Urban Development in East and West Berlin

Twenty-five years after reunification, the impact of the divided city is still acutely noticeable. However, the construction of the Wall in 1963 wasn’t the only factor to influence divergent trends in urban planning, housing and infrastructure in the Eastern and Western parts of Berlin. In the aftermath of World War II, the response to the extensive destruction and damage caused by the war differed starkly between the two parts of Germany in general and Berlin in particular. Many parts of Berlin had to be rebuilt. Where 19th century tenement blocks had once dominated the cityscape, architects and urban planners now saw an opportunity to create a completely new urban environment. At first, their approaches radically differed in the two parts of Berlin, later there was a certain extent of stylistic convergence and consistency.

an der ehemaligen innerdeutschen Grenze, DDR BRD
Image courtesy of Ezio Gutzemberg – Fotalia.com

A new lease of life in a “new city”?

In 1950, the East German regime published a document containing sixteen “Principles of Urban Planning” which were to govern the reconstruction of East Berlin. At the core of these guidelines, there was a wholesale dismissal of modernist concepts of urban planning. The sixth principle, which recast the heart of East Berlin as the political centre of the GDR, was used to justify the demolition of the historic Berlin City Palace, which did not fit into the planners’ concept for the East German capital. The first large-scale project to be realised in the Eastern part of Berlin was the development of the area around Strausberger Platz and Stalinallee (which is now Frankfurter Allee). The traditional architecture, imposing gatehouses and classicist features were designed to emphasise the rejection of modernism. The new buildings were split into spacious apartments and boasted numerous classicist features such as pillars and portals.

beleuchtung_strausberger platz
Image courtesy of Andreas Tölke

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Image courtesy of Lisa Marie Koch – Stay Architekturfotografie

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Image courtesy of Lisa Marie Koch – Stay Architekturfotografie

Where the East went, the West followed

Political leaders in West Berlin soon responded to the challenge set by their Eastern counterparts. They too had a housing shortage on their hands. One of the first and most prestigious flagship projects was the radical redevelopment of the Hansa Quarter near the Zoological Garden as part of the 1957 International Architecture Exhibition. The war and the subsequent demolition work had left this part of Berlin in ruins. Several architects, some of them names of international renown, implemented their ideas for a new style of urban planning. The reconstruction of the Hansa Quarter was modelled on the “urban landscape” concept of fusing urban areas and green spaces. The stylistic features characteristic of modernism would dominate urban development in West Berlin over the next few decades.

Berliner Mauer, Denkmal
Image courtesy of bina01 – Fotalia.com

Two centres divided by a wall

While the centre of political power in the Federal Republic moved to Bonn and West Berlin had to contend with a shrinking population due to its geographical isolation as an enclave within Soviet-controlled East Germany, East Berlin occupied a central location in the GDR, both geographically and as the site of the key political institutions. Meanwhile, development in the West focussed on the area around the Zoological Garden and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with the Europacenter as a new shopping and business hub after its opening in 1965.
When the Wall was built in 1963, much of the Berlin cityscape changed almost literally overnight. Existing infrastructures such as traffic routes were cut off, neighbourhoods were divided and many buildings close to the Wall or in the restricted zone were torn down. The original Wall was a provisional construction made of fences, which from 1965 onwards was fortified with precast concrete panels and reinforced concrete pillars to form a permanent structure. The final and most sophisticated version, the “Border Wall 75”, was constructed in 1975 and divided the city until the border was finally opened in 1989.