Loss of Town Squares along Bundesstrasse 1 Federal Highway

Bundesstrasse 1 federal highway, formerly Reichs­strasse 1, is one of Germany’s most important national roads, previously linking Königsberg with Aachen. It became the city’s most important road after the formation of Greater Berlin: It connected the two former residences of the Hohenzollern royal family in Berlin Mitte and Potsdam, ran into the city centre along the main shopping streets and crossed an extensive residential area in the southwest of the city. The car-oriented expansion of the city has largely preserved this famous road as a radial urban street, but there has been considerable damage caused in some places, including the empty expanse at Molkenmarkt, the no less daunting expanse at Innsbrucker Platz and the nameless space in front of the car park at the Steglitzer Kreisel building.


Molkenmarkt pictured from the town hall tower in 2013. The demolition of the area before and after the war, as well as the destruction it suffered during the war, paved the way for this vast, shapeless area reserved exclusively for cars.
Photo Philipp Meuser; BMA, Meuser 2013, no. 52

How many Berliners know that Molkenmarkt is the centre of the oldest part of the city? Today it is an empty expanse solely dedicated to the car, home only to multi-lane streets and parking spaces. This is one of the negative sides of Greater Berlin.

Innsbrucker Platz

Innsbrucker Platz pictured from the south in 2017. Hauptstrasse, which is part of Bundesstrasse 1 federal highway, is visible here. The city motorway tunnel runs under the intersection.
akg /, no. 5236335

Innsbrucker Platz, which was originally a town square, has been a sprawling, car-dominated intersection since the 1970s. The city’s Ringbahn circular line, U-Bahn and motorway all intersect here. There are also some roads, including Bundes­strasse 1 federal highway, that lose ground here.

A Nameless Area to the South of the Steglitzer Kreisel Building

The nameless area to the south of the Steglitzer Kreisel pictured from inside the Steglitzer Kreisel building in 2020. The area serves traffic, most of which comes from the Western Tangent motorway. Steglitz manor house is visible on the right. Designed by David Gilly and Heinrich Gentz, it was completed in 1808 and was originally part of the village.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

It’s a little-known fact that the Steglitzer Kreisel building was built on what was until the 1960s the village of Steglitz. Since then, the area south of the building in front of the multi-storey car park has become a vast, nameless space that serves only traffic, most of which comes from the Western Tangent motorway.

The Steglitzer Kreisel building in 2020, pictured here from the junction. It is currently being converted into a residential building. Schloßstrasse is on the left, while the Western Tangent motorway is on the right.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

The Tedious Search for the Streets and Squares of the Future

Dismantling car-oriented city structures is an inevitable step in the process of developing a sustainable city. It is widely agreed that it is necessary to further expand Berlin’s public transport network. It is also undoubtedly the case that measures must be taken to restrict the number of private cars on the city’s streets. The new Berlin Mobility Act enhances the status of bicycle and pedestrian traffic, at least in principle. However, the scope of Berlin politics is limited and Brandenburg must always be taken into account. The question is, what should the streets and squares of the future look like? And how can we balance the needs of all road users? The shift to more sustainable modes of transport requires a lot of new ideas, a great deal of persuasion and a driving force behind the implementation – we must go beyond laws and proclamations. The crowning achievement of these efforts will be new, sustainable main streets that we cannot yet imagine.

A mock-up of a central reservation with grass rather than parking spaces on Karl-Marx-Allee (part of Bundesstrasse 1 federal highway) between Alexanderplatz and Strausberger Platz, designed by the Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection in 2020.
Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection / eveimages
Proposal for Alfred-Scholz-Platz: a small, pedestrian-­friendly square on Karl-Marx-Strasse in Neukölln. It was designed in 2010 and built in 2014.
el:ch landschaftsarchitekten München / Anne Rohde
Finding the right design for the main streets of the future is no easy task: an existing green bicycle lane protected with bollards on the busy Hasenheide Road, pictured in 2020.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision
Exhibition Room 3

The Centre of Everywhere

The Issue of the City’s Many Centres

The history of Greater Berlin will be on show in all its glory behind the reconstructed palace façade of the Humboldt Forum. The former palace was the centre of old Berlin until it lost this function in the November Revolution. It operated as a museum during the Weimar Republic and did not play a prominent role during the Nazi era. It was partially destroyed in the war and the new ruling powers in East Berlin ordered it to be demolished in 1950. Two decades later, the Palace of the Republic was built in its place. It was the most important government building in the German Democratic Republic and served as an open house, insofar as that was possible in a dictatorship. After reunification and many years of debate, the German Bundestag decided to build the Humboldt Forum and the Palace of the Republic was subsequently demolished. The Humboldt Forum is scheduled to open in stages beginning in autumn 2020, one hundred years after the creation of Greater Berlin. Like in the 1920s, it will operate as a cultural venue, but with higher standards. This opening of the Humboldt Forum fundamentally changes the historic centre: it consolidates the city’s cultural centre from its site close to the dominating TV Tower and Museum Island.

Museum Island and the Humboldt Forum pictured from the south in 2020.
Photo Philipp Meuser

The city’s system of centres altered fundamentally after the creation of Greater Berlin. The emerging centre of the New West around the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church became more important, along with the undisputed main city centre between Alexander­platz and the Reichstag. In the years after 1933, the Nazis planned a brand new main centre to the west of the historic city centre. When Berlin was divided, the city’s two rival main centres were expanded: one around Alexanderplatz and the other around Breitscheidplatz. The greater Berlin area has also had an extraordinarily high number of medium-sized, small and tiny centres since the end of the nineteenth century, some of which are high-quality urban developments, such as those in Lichterfelde West, Frohnau and ­Weißensee. Other prominent centres such as Hermannplatz, ­Fehrbelliner Platz and Marzahn emerged later. It is hard to imagine another city in Europe with such a diverse range of centres.

The trend of development in the city centre is from east to west. The city’s main business areas were originally only in the historic centre to the right of the River Spree, but have now grown to include Friedrichstrasse, Leipziger Strasse and Wilhelmstrasse as well as Potsdamer Platz and its sur­­round­ing area. This development will continue. The area around the ­Zoological Garden will become a part of the city, albeit a ­special one.

Two major traffic intersections in particular stand out in ­Berlin’s city centre: Alexanderplatz, the centre of the East, and Auguste-Viktoria-Platz, the centre of the West.

Tower buildings should only be approved in exceptional cases to serve as viewpoints and landmarks at particularly important locations in the city.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Old and New Berlin

The middle part of the large Old and New Berlin bronze relief designed by Evelyn Hartnick-­Geismeier in 1978. It shows the Marienkirche, TV Tower and Alexander­platz. It was pre­viously on display at ­Berolina Haus but is now in ­storage.

Photo Thomas Spier; heirs of Hartnick-Geismeier, LDA Berlin

The Decline of the Historical Centre and Rise of the New West

Berlin’s historic centre changed very little during the Weimar Republic. New buildings were rare and the area to the west of the palace remained unchanged. However, those responsible saw the historic centre to the east of the palace as a problem. The narrow streets, small houses and poor residents were not considered worthy of a global city. In contrast, a new area rose to prominence among the other centres of the new Berlin. Although it had not undergone
any significant structural change either, it became the centre of the New West. Business owners, politicians and city planners were alarmed. Wholesale redevelopment projects were planned to open up wide streets and slow the decline of the historic centre. Reorganising the historic centre was Greater Berlin’s most important city centre project – yet it failed, at least during the Weimar Republic.

The Shiny New West

A poster of the centre of the New West from around 1929. It shows the city’s old architecture with new illuminated advertising and heavy car traffic. With an inviting tagline, it’s an example of an early and successful city advertising campaign.
Jupp Wiertz, HAT TUB, Sig. ZSF-009

The New West was a winning location in Greater Berlin. An elegant shopping and recreational area surrounded the neo-Romanesque Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and it remained an expensive residential area.

A Stagnating Historic Centre

A panorama of the bank of the River Spree from around 1936. It has been cleared of its historic buildings, with the proud towers of the historic centre remaining in the background. The renovation of the Rolandufer embankment was captured in this picture taken from Fischerinsel, the southern part of the island in the River Spree. The Reich Mint was built in place of the demolished police headquarters, the city’s bailiwick and the Krögel block.
Photo illus / Zentralbild; German Federal Archives, no. 183-R97900

The historic centre was seen as being in decline. The answer to this was the largest centre-building project in Greater Berlin and involved the radical reorganisation of the southern historic centre. It included renovating Alexanderplatz, which proved to be a highlight of the project.

New Centres for Hitler and Stalin

The National Socialist government regarded the historic centre as too poor and therefore planned a new centre outside the old historic centre. It was a remarkable decision. In contrast, in the 1930s, Mussolini and Stalin designed their new centres for Rome and Moscow within the old centres. However, all three dictatorships planned dominant buildings for their new centres to produce a triumph of urban development for the capital and indeed the entire country. In the end, none of these buildings were ever built. After the war, a new plan to build a socialist centre in East Berlin was developed based on Moscow’s 1930s planning concepts. It proposed to extensively reconstruct the absolutist buildings on the eastern side of Unter den Linden boulevard, but it did not include a palace. Above all, it was to include a dominating multi-storey building in the historic centre for party and state authorities. This project was also never carried out.

A New Centre in the West of the Historic Centre

An undated design for Berlin’s new city hall at the Great Basin north of the Great Hall. It was designed by German Bestelmeyer and Richard Ermisch.
Schusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow

The future centre of the capital of the Reich had to be monumental and completely new. It was planned as the centrepiece of the north–south axis, which was to extend between a north and south train station to the west of the historic centre.

A New Centre in the Historic Centre

The planned central multi-storey building on Marx-Engels-Platz was popularised with this cover of a 1954 issue of Jugend und Technik magazine.
Drawing by L. Grimmer; Harald Bodenschatz collection

After the division of Berlin, the his­toric centre moved to the outskirts of the Soviet sector. Nevertheless, it was confirmed as the centre of the socialist city. This was emphasised by a central multi-storey building, similar to one planned in Moscow and built in Warsaw.

Rebuilding the Centre during the Cold War

The division of Berlin after the end of the war was further cemented when the Berlin Wall was built. It led to the formation of two large city centres located in two central areas: Alexanderplatz in the east and Breitscheidplatz in the west. Both offered insights into their sides of the city and their systems. Initially it was not clear how either of the squares would be designed. Only one thing was for sure: they should look radically different to how they did before the war. Both squares are important examples of car-oriented city planning. It’s as if both were working off the same plans.

The Centre of Berlin and Capital of the German Democratic Republic

The new, car-oriented Alexanderplatz pictured from the northeast in 1980.
IRS (Erkner) / Scientific Collection, no. D1_1_1_18-F008

Alexanderplatz had changed sig­ni­ficantly as a result of the renovation works carried out during the years of the Weimar Republic. It was redesigned following the destruction of the Second World War and incorporated the Alexander House and Berlonia House buildings designed by Peter Behrens in 1929.

Breitscheidplatz: The Centre of West Berlin

A view of Breitscheidplatz, which became a car-oriented square after it was reconstructed in the 1960s. The original plan did not intend to preserve the ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, but intense public protest led to the ruins being integrated into the architectural approach of architect Egon Eiermann.
Photo Horst Siegmann; Berlin State Archive, F. Rep. 290, no. 115194

The centre of the New West, which has now risen to become the centre of West Berlin, was also completely redesigned. The Kaisereck building and the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church are the only remaining reminders of the old Roman Forum.

Two Central Squares in a Period of Change

Alexanderplatz was drawn into the spotlight immediately after the reunification of East and West Berlin. Breitscheidplatz, on the other hand, disappeared in the shadows. Groups of multi-storey buildings that would tower over the existing buildings were planned for both squares, but the process of building them was slow. Both squares continue to remain relevant thanks to their important train stations, which are surrounded by wide open spaces. Debate over how these spaces are designed has raged since the 1990s.

Alexanderplatz: The Centre of the East

The Alexanderplatz design competition: the winning entry was designed by Hans Kollhoff in 1993.
Office of Hans Kollhoff
Alexanderplatz pictured from the east in 2020. There are still no investors to back the multi-storey buildings planned in 1993. They were controversial from the outset and remain so today.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

After the reconstruction of Alexander­platz towards the end of the Weimar Republic and the new construction undertaken in the GDR period, a third, brand-new architectural vision of Alexanderplatz was decided after reunification.

Breitscheidplatz: Centre of the West

Skyscrapers at the new Breitscheidplatz, pictured in 2020.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Following on from the construction of the Roman Forum in the imperial period and its redevelopment as the centre of West Berlin in the 1950s, City West, as it is now known, is currently taking on a third urban form. Skyscrapers are now being built at Breitscheidplatz, while Alexanderplatz is still waiting for its high-rise buildings.

A Number of Centres Since the Imperial Era

Until 1920, Greater Berlin was not a single city, but rather a collection of many cities and municipalities. Each municipality had its own centre, and some even had several centres. This legacy is invaluable, as it provides for a degree of decentralisation and, as a result, sustainable development. The number of centres continued to grow in the years after 1920, but not all were successful in the long term. Some of these centres have attracted international attention, but have not received the attention they deserve in Berlin.

Lichterfelde West Centre: Archetype of a Suburban Centre

The square in front of Lichterfelde West station is quite possibly the first planned local suburban shopping centre of its kind. It’s older than the much more famous centre in Lake Forest, north of Chicago in the US. The centre in Lichterfelde West is still open and serving the community today. It has proven to be forward thinking, particularly given the current transition away from car-oriented cities.

A postcard from the imperial era showing the Lichterfelde West station forecourt, which was developed in the 1890s. The square was a magnificent invention: People exiting the station came out onto it and were offered an attractive area for shopping and availing of services, including in the West Bazar building. The upper floors of the English-style terraced buildings are used as apartments.
Postcard; Udo Christoffel (ed.), Berlin in Postcards (Berlin, 1987), p. 398
Lichterfelde West station forecourt pictured in 2020.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Frohnau Centre:
A Model Centre in the Garden City

Greater Berlin has some suburban centres at suburban train stations that are of great significance. In addition to the Lichterfelde West station forecourt and Mexikoplatz, this also includes the double square in Frohnau, which is one of the most important suburban centres in terms of urban quality.

The western of the two semicircular station forecourts in the garden city of Frohnau pictured in 1911. It was inaugurated in 1910 and designed by the landscape architect Ludwig Lesser.
The Garden City of Frohnau in Old Photographs (Berlin, 1981)
Ludolfinger Platz, the western station forecourt in Frohnau, pictured in 2020. The suburban centre is marked by a tower and has been developing slowly since it was founded. It still has a homogeneousappearance and continues to shape the public space to this day.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

The Weißensee Communal
A Small Lake as the Town Centre

The Weißensee Communal Forum was built in around 1910 around the small Kreuzpfuhl pond and is another, lesser-known highlight in the construction of suburban centres in the greater Berlin area. It intended, although ultimately failed, to underline the claim that the suburb would become a town.

View over Kreuzpfuhl pond to the school, pictured in 2014.
Photo Harald Bodenschatz

Centre of the South (Karstadt)

Striking new district centres were also created in the densely built-up city built according to the Hobrecht city. Hermannplatz is a ­perfect example. Its huge ­Karstadt department store was designed by Philipp Schaefer and built between 1927 and 1929. It attracted international attention at the time.

The new Karstadt department store building in 1930.
SIGNA Prime Selection AG
The Karstadt department store building at Hermannplatz in 2020. The building has been far less impressive since it was partially reconstructed after suffering damage during the war.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Fehrbelliner Platz: Administrative Centre of the Southwest

Due to the one-sided attention given to the new plans conceived for the centre of the Reich capital, real building activity carried out during the National Socialist dictatorship often took place out of sight – for example, the strictly designed Fehrbelliner Platz, the most important new city centre built during the Nazi era.

Fehrbelliner Platz in 2020. The archi­tecture of the U-Bahn underground station designed by Rainer G. Rümmler also sought to draw a contrast with the buildings from the Nazi era.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Marzahner Promenade:
Pride of the Far East

Marzahner Promenade is situated in the far east of Berlin and runs parallel to Landsberger Allee, formerly Leninallee. It’s still not well known to many residents of the western part of the city, but it is perhaps the most ambitious cen­tre of a ­large-scale housing development from the GDR era.

The Marzahn Promenade pedestrian zone
pictured in May 1989. It uses an imaginative
design approach and is enhanced by works
of art. It offered local amenities and served
as a meeting place for people living in the
Marzahn housing development.
Photo Carin Martin, IRS (Erkner) / Scientific
Collection, no. D1_1_5_3-002
ECE’s EASTGATE shopping centre, pictured here in 2020, opened in 2005 at the western end of Marzahner Promenade. It forms a striking contrast with the neighbouring, GDR-era residential buildings and changes the balance in terms of where shops are located on the promenade.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision
Exhibition Room 4

Is it Really Social?

The Housing Question

Marzahn is the largest housing development in Berlin, and indeed in all of Germany. It’s also one of the newest developments. Built between 1977 and 1990, it’s home to around 100,000 people living in around 62,000 apartments in blocks of mostly ten or eleven storeys. Plans were already underway for large residential areas in Marzahn as part of the Greater Berlin Competition and these plans were further developed during the Nazi era. Germany’s largest internment camp for the Roma and Sinticommunity was established here in 1936. Marzahn is also an ancient Angerdorf (‘village built around a central village green’) originally founded in 1230. It was placed under a preservation order in 1977 and has been undergoing redevelopment since 1982. Finally, Marzahn is also a district of Berlin, founded in 1979. The former districts of Marzahn and Hellersdorf merged in 2001 to form the district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf.
Photo Philipp Meuser, 2020

Greater Berlin has always experimented with different forms of housing and urban development policy. It was centre stage in the struggle against the largest tenement city in the world. Sub-standard housing conditions and housing shortages have also been part of the history of Greater Berlin from the outset. From the 1880s to the 1910s, a stark contrast emerged between the overpopulated working class neighbourhoods and the attractive upper class neighbourhoods within the context of private and municipal competition. In the years after 1920, another layer of housing construction was added to that of Berlin’s imperial period. It was an extremely contradictory social settlement landscape of various forms and sponsors, and came as a result of a long period of publicly regulated housing construction. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, private housing construction returned to the fore for the first time since the imperial period.

The number of apartments needed is increasing every year.

Estimates put the total number of new homes needed every year at 40,000.

The current Berlin city administration is not to blame for the city’s housing situation. It must accept it as a fact that must be remedied as soon as possible. […] together, the housing shortage and sub-standard housing conditions show that housing construction is one of the city’s most important public duties.

Homes leased at modest rents promote social stability and economic growth, or in other words, the overall economic performance and cultural achievement of a country.

It’s not enough to just build homes; they have to be affordable.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Down with the Tenement City!

Down with the tenement city! Make room for the new Berlin! City planners, architects and politicians from all sides proposed these solutions for decades. The resulting programme fundamentally changed the housing landscape in Greater Berlin. The goal was to demolish the dense inner-city blocks with rear courtyards, which had been built, according to various regulations, around the old city to plans designed by James Hobrecht in 1862. However, these demolition plans were initially stopped due to extreme housing shortages and a lack of public subsidies. The first openings occurred during the Second World War, but it wasn’t until 1963 that Bonn provided funds to launch the ‘first urban regeneration programme’ in West Berlin. The pilot project focused on the area around Brunnenstrasse in Wedding. It took a little longer on the other side of the Berlin Wall in the Mitte district of East Berlin. The regeneration of the area around Arkonaplatz has been underway since 1970.

The inside of one of the gutted blocks in the Arkonaplatz redevelopment area in May 1984.
Gerhard Kiesling, Fritz Jahn, Berlin Colours (Leipzig, 1987), p. 145

The Arkonaplatz Redevelopment Area

The Arkonaplatz redevelopment area was located right on the other side of the wall in the Mitte district of East Berlin. The shift away from wholesale redevelopment was already in progress when the area was being redeveloped between 1970 and 1984.

Solutions to the Tenement City: Large-scale Developments

Large residential areas made up of social housing are a feature of every city. Berlin is famous for this type of housing construction, as it dominated the city from the creation of Greater Berlin until reunification. However, there were also huge differences in terms of urban and structural design, responsible body, financing, production, location in the urban environment, and occupancy, and this all affected the question of who could move into these homes. Social housing construction does not always mean housing for people on low incomes.

The Weimar Republic:
Neu-Tempelhof Development

Colonnade gate on Paradestrasse designed by Fritz Bräuning in the 1920s.
40 Years of the Berlinische Boden-Gesellschaft (Berlin, 1930), p. 85

Neu-Tempelhof was the first new, large-scale development in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Construction was subsidised with public funds. However, the isolated yet idyllic suburban development was intended for high-income earners rather than low-income workers.

The Weimar Republic:
The Residential Area around Laubenheimer Platz

A sketch of Ahrweiler Strasse in summer (1930).
40 Years of the Berlinische Boden-Gesellschaft (Berlin, 1930), p. 118

One of the largest development areas in Berlin during the Weimar Republic comprised more than 1,700 apartments. However, today it is one of the least well known. It’s centred around the continuation of the ­Rheinischen Viertel area on the south side of Südwestkorso Boulevard in ­Wilmersdorf.

The Weimar Republic:
Britz Housing Development

Layout of the horseshoe-shaped Hufeisen building designed by Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner.
Akademie der Künste, Bruno Taut Collection, no. 0102-002

The Britz housing development is the most well known development built during the Weimar Republic. The 2,900 state-subsidised apartments were unaffordable for ordinary unskilled workers and instead provided homes for mainly white-collar workers and other middle-class groups.

The Weimar Republic: Südgelände Housing Development in Schöneberg

A 1928 drawing of the Südgelände residential development in Schöneberg containing a small map of the area.
Technical University Darmstadt Archive, no. 2006Z01952

The largest new residential devel­­opment planned during the Weimar Republic was to be built at Südgelände in Schöneberg. The massive private-sector project to construct 15,000 homes launched in 1927, but failed due to widespread resistance, including from the local construction industry.

The Nazi Dictatorship:
South City Project

Photo of a model of the planned South City in 1941. The project intended to provide homes for 350,000 people on an area of 2,200 hectares.
Schusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow, photo 094

During the National Socialist dictatorship, General Building Inspector Albert Speer planned to massively expand Berlin as far out as the outer orbital motorway, thereby providing sufficient space for around 1.5 million people. The South City was part of this project.

West Berlin:
Märkisches Viertel Development

Senftenberger Ring on 16 September 1971. A ‘courtyard’ in Märkisches Viertel.
Photo Horst Siegmann; LAB, F. Rep. 290, no. 149030

Märkisches Viertel, built between 1963 and 1974, was West Berlin’s most ambitious large-scale housing development. Many residents came from redevelopment areas in the inner city and saw their rents increase two- to three-fold after moving into the more comfortable newly-built apartments.

East Berlin:
The Fennpfuhl Development

The Fennpfuhl complex with social infrastructure (before 1987).
Joachim Schulz and Werner Gräbner, Berlin Architecture from Pankow to Köpenick (Berlin, 1987), p. 149

The Fennpfuhl complex, built between 1970 and 1980, was East Berlin’s first large-scale housing development to feature sophisticated furnishings. Allotments were cleared in order to make way for the project. Large housing developments in East Berlin were home to a greater mix of different social groups than in West Berlin.

Housing Construction during the Cold War

The first Cold War in urban development between East and West Berlin was dominated by housing construction. It was intense, but the reality was somewhat different from how it is generally described. East Berlin was initially a step ahead of West Berlin, but this fact is largely forgotten today. Construction of palatial residences along the new Stalinallee, now Karl-Marx-Allee, began in 1951. They were modelled on Moscow and built in line with the ‘national architectural tradition’. West Berlin was not yet capable of the same level of construction at that time. In response, the modest Ernst Reuter development was built in the Wedding district between 1954 and 1955 and launched with a great deal of publicity. West German President Theodor Heuß even attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Hansaviertel project didn’t come around until 1957, yet it’s often referred to as being a parallel project to Stalinallee. In a further step, East Berlin launched the second construction phase of Karl-Marx-Allee between 1959 and 1965
following a change in building policy in Moscow. It was indeed like a game of urban development ping pong played out over many years.


Stalinallee, seen here from Strausberger Platz. Work began on the East Berlin
prestige project in 1951.

IRS (Erkner) / Scientific Collection, no. 0054
Photo Horst Siegmann; Berlin State Archive, F Rep. 290, no. 39795

The Ernst Reuter Housing Development

West Berlin’s Ernst Reuter housing development near the border between the eastern and western sectors was built between 1954 and 1955. It was launched as a response to East Berlin’s Stalinallee.

The Hansaviertel

The Hansaviertel housing development
project, constructed as part of the 1957
International Building Exhibition, is often
regarded as a response to Stalinallee.

Berlin State Archive, F Rep. 251-02, no. 12847
IRS (Erkner) / Scientific Collection, cinema photo 12

Second Construction Phase of Karl-Marx-Allee

The second construction phase of Karl-Marx-Allee photographed in 1964. The Mokka-Milch-Eisbar ice cream parlour is on the left, while Cafe Moskau is on the right. At that time, eastern and western urban planning design were becoming more similar.

After 1990: From Barracks to Homes

Expectations were high following German reunification. Berlin was expected to experience tremendous growth according to all predictions. It was a near-certainty. As a result, a huge number of apartments were built inside and outside the city. However, it soon became clear that it was too many, as the population did not grow significantly. There were an estimated 120,000 vacant apartments in Berlin in 2002. This is all long forgotten now, as are the major efforts that were undertaken in the early 1990s to restore and upgrade areas that predominantly consist of period buildings and the large housing developments of East Berlin. The city’s population has been on the rise since around 2007, sometimes dramatically so. Apartments have once again become scarce, especially in the city centre. The ‘tenement quarters’ that survived the war and the wholesale redevelopment projects that followed are extremely popular today. Rents and apartment prices of these highly flexible apartments are skyrocketing across the board. Large new neighbourhoods are slow to develop. They’re primarily concentrated in former industrial and railway areas as well as on military sites. Homes are now being built where barracks once stood in the Soviet military compound in Karlshorst and the US military compound in Zehlendorf.

The Garden City of Karlshorst

Karlshorst was the Red Army’s most important site in East Berlin. The military area was established during the Nazi period and was a base for Russian troops until their with­drawal from Berlin in 1994. After a long period of uncertainty, the area was transformed into a large, attractive residential area.

The unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht was signed in a building located on the campus of the Wehrmacht’s Pioneer School, which was built between 1936 and 1937. After the war, the buildings briefly served as the headquarters of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAG) and the KGB, the Soviet secret service. The site is now home to the German-Russian Museum.
German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst
The former Pioneer School has been converted into a residential complex comprising approximately 370 apartments.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision
A residential street in the garden city of Karlshorst in 2019. With plans to develop up to 1,300 new homes, the ‘garden city’ is one of the largest residential projects in unified Berlin. The former military site has been undergoing development since 2010 using plans designed by Klaus Theo Brenner on behalf of WPK Grundstücksentwicklungsgesellschaft m.b.H. Photo Harald Bodenschatz

The Metropolitan Gardens

The Nazi Luftgaukommando III in Dahlem, which was built between 1936 and 1938, served as the headquarters of the US Army in Berlin until 1994. Starting in 2010, the barracks area began being transformed into a residential area called the Metropolitan Gardens.

The Metropolitan Gardens residential development pictured in 2020. It comprises around 290 apartments.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision
Entrance to the underground car park at the Metropolitan Gardens in 2020.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision
Exhibition Room 5

Parks, Squares and Sycamore Trees

Environmental Issues

The closure of Tempelhof Airport on 30 October 2008 marked the end of an aviation era that has gone down in the history of Greater Berlin. It was initially unclear what would happen to the massive airfield. Back in 1995, the Senate Department for Urban Development considered developing the periphery of the airport grounds. The airfield was opened as a massive public park in 2010. The ‘100% Tempelhof’ citizens’ initiative began when planners released less than convincing plans to develop the periphery of the site. The city held a referendum on 25 May 2014 and Berliners voted to leave the inner-city airfield as a park. However, given the severe housing shortages, opinions have changed once again and some are calling for the edge of the former airport grounds to be developed.
Photo Philipp Meuser, 2009

How can a city that is constantly growing remain healthy? The answer is simple: street trees and lots of lots of greenery! The Permanent Forest Agreement of 1915 was the first important step taken in efforts to protect green spaces. It reserved extensive areas of forest for local recreation. The formation of Greater Berlin made it possible to open up additional public parks for recreation, culture and sport. This was often thanks to private financial support. The Strandbad Wannsee lido became well known far beyond the borders of Berlin. The Nazis created the enormous Reich Sports Field sports complex, while later on, other parks were expanded and created during the German Democratic Republic. In the later years of West Berlin, the long tradition of preserving historic gardens and parks reached a new high. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, new large parks were created in Berlin and plans were made for regional parks in the city’s surrounding area. Berlin’s most important historic park landscape has also been carefully restored: the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Berlin is the beating heart of German sport. Few cities have access to the kind of high-quality sporting facilities that are available in the imperial capital. Public bodies of water make up 6 per cent of the total area of Berlin, while forests and parks comprise 18 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively. The call for access to open spaces for the majority of the population was one of the first demands made after the formation of the new city of Berlin. Anyone who visits the imperial capital’s parks, playgrounds and sporting facilities […] would have to agree that the demand for the provision of open spaces was fully satisfied. It is only possible to develop new ways of life in places where people can connect with nature.

A network of green spaces should penetrate the developed areas, and green corridors should radiate from inner city parks out to the forests and outlying areas. […] The open spaces are complemented by playgrounds, sports grounds and allotments. Allotments must be a permanent feature of the city.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Berlin State Archive, F Rep. 290-09-03, no. 64 / 3144

A Ward of the Big City:
The Ordinary Street Tree

There were rarely any trees in the streets of early towns and villages. It was not until the era of absolutism that some urban avenues were created, such as Unter den Linden. Tree-lined city streets came to the fore in Paris in the nineteenth century and this became a model for other cities and indeed the greater Berlin area. The large radial and ring roads gained their characteristic trees, particularly lindens, maples, oaks, sycamores and chestnuts. The photo below shows street trees along Frankfurter Allee and Ruschestrasse in 1928. Once decimated by car-oriented urban redevelopment, the street tree can once again look ahead to a bright future. The humble street tree is an ambassador for the shift towards sustainable transport, makes a positive contribution to address climate change and brings joy to pedestrians.

All Kinds of Public Parks

Public parks were a feature of Greater Berlin even before 1920. They provide city dwellers with spaces for leisure and recreation and include beautifully designed open spaces, playgrounds, sports fields and even cultural institutions. The idea for public parks like this came from the United States, in particular Chicago, but was also based on ­Berlin’s own traditions. Large-scale public parks were created in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, some on the direct initiative of Mayor Böß, who managed to use a foundation to collect private funds for this purpose. Berlin’s largest public leisure facility, the Strandbad Wannsee lake-side lido, was structurally a child of Greater Berlin. More parks have been planned, created and further developed in the years since 1933 right up to the present day.

Volkspark Rehberge Public Park

The sports and play areas in Volkspark Rehberge public park, designed by Erwin Barth in 1927.
AM TUB, no. 40978

Public parks are a social achievement and should primarily provide residents of densely populated neighbourhoods with space for recreation, play and sport. Volkspark Rehberge public park is a prime example of a public park in the working class district of Wedding.

Strandbad Wannsee Lido

A view of the lido’s old and new buildings from the jetty, after 1930.

The Strandbad Wannsee lido is one of Greater Berlin’s most renowned achievements. The large lido was designed in 1927 by urban development councillor Martin ­Wagner, who wanted to build a modern, world-class swimming bath.

The Reich Sports Field

A 1936 photo of the Reich Sports Field with the Dietrich Eckart Open Air Theater (now the Waldbühne) and the Maifeld field in the foreground.
Werner March, The Reich Sports Field, images by Charlotte Rohrbach (Berlin, 1936), image 3

The Nazi-era sports complex presented itself as an enormous public park, with different sports facilities, recreational areas and a cultural centre. However, it was a detailed propaganda manifesto by the state, not the municipality.

The New Grunewald Forest

The plan to transform Grunewald forest designed by Willi Schelkes on 1 February 1941. The goal was to better exploit the forest. The planned ‘Defence Technology Institute’ is visible on the right (now the Teufelsberg hill; the map is facing west).
Die Baukunst Heft architecture journal (August / September 1941), p. 151

Transforming Grunewald Forest was a key part of General Building Inspector Albert Speer’s plans to redesign Berlin. His plans were based on those designed by Willi Schelkes. Work began in 1938.

Wuhlheide Park

An undated photo of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Palace, which opened in 1979. It was designed by architect Günter Stahn, who also designed the Nikolaiviertel neighbourhood.
IRS (Erkner) / Scientific Collection, no. 820021-1920

Wuhlheide Park has been redesigned several times since 1924 according to plans designed by Treptow public gardens director Ernst Harrich. The popular Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Park was built further to the east in 1950 during the German Democratic Republic, while the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Palace designed by Günter Stahn opened in 1979.

Allotments for Greater Berlin

The allotment gardener is a common urban species, particularly in Greater Berlin. Berlin’s allotments cover an area of around 2,900 hectares, which amounts to three per cent of the entire city area. About three quarters of this area is the property of the state of Berlin. Allotments can contribute to the urban climate, but more importantly, they have a social function. They also provide gardens and green spaces for those who are less well off. In times of crisis, they can even be used as (unauthorised) permanent living spaces and as sources for food. Nevertheless, property developers are always eyeing them up, especially when there is a housing shortage as is the case at the moment.

Types of allotments for the permanent allotment site at Volkspark Rehberge public park in the working-class district of Wedding. This plan was designed by Erwin Barth in March 1928.
AM TUB, no. 40992

There is Another Way: Green Squares

Before its transformation into a car-oriented city, Greater Berlin had beautifully designed streets and squares lined with street trees, plants, park benches and playgrounds. Although it is hard to believe today, flower beds adorned the central reservation of Bismarckstrasse in the imperial era. Before the First World War, landscaping companies in particular created beautiful streets and squares, including Rüdesheimer Platz, Victoria-Luise-Platz, Bayerischer Platz, Mexikoplatz, Ludolfingerplatz and Zeltinger Platz. During the Weimar Republic, squares throughout the city were increasingly made more usable by well-known landscape architects like Erwin Barth, who designed the mini public parks at Oranienplatz and Boxhagener Platz, as well as many other squares. The work of Wilmersdorf landscape architect Richard Thieme, who modernised the streets and squares around Kaiserallee, now Bundesallee, also spanned eras.

A design concept for ­Koppenplatz created by Erwin Barth in 1927. Barth took the same care in designing spaces in working-class neighbourhoods as he did in middle-class areas.
AM TUB, no. 41074

Plans for Green Squares by
Erwin Barth

During the 1920s, many squares
across Greater Berlin were redesigned
to meet the needs of residents
rather than cars. Playgrounds were
added and the spaces were enhanced
with decorative adornments. Erwin
Barth, city public gardens director
of Greater Berlin from 1926 to 1929,
along with municipal landscape
gardeners, were responsible for the

Green Spaces in the Carstenn Figure Designed by Richard Thieme

The almost symmetrical street and square design known as the Carstenn Figure is one of the most striking geometric spatial designs in Greater Berlin. It unfolds over almost four kilometres on both sides of Bundesallee, formerly Kaiserallee, from Schaperstrasse to Stubenrauchstrasse. It is crossed by Volkspark Wilmersdorf public park, and Bundesplatz, formerly Kaiserplatz, sits at the centre.

Kaiserplatz in Wilmersdorf, pictured before the First World War in Kaiserplatz (now Bundesplatz) was the crowning glory of the Carstenn Figure in terms of urban design. The district of Wilmersdorf installed Friedrich Drake’s Winzerin winegrower statue in the decorative square in 1910.
Photo Max Missmann; Stadtmuseum Berlin Foundation, no. IV 65 / 839

Exemplary: The Preservation of Historic Gardens and Parks

The preservation and maintenance of historic gardens and parks in Berlin and Brandenburg has been world-renowned since the 1980s. The reconstruction of the large, contiguous park landscape of southwest Berlin and Potsdam in particular is considered exemplary and has now been recognised as a World Heritage Site. As a result the city regained a wonderful recreational landscape and developed a tourist attraction with an international reputation. Other parks such as the Tiergarten park and the Körnerpark were also restored as part of efforts to preserve historic gardens and parks. The former horticultural director Klaus-Henning von Krosigk worked tirelessly on the initiative to preserve historic gardens and parks and the results of these efforts benefited some much-admired town squares in addition to large and small parks.

Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin

The Prussian palaces and gardens of the greater Berlin area – the crown jewels of the region – were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1990. The UNESCO designation also covers palace complexes in Potsdam and Glienicke.

An aerial photo of the New Palace in Park Sanssouci, Potsdam, taken on 15 June 1990. Parts of the park and palace ensemble were in ruins when the Berlin Wall fell.
Photo Lothar Willmann; State Archive of the German Democratic Republic, no. 52228
Mexikoplatz (named in 1959) in Zehlendorf was designed by Emil Schubert in 1907 and restored in
It is pictured here in 2012.
Photo Katrin Lesser

Preservation of Historic Gardens and Parks: Squares

Following on from the car-oriented transformation of the city in the 1950s and 1960s, some squares were restored to become more pedestrian-friendly in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the city’s efforts to preserve historic gardens and parks. There have been no large programmes focused on squares since then.

After 1990: The Desire for New Parks

Many people forget that Berlin was gripped by a fever for new parks in the years after reunification. Historic parks were reconstructed, new parks were created, and additional parks were planned. This included national events such as the International Garden Exhibition (IGA) in Marzahn in 2017 as well as local Greater Berlin projects like Mauerpark and the Green Belt. Plans were also made for spacious regional parks designed to strengthen and enrich the city’s star-shaped settlement pattern.


Mauerpark is a typical example of one of Berlin’s new parks. The idea to designate the area as a green space dates back to the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today the park connects the former districts of Wedding and Prenzlauer Berg and is heavily used by the public.

Tree planting in Mauerpark after the fall of the Berlin Wall marks the beginning of the site’s role as a public park on 1 April 1990.
Photo Gerd Danigel
An aerial photo of Mauerpark in 2007. Mauerpark was created in 1994 based on a design by Gustav Lange andhas been expanded several times since then.
Photo Philipp Meuser
Mauerpark in 2018. Berliners use the park for recreation and leisure activities.
Photo Celina Miriam Schlichting

The IGA Exhibition Site

The large Marzahn Park was created during the German Democratic Republic and further developed and upgraded for the 2017 International Garden Exhibition (IGA). The Gardens of the World site is its most famous attraction.

The Gardens of the World were created on the grounds of the Berlin Garden Show in 1998 and the site hosted the 2017 International Garden Exhibition (IGA). The view from Kienberg hill looks over the cable car and an area of detached houses and extends all the way to the TV Tower.
Photo Harald Bodenschatz
A playground with the Wolkenhain cable car station on Kienberg hill visible in the background, pictured in 2017.
Photo Harald Bodenschatz
Palm trees in one of the numerous themed gardens in 2017. Marzahn’s high-rise skyline is visible in the background.
Photo Harald Bodenschatz

The Green Belt

The Green Belt is an impressive new park under development for pedestrians and cyclists. Once completed, it will run over 13 kilometres along the path of the former Berlin Wall from Nordbahnhof train station to the northern outskirts of the city.

Information panels on the Green Belt along the path of the former Berlin Wall in 2020
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Exhibition Room 6a

Power and Powerlessness

A Series of Major Plans

Major plans have paved the way of Greater ­Berlin. It all began with the Greater Berlin Competition of 1908 – 1910. This was followed by efforts to create a general settlement plan for Berlin and a devel­opment plan for Brandenburg-Mitte during the ­Weimar Republic. Work on the general devel­opment plan continued under the direction of Albert Speer. Plans developed by the planning collective working with Hans Scharoun came immediately after the war and then came the grand plans for the divided city. Large-scale, trans-regional plans were developed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The current plan follows the traditional star-shaped settlement model. All of these major plans served very different purposes – to generate interest, to call on authorities to commit to projects and goals, to provide guidance to private investors, but also to demonstrate socio-political objectives. Today, major plans have to meet all of these requirements.

The former Greater Berlin was not shaped or moulded; ­rather, it grew into the space available, sometimes incoherently. […] The suburbs […] felt that they were competing with the city, ­rather than being its satellites. They were soon so ­closely connected to Berlin and each other that the boundaries of the individual communities were no longer visible from the outside. The imperial capital had already become the economic, transport, cultural and social centre of the greater Berlin area by the 1880s.

When the new Berlin came into being in 1920, it faced extremely difficult urban development conditions. The first urban development task of the new single municipality was to leave behind fragmentation in favour of unity, and replace the lack of planning with planning. Efforts im­medi­ately focused on creating uniform building regulations and a uniform general development plan (general settlement plan).

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

The Greater Berlin Competition of 1908 – 1910

AM TUB, No. 20513

Hermann Jansen’s comprehensive plan was awarded first place in 1910. The international Greater Berlin Competition was judged in 1910 and focused for the first time on the planning of a new phenomenon: the constantly growing megacity. The integrated plan contained statements on housing, transport, green spaces and centres. The competition was organised by the Vereinigung Berliner Architekten and the Architekten-Verein zu Berlin (now Architekten- und Ingenieurverein zu Berlin-Brandenburg). It expected to receive proposals ranging from large-scale plans to detailed urban development projects. The competition involved many social stakeholders from politics, business, the arts and professional bodies. It also aimed to draw attention to the fact that this kind of planning makes sense and that the city needed a new political system: Greater Berlin.

The Creation of Greater Berlin in 1920

Berlin State Archive, F Rep. 270, A 9054

The general plan according to the Greater Berlin Act passed on 27 April 1920 shows the 20 boroughs and the permanent forest areas. The Act came into effect on 1 October 1920. The Province of Brandenburg was significantly reduced in size and the new municipality was divided into 20 boroughs. This was preceded by years, or even decades, of debate for and against the creation of Greater Berlin. It was also not clear where the borders of Greater Berlin should be drawn. After the Greater Berlin Competition, the Greater Berlin Joint Authority was established in 1912, but its powers were limited and as a result it was not very successful. The Joint Authority covered an area much larger than what would later become Greater Berlin, and the authority was dissolved in 1920. In the years after the creation of Greater Berlin, some districts tried, without success, to leave the Greater Berlin municipality.

Sub-plans of the Weimar Republic

Paul Busch: Contemporary Property Policy in Berlin (Berlin, 1929), enclosure

The Berlin property plan as of 1 January 1929. A new era of planning began after Greater Berlin was created in 1920. While private actors had a major influence on urban development before the First World War, the new municipality was now the dominant influence on housing construction, the provision of green spaces, energy supply and the reorganisation of the transport system. This was also made clear in the impressive land assembly policy – a consequence and condition of municipal urban planning. Comprehensive new plans were made. The Zoning Plan came into force in 1925 and the General Land Use Plan was published in 1929. A car-oriented street plan was also presented in 1929. However, despite all of the efforts made, it was not possible to develop a comprehensive general settlement plan.

The State Planning Association of Brandenburg-Mitte in 1935

BLHA, Rep. 1, maps 128/1 A to 128/6 A

A map of the Berlin-Brandenburg-Mitte economic plan designed by Gustav Langen in 1935. The creation of Greater Berlin reduced the size of the province of Brandenburg. The province now had fewer residents than Greater Berlin, and Greater Berlin was not part of the Provincial Association. Greater Berlin unsuccessfully attempted to incorporate more of its surrounding area in 1928. In response, the State Planning Association of Brandenburg-Mitte was created in 1929 and existed until 1937. The internationally renowned spatial planner Gustav Langen drew up a differentiated comprehensive plan (general settlement plan) for the association, and his plan has wrongly been ignored to this day. Langen envisaged compensation or supply areas for Berlin’s food supply in the city’s surrounding area. His plan also included a network of motorways and railway lines around Berlin that was later pursued.

The General Development Plan of Berlin’s General Building inspector (1937 – 1942)

Berlin State Archive, A Pr. Br. Rep. 107 (maps), no. 227

The General Development Plan (comprehensive plan) designed by Albert Speer in 1942. The position of General Building Inspector for the Reich Capital (GBI) was created on 30 January 1937 and tasked with drawing up a comprehensive construction plan for the Reich capital in Berlin. This state authority headed by Albert Speer was now responsible for planning the greater Berlin area. Municipal planning authorities no longer had a role to play and the municipal borders lost their meaning. This marked the beginning of a new urban development system. The formal framework for the expanded capital was to be a system of main roads made up of axes and ring roads. The fact that it would only be possible to partially implement this plan through the persecution of the Jews, the theft of resources and the use of forced labour was long suppressed. The new GBI was based in the palace at Pariser Platz 4 from 1938 onwards. The previous tenant, the Academy of Arts, moved to the Crown Prince’s Palace (Kronprinzenpalais).

The Division of Berlin into Zones of Occupation in 1945

University of Wisconsin, American Geographic Society Library, Digital Map Collection, am000213

Berlin’s zones of occupation in 1945. Following Germany’s unconditional surrender in May 1945, the Allies controlled Berlin. Initially only the Soviet Union occupied Berlin, but the US, British and French occupying powers soon followed in July. It was decided in 1944 that Greater Berlin would be divided into sectors (initially without a French sector) based on the city and district boundaries determined by the Greater Berlin Act. The Magistrat of Greater Berlin, which was the official term used by the Allies, was still not a self-governing body, but rather an institution under the command of the Allies. The Allies also decided on issues concerning apartment and infrastructure repairs as well as urban development more generally. The Allied Kommandatura was set up as a joint governing body for the city, although it experienced increasing levels of conflict. It was headquartered in Kaiserswerther Strasse 16–18 in Zehlendorf.

The Collective Plan of 1945 /1946

Berlin Academy of Arts, Hans Scharoun Archive, no. 3781 F 162/33

A structural plan of the Berlin area in 1945 / 1946. The collective plan was the first official plan to be drawn up after Germany’s unconditional surrender. After it was approved by the occupying powers, it was presented to the public in the ruins of Berlin Palace from 22 August to 15 October 1946. The plan was developed under the direction of Hans Scharoun, head of the Department for Building and Housing. It ignored tradition and instead embodied the vision of a new, car-oriented city and functionally separated urban landscape, which would extend in a strip-like, east–west-oriented band along the Spree glacial valley. Approaches in line with the traditional radial concept are visible on the outskirts. Scharoun was voted out in the first free elections on 20 October 1946, but the plan still had a major impact. In a time of extreme uncertainty, just thinking about a possible future was an act of hope.

East Berlin:
The 1953 Land Use Plan

Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing

The East Berlin Land Use Plan of 1953. The 1953 Land Use Plan was based on the ­German Demo­c­ratic Republic’s 16 principles of urban design and still showed Berlin and its surrounding area without the partition between east and west. The railway lines, including the outer railway ring, were emphasised, yet the outer ­Berliner Ring orbital motorway is barely noticeable. However, motorway planning played a key role. The plan emphasised the hierarchy of building density and, in particular, the diversity of the centres. Schönefeld Airport is shown, but is visibly smaller than Tempelhof Airport. The map extends in the north to Oranienburg and ­Eberswalde, in the east to Fürstenwalde, in the south to Zossen and in the west to Nauen. The circle marks a radius of 30 kilometres around the city centre. Compared to the collective plan, the 1953 plan respected the traditional city and avoided radical new visions of the city.

West Berlin:
The 1965 Land Use Plan

Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing

West Berlin’s 1965 Land Use Plan (adopted in 1970). West Berlin’s Land Use Plan was completed a few years after the Berlin Wall was built in 1965. In the long term, it has affected the city more than any other major plan since 1945. It had a clear concept: to modernise the western section of the city in a public initiative. The plan included the construction of large-scale housing developments, the redevelopment of parts of the inner city, the construction of a city motorway network and the expansion of the U-Bahn underground network. Overall, the plan was relatively effective thanks to the extensive federal funds that were made available to implement it. This, however, provides the background for the broad protest movement, active since the late 1960s, that had questioned some of the plan’s key projects.

The 1969 General Development Plan

Magistrat of Greater Berlin, Berlin: Capital of the German Democratic Republic. General Development Plan and General Transport Plan (Berlin, 1969), p. 4

The 1969 General Development Plan: plan of the structure and composition. Shortly after the West Berlin Land Use Plan was released, the Magistrat of Greater Berlin presented the General Development Plan together with the General Transport Plan in East Berlin. This plan also focused on the comprehensive restoration of the city with the aim of ‘creating a typical cityscape of the city of the first Workers’ and Farmers’ state’. The plan envisaged a ‘compact’ city with a clear centre and close integration of work, living and recreational spaces, developed using a local public transport system that included trams and a radial ring road system. Numerous multi-storey residential buildings and blocks were planned in the centre, while any urban sprawl into the outskirts was ruled out. This concept differed significantly from plans in other large western cities.

West Berlin:
The 1984 Land Use Plan

Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing

The 1984 Land Use Plan. West Berlin’s 1984 Land Use Plan embodied the fundamental change in perspective in urban development that had taken place within the context of massive social conflict during the 1970s and early 1980s. The expansion of the urban motorway with the tangent system was abandoned, and wholesale redevelopment projects were replaced by careful urban renewal projects and the construction of large housing developments on the outskirts of the city. The plan rediscovered the values of the old city. The International Building Exhibition (IBA 1984) was used to communicate the change. After the signing of the Basic Treaty of 1972, which gave the German Democratic Republic recognition as a sovereign state, the plan was no longer a tool of the Cold War. The plan did not come into effect until 1988 and therefore had very little time to produce results. However, its basic ideas survived the reunification process.

East Berlin:
The 1987 General Development Plan

Magistrat of Greater Berlin – Capital of the GDR, Berlin: Capital of the German Democratic Republic. Baseline for Urban Architectural Design (Berlin, 1987), p. 7

A diagram of the 1987 General Development Plan. The objectives had also fun­da­men­tally changed in East Berlin. The old city was given a completely new, positive profile in light of Berlin’s 750th anniversary in 1987. This was reflected in the construction of the Nikolaiviertel quarter and the Friedrichstadt projects. At the same time, construction continued on the large housing developments on the outskirts of the city; this had only begun in the 1970s. The large-scale orientation of the diagram is particularly striking. The General Development Plan shows a star-shaped settlement plan with green wedges, but only for half of the greater Berlin area. Potsdam did not appear on the map and was completely isolated. The East Berlin General Development Plan had even less time to take effect than West Berlin’s 1984 Land Use Plan, as it never entered into force.

The 1990 Plan of the Provisional Regional Committee

The 1990 plan developed by the Potsdam Planning Group of the Provisional Regional Committee. The situation in Berlin changed dramatically just three years after the General Development Plan was presented. The Berlin Wall fell and spatial perspectives underwent a revolution. Before reunification, a group of East and West German experts from Berlin and its surrounding area met and formed the Potsdam Planning Group of the Provisional Regional Committee. The group recommended preventing urban sprawl, safeguarding open spaces, strengthening the city’s existing centres, preserving the region’s cultural urban development values, striving for equal living conditions and improving public transport, all in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. In terms of spatial development, it was decided to allow the city to develop along the radial settlement structures that had formed over the past 100 years.

Provisional Regional Committee, Potsdam Planning Group, Basic Principles and Objectives for the Development of the Berlin Region, Report 1 – 5/90 – map section

The 2019 State Development Plan

The 2019 State Development Plan Capital Region Berlin-Brandenburg (LEP HR). The new state development plan entered into force on 1 July 2019. It is the result of the specialist work carried out by the Joint Spatial Planning Department of Berlin and Brandenburg, which was created in 1996. The star-shaped settlement pattern is an overarching guiding principle, an urban regional model that has developed gradually since the 1880s. The goal is for the city to grow along the lines of the suburban railways and major arterial roads, and this will be reinforced by the expansion of the public transport system. The plan builds on the urban region’s special features and strengths, which is a sustainable concept in principle.

Joint Spatial Planning Department of Berlin and Brandenburg
Exhibition Room 6b

Infrastructure, Industry and the Military

A Selection of Major Projects

Big plans signify desired goals, but it is large projects that directly shape the urban space of major cities. Large projects in Berlin initially focused on industrial facilities, ports, military training areas, centres of science and hospital facilities, and ­later also included enormous power plants, airports, exhibition grounds and a film city just beyond the borders of Berlin. All of these large projects either promoted or hindered the development of their environment. They are special zones that are usually not accessible to the public or are only accessible to a very limited extent. As a result, they are often invisible, even on plans, just like military areas. The city’s centres of activity are now beginning to shift as the current system of airports is reorganised. New industrial centres are emerging in Siemensstadt and Grünheide. Former military zones are being turned into residential areas. Freight centres in the city’s surrounding area reflect the spatial consequences of the digital age. As it turns out, Berlin and Brandenburg are completely interdependent.

Many of the successes of new Berlin politics were only made possible by the formation of the single municipality of Berlin. They include the creation of a single, unified municipal transport company, the establishment of the largest airport in the world, the construction of the largest inland port in central and eastern Germany, the reconstruction of factories, the establishment of a wholesale meat market, the modernisation of the drainage system, the systematic promotion of agriculture and horticulture, the development of new building regulations and the establishment of trade fair and exhibition facilities.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Technical University of Berlin

SOOKI and Matthias Koeppel Galerie SMK
The rear façade of the main building of TU Berlin (right) and the façade of the physics building (left) in 2020. The photo shows Hertzallee, formerly Kurfürstenallee. The street was reduced to a car park in the post-war period and is deserted in this photo due to the coronavirus pandemic. Once it has been redesigned, it is set to become an attractive cornerstone of this valuable historical space.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

The Greater Berlin scientific community is famous all over the world and has been since the imperial era. There are four outstanding centres of science scattered in and around Berlin: Friedrich Wilhelm University (now Humboldt University) in the Mitte district, Berlin Technical College (now the Technical University, or TU, of Berlin) in Charlottenburg, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (now the Max Planck Institute) in Dahlem and the research facilities at Telegrafenberg (now Albert Einstein Science Park) in Potsdam. TU Berlin facilitated the legendary rise of the New West. When the main building opened in 1884, it was still in a sleepy area on the outskirts of the city. When Greater Berlin was created in 1920, the surrounding area was largely closed and had earned the title ‘Industrial Intelligence Zone’. After the Second World War, TU Berlin experienced tremendous growth, which culminated in the 1968 ideas competition. Fortunately, these plans remained on paper.

Döberitz Military Training Area

The Döberitz military training area west of Spandau is linked to the history of Greater Berlin in a special way. Kaiser Wilhelm II attended the site’s inauguration as a massive mili­tary training and parade ground in 1895. Forests and local residents were cleared in order to make way for the training ground. The new Heerstrasse street was opened in 1911 to better connect the area with Berlin. This created one of the main axes of Greater Berlin: the west axis, which began at Berlin City Palace. During the Kapp Putsch of March 1920, the Ehrhardt Freikorps Brigade marched into Berlin from its base in Döberitz. According to contemporary press reports, this event had a greater effect on Berliners than the creation of Greater Berlin. The Döberitz military training area was expanded during the Nazi era and the Olympic village was also established there. The Soviet army took over the site in 1947 and remained until 1992. In the years since then, the area has been used for many different purposes, including by the Federal Defence Forces, but plants, animals and residents have also returned to the site.

The military training area at Döberitzer Heide in May 1914. This postcard, which was marketed as a souvenir photo, shows four military personnel hovering over the barracks.
Photo Wikimedia Commons


Siemensstadt 2.0: O & O Baukunst won the international competition to design a new campus that combines research, production and accommodation. Construction is set to begin in early 2021.
Visualisation from O & O Baukunst

There is hardly any other company that has shaped what was once the largest industrial city in Europe in the way that Siemens has – particularly since the formation of Greater Berlin. Siemens purchased an extensive area on Nonnendamm in 1897, marking the beginning of the story of a unique industrial district: Siemensstadt in Spandau. After the formation of Greater Berlin, architect Hans C. Hertlein led the efforts to considerably expand the Siemensstadt district. At the time, the Siemensstadt housing estate was built based on an urban planning concept designed by Hans Scharoun. The estate is a World Heritage Site today. During the Nazi era, Siemens expanded its production by using forced labourers. The company later moved to Munich because of the Berlin Blockade. The global company is currently planning to build a new Siemensstadt at the old Siemensstadt site. The decommissioned Siemensbahn S-Bahn line is also set to be reactivated.

Healthcare Sites in Buch

The director’s building and staff building of the world famous Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research, which was built in Buch between 1929 and 1931. A significant amount of basic research was carried out in the preserved complex of buildings designed by Carl Sattler in the New Objectivity style. A magnificent healing city complete with gar­dens and sculptures was erected in the northeast of Berlin from 1898 until the First World War. Ludwig Hoffmann, the Berlin director of urban planning and construction from 1896 to 1924, designed plans for sanatoriums for lung diseases, a nursing home, mental asylums, as they were then known, and company buildings. Buch was connected to Berlin via a suburban train station. Buch was further expanded during the Weimar Republic when it became part of Greater Berlin. It later became a site of forced sterilisation and mass murder during the Nazi era. During the German Democratic Republic era, it became a health centre of national importance and other buildings were added to the site, including the Robert Rössle Institute. The Berlin-Buch campus is now once again a major international health centre, not least since the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine was founded there in 1992.

Photo Wolfgang Bitter; LDA Berlin

Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Airport was the first major airport in the greater Berlin area. The city’s tumultuous growth displaced the military from the military training area that had been located there and enclosed the massive open space within the Ringbahn circular railway line. The airport opened in 1923. The Berlin Airport Society, founded in 1924, was supported by Prussia, the Reich and Greater Berlin. The airport, which has been accessible by U-Bahn underground line since 1927, quickly became Europe’s most important air hub. The largest building in the world at the time was built there in 1936 according to plans designed by Ernst Sagebiel. The site was used as a huge forced labour camp during the Second World War. The airport became famous across the globe as the centre of the Berlin Airlift of 1948 /1949, which sustained the blockaded West Berlin. Civil aviation resumed in 1951, but was discontinued after Tegel Airport was put into operation in 1975. It restarted again in 1981 and was finally permanently discontinued in 2008 after the city was reunified.

Supply planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Blockade in 1948 / 1949.
akg, no. 72043
The former terminal building pictured from the airfield in 2020. The airfield is now a public park.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Westhafen Port

One of the most important local economic projects in Greater Berlin opened in 1923: Westhafen port, which was the second largest inland port in Germany for a long time. Berliner Hafen- und Lagerhaus AG (BEHALA) port authority was founded on the initiative of the city and with the participation of the city. The port is connected to the Elbe and the Oder via the Hohenzollern canal, the Berlin-Spandau shipping canal and the West Harbour canal. Construction of the port city began in 1914, but encountered delays and was not completed until 1923. The administration building, crowned with a tower, is the focal point of the entire facility, which was planned by Friedrich Krause, the Berlin head of planning for civil engineering. Many of the buildings from the first phase were designed by architects Richard Wolffenstein and Wilhelm Cremer. In recent decades, Westhafen port has lost its key role as a freight hub in Berlin. The mighty administration and storage buildings still dominate the harbour landscape, serving as a testament to the industrial history of Greater Berlin

Westhafen port in 2020. One of the three harbour basins was filled in 2001. In addition to the port operations, the site is also used by cultural institutions such as the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Mitte district court and its land register archive, and furniture wholesalers use the historic storage facilities as warehouses.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision
View of the main building of the BEHALA port company, which still dominates the landscape with its iron clinker brick façade, 2020.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Messe Berlin Exhibition Grounds

The exhibition grounds were also a creation of Greater Berlin. It began at its current location as the first Great German Radio Exhibition in 1924. The radio tower measures close to 150 metres in height and was built according to plans designed by architect Heinrich Straumer. It was put into operation in 1926 for the third Great German Radio Exhibition. It was only possible to implement fragments of the comprehensive design concept for the exhibition grounds that was developed by Hans Poelzig and Martin Wagner in 1929 / 1930. The building exhibition opened in 1931 and was the most important advertising campaign for Berlin’s construction industry. At the same time, it marked the beginning of building exhibitions in Berlin, attracting national attention. After a fire in 1935, work began on the area with the buildings designed by Richard Ermisch and it received its distinctive shape in 1937. The International Congress Centrum (ICC) was added to the site in 1979. The grounds comprise a collection of halls and are crossed by motorways. The inner-city exhibition grounds are a benefit to the city, but its urban beauty is under threat. One of the major tasks of the future will involve comprehensively upgrading the exhibition centre, including finding a new use for the ICC, and redesigning the Westkreuz intersection.

A tourism poster from 1937 shows the buildings designed by Richard Ermisch. The buildings from this period and also those from the 1950s are now listed buildings.
Historical Archive on Tourism (HAT), TUB

The Hochschulstadt University City Competition

A proposal designed by Otto Kohtz submitted to the 1937 Hochschulstadt University City urban development competition. It clearly exemplifies the spirit of intimidating architecture of authority.
AM TUB, no. 9831

The university city project was one of the Nazi regime’s largest projects in Berlin. Albert Speer, the General Building Inspector for Berlin, acted as the tendering institution. The competition aimed to combine all of Berlin’s universities into a new ‘Reich University of Berlin’, which was to form the ‘representative western entrance gate to the capital of the Reich’. 700 architects from all over the world took part in the competition, but the winners were never announced. The foundations for the military engineering faculty of the Technical University of Berlin were laid shortly before the competition. This marked the first step in the construction of the university city, and indeed, the redesign of the imperial capital in general. Work continued until 1944 and then ceased. After the war, the rubble of buildings destroyed during the war was piled up over 20 years to form Teufelsberg hill, the highest point in Berlin, measuring 114 metres high.

Babelsberg Film Studio

Joseph Goebbels supported plans to create the Film City Babelsberg inspired by the model of the Cinecittà in Rome, which opened in 1937. It was to be the film centre of Europe and would have extended to Drewitz. The project was integrated into the plans of General Building Inspector Albert Speer. Construction began in 1938, but soon stopped. The most striking new building was the presidential building of the German Red Cross. It was a war-related project built between 1938 and 1943. It’s a university building today. The Babelsberg site was transformed into a city of camps during the war. After the war, the striking German Red Cross building was used by the Soviet military administration in Germany and became an elite school for political and legal sciences in 1952 during the German Democratic Republic.

The former presidential building of the German Red Cross is now part of the Griebnitzsee university campus in Potsdam. The large building at the Griebnitzsee S-Bahn station is a relic of the film city planned during the Nazi era but never carried out.
Photo Harald Bodenschatz

Schönefeld / BER Airport

The new Berlin Brandenburg BER Airport pictured from the southwest in September 2019. Fourteen years passed between the ground-breaking ceremony in September 2006 and the scheduled opening in October 2020. Although it was not part of the original plan, the new Berlin Brandenburg BER Airport will now open on the 100th anniversary of the creation of Greater Berlin. This is a fitting coincidence, as no other urban development project will shift the balance in the city as much as the new major airport. It is already possible to identify a new development corridor in Berlin, which is bringing the eastern Spree area to the fore. This also applies to the state of Brandenburg, which now has a new space in Schönefeld for a boom. Like many other places in the city, the airport reflects Germany’s difficult history in the twentieth century. The airport started out serving the Henschel plant in the service of the Luftwaffe. In 1947, the Soviet military administration ordered the plant airport to be expanded to become the main civil airport in the German Democratic Republic. BER is now set to replace both Schönefeld and Tegel airports.

Photo Günter Wicker, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH

Tegel Airport

Tegel Airport was built in response to the Soviet blockade of supplies to the western sectors of the city in 1948. The French occupying powers built the airport to relieve Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift. The Tegel site was used to test airships before the First World War and was later used in rocket testing in 1930. Civil aviation began in 1960. The distinctive airport building was built from 1965 to 1975. It was initially planned to cease flight operations in 2012, but this was delayed by several years. The airport will finally close in 2020, but there will be no farewell celebration due to the coronavirus pandemic. The closure marks the beginning of a new phase. Tegel Projekt GmbH is planning a project that aims to develop a new district with a colourful mix of accommodation, research institutes, institutes of higher education and an industrial park. Beuth University of Applied Sciences is also set to move to the new Tegel site. Tegel’s new ‘Urban Tech Republic’ together with the new Siemensstadt will dramatically change northwest Berlin.

A new mixed-use district is planned for the site after Tegel Airport closes: the Schumacher quarter and ‘Berlin TXL – The Urban Tech Republic’, which will be used to develop urban technologies.
Graphics Tim Dinter, Campus Berlin TXL

Freight Centres

It is a major challenge to supply a city, and Berlin successfully mastered this challenge 100 years ago, not least with the construction of Westhafen port. Cities cannot survive without trans-shipment hubs to distribute goods. Berlin also relies on Brandenburg to this end. In addition to Westhafen port, which is still important, there are four large freight centres on the outskirts of Berlin that ensure the security of supply: Wustermark (west), Großbeeren (south), Freienbrink (east) and Schönefelder Kreuz. These centres are among the youngest major building blocks of the city. They are used to reload goods between rail and road, and in the best case scenario, from waterways and air travel. Companies from different industries work together at these sites. The centres are not attractive from the outside, but their work processes are fascinating.

An aerial photo of the Freienbrink freight centre east of Berlin.

EUREF-Campus in Berlin

The EUREF-Campus (European Energy Forum) is also one of Berlin’s younger major projects of national importance. It is the result of a private-sector initiative of architect Reinhard Müller and aims to find solutions for the city of the future and promote the transition to sustainable energy. It demonstrates its solutions extensively on the site. Founded in 2007, the campus is nestled in an older site that had been used for gas supply since 1871. As a result, the main structure on the campus is a gasometer built in 1910. There are also a number of other remarkable restored historical buildings on the site, including some designed by the influential architect Alfred Messel. Numerous companies as well as teaching and research institutes committed to sustainable development operate on the site today, including the Technical University of Berlin. The campus has been the focal point of the State of Berlin’s Smart City strategy since 2017.

The ‘Messel building’ in 2020. Its original shape is barely recognisable after modifications have been made over years.
Photo Thomas Spier, apollovision

Tesla’s Gigafactory

The cleared site of the future Tesla Gigafactory near Grünheide pictured in February 2020. Tesla Giga­factory Berlin-Brandenburg in the market town of Grünheide is a dream project with a lofty name. It is the latest major project that could shape the face of the city. Tesla plans to produce electric cars here by the end of 2021. Planning permission has not yet been granted, but preparatory work has already been carried out. The site itself is striking. Located just behind Erkner and very close to the Freienbrink freight centre, it is visible from the outer Berliner Ring orbital motorway and is in the immediate vicinity of BER Airport. It’s a huge success for the region in the global competition for future technologies! However, the coronavirus pandemic has delayed the project. It was not possible to hold the statutory citizens’ consultation as planned. It is remarkable that all of the public authorities involved are working together to rapidly advance this large industrial project – a good sign.

Photo Ralf Roletschek, GFDL 1.2 only
Exhibition Room 7

In and out of favour

Planning Culture

Urban development in Berlin has always been the subject of intense debate. Participants have in­cluded not just planning professionals, politicians and the administration, but also representatives of civil society and commerce. The debates have been about targets, instruments, institutions and funding. And so also about parties with and without influence. Even Greater Berlin itself was divisive. After 1920 new battlefronts emerged: districts versus municipal authorities (Senate) and Greater Berlin versus Brandenburg. In the 1970s and 1980s the urban conflict reached its climax. The fall of the Wall was an occasion for ferment: Berlin equals protest! Today the organisation of the relationships between the districts and the senate, between Berlin and Brandenburg, and sometimes even between ­Berlin and the federal government, remains on the ­agenda. So too is the creation of bodies, plans, and platforms to regulate growth – always in dialogue with representatives from civil society and the economy. The capacity for action that gradually brings about stability must be developed.

The administrative organisation of the new Berlin has two special features: first of all, in terms of budget and administrative policies, the districts are to a great extent autonomous, and, second, there is now a quick and easy working connection between the municipal authorities and the district administrations […].

[…] It can’t be denied that the administrative organisation is in no way ideal. It can and must be substantially simplified and ­improved.

In the democratic country of today the citizen is the helmsman and the officials are the oarsmen of the ship of state.

The personal responsibility and initiative of the citizenry is by no means suspended by the central administrative organisation.

Berlin’s administration problem has only been partially solved. […] It is generally acknowledged that a simplification of Berlin’s city constitution and administration is overdue and very much in the interest of the population.

The economy and the municipal administration have to work ­together, rather than against each other.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Urban development and power

In terms of its urban development, Greater Berlin has travelled a bumpy road. The creation of the metropolis during the imperial era was predominantly driven by commercial interests – large land companies, private transport firms – with the financial backing provided by the major banks. The public authority only set the ground rules, through the Hobrecht Plan in 1862, the Prussian Vanishing Line Law in 1875, and the building regulations, which were corrected again and again for Berlin and the environs. In the Greater Berlin of the Weimar Republic everything altered: the local authority now took the lead in urban development, for both housing construction and infrastructure (transport, energy provision and parks). For this, they relied on their own firms or ones they controlled. During the National Socialist period this stopped, and the central government took up the baton. After the Second World War, state-directed urban development continued in principle, albeit in a complicated form: Although the influence of the Allies, the central government, and the municipality varied over the decades of Germany’s division, each side was dependent on the support of their respective state. It was only after the Reunification that private-sector urban development regained ground.

Private-sector Urban Development

Photo: Bilfinger SE company archive, Mannheim

Georg Haberland, on his seventieth birthday on 14 August 1931. As director of one of the most influential land companies in Berlin, the Berlinische Boden-Gesellschaft (BBG), Haberland developed entire districts, such as the Bayerische and the Rheinische Quarters. As an entrepreneur, politician, and author he was without doubt the most important representative of private-sector urban development in Berlin. A lesser-known fact is that, after the First World War, he was also active on a large scale during the period of local economic development, but only on behalf of others. The projects included the Neu-Tempelhof housing development, a big residential quarter south of the Südwestkorso, the Karstadt Building on Hermannplatz, and Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Tempelhof, and the BVG tram stations. Following his death in 1933, ­Haberland’s firm was ‘Aryanised’ step by step, and his son Kurt was ousted from the board of directors, imprisoned in 1941, and murdered in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1942.

Local Economic Urban Development

Martin Wagner, around 1930. Wagner was a pas­sionate advocate of municipally managed urban development even before he became head of Berlin’s planning and building control office in 1926. Once in post, he sought the participation of private investors. However, his commitment to building new housing, a car-oriented city, the expansion of the Wannsee Lido, and a radical conversion of Berlin’s old town were only partly crowned with success. He witnessed the failure of his work, in particular in the years towards the end of the Weimar Republic, and not only because of the economic crisis. After 1933 he tried to adapt to the new rules of urban development being introduced by the National Socialists. For example, in 1934, writing under a pseudonym in the Deutsche Bauzeitung, he called for the appointment of a State Commissioner for the Renovation of the City of Berlin and a Führer of the City of Berlin. Martin Wagner left Germany in 1935.

Akademie der Künste Berlin, Martin Wagner Collection, 21 F.2

Public-sector Urban Development

Albert Speer, around 1938. As General Building Inspector for the Capital of the Reich, Speer was responsible for the planning of Greater Berlin from 1937 to 1945. He had special powers, such as access to financing, and could ignore the wishes of local authorities or even the Reich capital itself. The boundaries of Greater Berlin were irrelevant for him. His plans extended to the outer reaches of the orbital motorway. The general building inspector’s plans for the new centre of Berlin were notorious. The largest project on the out­skirts, the so-called Südstadt running along the southern axis, is less well known. Out of all the leading figures during the Nazi dictatorship, he most embodied a public-sector urban development that was premised on blocking municipal autonomy and the unflinching expropriation of private property. His plans rendered him jointly responsible for the crimes committed under National Socialist rule.

German Federal Archives, 183-V00555-3

The Contradictions of Greater Berlin

It was obvious from the beginning: the Greater Berlin Act of 1920 did not adequately regulate the relationship between the municipal administration and the districts, in particular the ties between Greater Berlin and the province of Brandenburg. These design flaws were inherited by the subsequent polities and administration and still exist today. They are especially disruptive for managing a growing metropolis. The proposals put forth by the Commission for the Improvement of Overall Urban Management – a body of experts that pre­sented its final report in summer 2018 – must be brought to the fore and augmented by political reforms. The proposal for a regional council, put forward by the Future Berlin Foundation (Stiftung Zukunft Berlin) also warrants attention. Unless Greater Berlin’s design flaws are overcome, any good urban-development strategy applied in the metropolis will grind to a halt through institutional gridlock.

Paul Wittig, Berlin’s Transport System and its History, private printing (Berlin, 1931), p. 79

Districts versus Municipal Administration/Senate

A map of Greater Berlin published in 1931. From the outset, the gigantic city was divided. Its 20 districts reflected the political and spatial developments before 1920. Among them were the six inner districts of the old town, the internal boundaries of which were neatly drawn. However, during the final negotiations, the division of responsibility between the municipal administration and the districts was left unclarified, so as to guarantee a majority in the Prussian State Assembly. This lack of precision remains a problem today.

The Great Battle for Urban Development

From its inception, Greater Berlin was a capital of protests, a centre of the socio-political battle for the right urban development. Many of these struggles have been forgotten today. One example is the great controversy around the development of the western side of Tempelhofer Feld in 1910. The issue was, as ever, affordable housing – an issue that extended far beyond the years of the Weimar Republic. The battles for the city reached a climax in the 1970s and 1980s. The wholesale redevelopment in the East and West was moving up the agenda, and the number of cars on the roads was becoming a problem. After the Reunification, the quarrels continued with referendums, such as those that contributed to deciding the fate of the Mediaspree project and the development of Tempelhofer Feld. Social controversy is necessary; it is good for the metropolis – but only when it constructively seeks to find the best way towards a sustainable future.

Down with High-density Development in Tempelhofer Feld!

Hermann Jansen’s plan for Tempelhofer Feld, entry to the Greater Berlin Competition 1908–1910. Behind this evocative plan a fierce quarrel raged; the issue at the time was the development of the western side of Tempelhofer Feld. The parties involved were the Military Treasury – the owner of the parade ground – the City of Berlin, the Municipality of Tempelhof, the District of Teltow, the Province of Brandenburg, and some large banks and land companies. The subject of the dispute was not just the question of who would gain the upper hand, but also what level of density the new development should have. The project therefore formed part of the arguments over the direction of Greater Berlin’s urban planning. The Military Treasury prevailed, implementing a high-density built area, which contributed to a high sale price in 1910. But its victory was pyrrhic: after the First World War, a suburban development policy was adopted.

AM TUB, No. 20563
Käthe Kollwitz Museum, Cologne, chalk and brush lithography (transfer), Kn 122 I

For Greater Berlin!

Poster with a drawing by Käthe Kollwitz, 1912. The idea of Greater Berlin was the subject of a bitter disagreement long before the First World War. One of the parties involved was the Propaganda Committee for Greater Berlin. Their poster, seen here, announced an assembly to raise objections to the drastic housing shortage in Berlin. The police commissioner had the poster banned because of its accusatory motif.

Down with Rent Increases!

Rent strike in Köpenicker Strasse, 23 September 1932. The tenants protested under the motto ‘First food, then rent’. They hung banners featuring the hammer and sickle, as well as the swastika, from rear-courtyard windows. At the end of 1932 the whole of Kösliner Strasse, the reddest street in Wedding, the reddest district, was on strike. The less-than-successful rent strike towards the end of the Weimar Republic was the biggest protest of its kind in the history of Berlin.

German Federal Archives, ­ 146-1970-050-13
Kreuzberg Centre for Art and Culture, Harald Bodenschatz Collection

Down with Wholesale Urban Renewal!
West Berlin

Poster: ‘Self-help in Kreuzberg SO 36’. In addition to posing a threat to the old building stock in Wedding and other districts of West Berlin, the wholesale urban renewal of the 1970s and 1980s represented a challenge to the lifestyles of the residents. As more and more streets were demolished, an un­pre­ce­dented protest welled up, supported by a broad alliance of those directly affected, political initiatives, and intellectuals. At the same time, many initiatives such as self-help projects were established and filled the endangered buildings with new life.

Down with Wholesale Urban Renewal!
East Berlin and Potsdam

Poster for the exhibition ‘Find the Best for the City’, 1989. In East Berlin and other cities of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – like Potsdam – protest against the decay and demolition of pre-Second World War buildings increased in the 1980s. It reached its peak in 1989 and was a major factor in the collapse of the GDR. Held in summer 1989, the ‘Find the Best for the City’ exhibition criticised the deterioration and threats to knock down of the second baroque city expansion. It was shown again in 2019 at the Potsdam Museum. This exhibition, three decades later, did not receive the attention it deserved in Berlin.

Potsdam Museum – Art and History Forum, poster design: Waldemar Strempler
Photo: Wolfgang Mahnfitz

Down with the Car-oriented City!
Western Tangent Citizens’ Initiative

Demonstration of the Citizens’ Traffic Policy Committee (known as the Western Tangent Citizens’ Initiative since 1974) in West Berlin on Kurfürstendamm, July 1972. This protest was the first large-scale demonstration opposing the destruction of the city in the framework of the planning for a car-oriented Berlin. The focus was the fight against more city motorways, with the Western Tangent on the front line.

Sink the Mediaspree!

‘Three Cheers for the Investors’ campaign, July 2008. The protests in Berlin continued after the Reunification. They were increasingly organised in opposition to rent increases, as well as a more automobile-­friendly city. A highly professional protest which influenced later social confrontations concerned one of the most influential development regions in the new Berlin in the 1990s: the eastern Spreeraum, the region around the River Spree. The Sink the Mediaspree (Mediaspree versenken) group took a stand against various private investors for developing the river banks. But in spite of a successful local referendum in 2008, their demands were only partially implemented.

Photo: Ulrich Hofmann and Adrian Lang; CC BY-SA 3.0,

For the People:
100% Tempelhofer Feld!

Poster by the citizens’ initiative 100% Tempelhofer Feld, 2014. When Tempelhof Airport was shut down in 2008, the Senate had no convincing ideas for further development of the area. After violent confrontations about a partial development on the edge of Tempelhofer Feld, a citizens’ initiative was founded in 2012. The group, with partners in both politics and wider society, successfully organised a popular referendum. This resulted in an astonishingly clear mandate for an ‘inner-city open landscape’.

100% Tempelhofer Feld citizens’ initiative
100% Tempelhofer Feld citizens’ initiative
100% Tempelhofer Feld citizens’ initiative

For Better Streets and Squares!

Advertising for a party on Bundesplatz, the centre­piece of Bundesallee, from October 2015. The celebration was initiated by the Initiative Bundesplatz and supported by the Council for European Urbanism Deutschland. Bundesallee is not just any street and Bundesplatz is not just any square. In addition to their distinctive names, they comprise one of the most striking urban-developmental features in ­Berlin’s layout. These two locations – along with the city motor­way – are the most emphatic witnesses to the conversion of West Berlin into a car-oriented city. Since 2010 the Initiative ­Bundesplatz, one of the largest citizens’ initiatives in the German capital, has campaigned for the revival of the square as a place to spend time, the limiting of traffic and, in the medium term, the shutdown of the tunnel that slices the square in half. Des­pite verbal assurances, the campaign has achieved only limited success.

Postcard, Polinna Hauck Landscape + Urbanism /Studio Amore Burke Harmel Jank GbR
Kotti Coop e.V. /Kotti & Co

We’re all Staying!

Brochure by Kotti Coop e.V., 2019. In the last ten years, rent increases and tenant evictions have led to a broad-based protest movement in inner-city Berlin, mainly in the district of Friedrichshain-­Kreuzberg. Kotti Coop was founded in 2015 by residents of the Kottbusser Tor neighbourhood, who are pushing for ‘the development of both social rents and the district’. The association is part of a rainbow coalition in the neighbourhood.

Exhibition Room 8

An Unloved Capital?

A Window into Germany

The Spreebogen government district on the bend of the River Spree is the most important government location that Greater Berlin has ever had. It was the seat of the Reichstag parliament during the imperial era and became the centre of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s. It was also the planned site of the Great Hall, conceived by the Nazi leadership to be the largest building in Berlin and the centrepiece of the capital of the Reich. It became an outlying area in limbo when the city was divided, but is now home to a complex of government buildings, the state’s most visible presence in the capital. The Spreebogen district is the youngest of Berlin’s large government districts – much younger than the palace area and younger than the Wilhelmstrasse government quarter. It illustrates how the spatial focus of the state’s presence in Berlin has migrated westward.
Photo: Philipp Meuser, 2020

In 1920, Berlin had been Germany’s capital for less than half a century. Unlike London and Paris, Berlin was a far cry from being the undisputed centre of a large European country. The city was more like Rome and Moscow, a young capital with a mixed reputation. The Greater Berlin Act of 1920 did not include any provisions that clearly regulated its status as the capital of the young Weimar Republic. Nevertheless, the state as a whole has been instrumental in shaping the development of the city since then. Today, federal projects influence public debate and, increasingly, the image of the capital. The state has made the city, much to either the joy or annoyance of Berliners – and has done so for centuries. The difference now is that the capital has become very popular abroad and is seen as a cheerful and tolerant city in a country that is often underappreciated. Berlin has another anniversary coming up in 2021: 150 difficult years as the German capital.

A state’s global standing and economic performance largely depend on the beauty and the prestige of its capital. […] ­Germany and its importance in the world are judged on the impression that the imperial capital makes on other countries. […] Berlin does not view its tasks from a local perspective, but rather from the point of view of the whole of Germany.

Tourist advertising for Berlin (has) to reckon with the empire’s tense hostility towards Berlin. […] Berlin is like New York in the United States. People admire its rapid growth, but can’t quite come to love it yet. One of the main aims of Berlin tourism advertising is to dispel prejudices against the capital.

Gustav Böß,
mayor of Greater Berlin from 1921 to 1929
Berlin Today, Berlin 1929

Locations for Parliament
and Government

In 1920, the state’s presence in Berlin was centred in three locations that defined the city: Hohenzollern palace, which was actually a Prussian building; Wilhelmstrasse, a symbol of governance; and Königs­platz, the seat of the Reichstag and the German state’s most powerful building in Berlin. The palace was a masterpiece of architecture that had evolved over centuries, but by the late nineteenth century, it had long since lost its role as the sole centre of power. Wilhelmstrasse rose to become the official government headquarters of the new empire and became a synonym for the German government. When the General Staff building was built between 1867 and 1871, it became the ‘soul of the army’ and marked the beginning of government building moving into the Spreebogen area around the bend of the River Spree. Building in the area reached its peak with the construction of the Reichstag between 1884 and 1894, and this also marked the end of construction in the period.

The Spreebogen District

No other area of the city conveys the brutal history of the state’s presence in Berlin as vividly as the Spreebogen district. It has been the seat of republican, dictatorial, allied and now democratic rule in the city.

Otto Kohtz’s design for the Reichshaus building at Königsplatz in 1920. The monumental, pyramid-like, multi-storey office building was intended to provide space for Reich authorities.
AM TUB, no. 9063
The Federal Chancellery in 2019. Some Berliners refer to it as the ‘washing machine’. Moltkebrücke bridge is visible in the foreground.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The River Spree in 2019. There is a popular city beach on the southern bank of the river, downriver from the Federal Chancellery, the Swiss Embassy and Paul Löbe House.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The new Reichstag, seat of Germany’s federal parliament, pictured from the Marschallbrücke bridge in 2019.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision


During the imperial era, many people began to notice a distinction emerge between a western ‘imperial side’ and an eastern ‘Prussian side’ of the Wilhelmstrasse government precinct. After the Second World War, the headquarters of the East German government was located here – in the state’s most important building.

The Federal Ministry of Finance, formerly the House of Ministries, pictured in 2019. The building’s eventful story continues: It has been the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Finance since 1990 and was renamed Detlev Rohwedder House in 1992 in honour of the head of the Treuhandanstalt trust agency assassinated by the Red Army Faction (RAF). The Federal Ministry of Building considered demolishing the large building towards the end of 1992.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The Federal Council building on Leipziger Strasse, near Wilhelmstrasse, pictured in 2019. Built in 1904, it served as the seat of the first chamber of the Prussian parliament until 1918 and was the headquarters of the Prussian State Council during the Weimar Republic. The building was assigned to the Ministry of Aviation during the Nazi era. The Federal Council moved in in 2000.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision

Berlin Palace

Berlin Palace ceased to serve as a seat of power at the end of the war and the empire in 1918. It has primarily served as a museum since the 1920s. The ruins of the palace were demolished in 1950 during the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and a state forum was built in its place. The palace is currently being resurrected as the Humboldt Forum, which has proven to be extremely controversial.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the German Democratic Republic was built according to plans designed by Josef Kaiser and others between 1964 and 1967. It was demolished in 1995 / 1996.
Photo: Jacob Stefane;Berlin State Archive, F Rep. 290 no. 377231
The Humboldt Forum in 2020. Scaffolding still surrounds the main entrance and cupola. The forum is set to open in stages beginning in September 2020, but it was announced in May 2020 that the opening would be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The Federal Foreign Office building, pictured here in 2020, was designed by Thomas Müller Ivan Reimann Architects and built between 1996 and 1999. The new building was built onto the front of the prominent old building, extending the former Reichsbank building, which was designed by Heinrich Wolff and built between 1934 and 1940. This early example of Nazi architecture became the seat of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in 1958, making it the centre of power of the East German state.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision

Gifts for All: Cultural Buildings

The state built the capital both for itself and to enrich our culture in general. Among the gifts from the federal government are the new Building Academy, the Museum of Design for the Bauhaus Archive, the Monument to Freedom and Unity, the Humboldt Forum and, of course, the Museum of the Twentieth Century at the Kulturforum. These gifts have not always been welcomed and many are controversial, but all in all, they enrich the city.

Museumsinsel in 2020. The James Simon Gallery became the final component of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018. The new building acts as a link between the five museums on the island. It was designed by David Chipperfield Architects, which was also responsible for restoring and renovating the New Museum.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision
The Museum of Design for the Bauhaus Archive is planned to be completed in 2022. Staab Architekten won a competition in 2015 with a design composed of a striking tower, a series of underground museum and event rooms that connect the old and new buildings, and a sunken garden.
Staab Architekten
The reconstructed corner of the new Building Academy, pictured in January 2020. The academy suffered only minor damage during the Second World War, but was demolished in 1961 ⁄ 1962 for the benefit of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the German Democratic Republic. The original building was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and built between 1832 and 1836. It was a forerunner of the Technical University of Berlin. There has been a long debate about the design and use of a new building and as a result, it will be ‘as much Schinkel as possible’.
Photo: Thomas Spier, apollovision