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