Every city gets its atmosphere from the buildings in it, but in Berlin – a city defined by a Wall, a Gate and a Tower – this is especially true. Every government and conflict that have touched Berlin in the last century have left their mark on the city, making Berlin architecture a fascinating way to look at the city.
Berlin’s Bauhaus archive. Image harry_nl, via Flickr
Although most of the city was destroyed and rebuilt in the aftermath of World War II, some examples of early 20th century Berlin architecture survive. The Classical Modernist style came into vogue in Berlin between the two wars. Recently, six housing estate were declared UNESCO world heritage sites because of their daring modernist design. These Modernist estates influenced housing around the world.
An offshoot of the Modernist movement was the Bauhaus architecture school. Combining form and function, the Bauhaus movement was led by Walter Gropius and eventually centered in Berlin. Almost every city in Europe now has building influenced by the Bauhaus school, and Berlin is proud of its architectural contribution. The Bauhaus Archive, south of Tiergarten (7 Euro, closed Tuesday), displays Bauhaus buildings, as well as showing Bauhaus’s influence on other art forms. In 1933, the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus school, and many architects fled around the world. A group of Jewish ex-Berliners arrived in Israel, and over 4,000 buildings in Tel Aviv now bear the unique Bauhaus design.
The Nazis left their mark on the city too, although it has been partially removed by the war and by successive governments. Thinking that Berlin was going to be the World Capital, they planned a number of grand buildings. You can see examples of Nazi architecture in Berlin when you pass the Finance Ministry near Checkpoint Charlie, for example. Another great example is the grand airport at Tempelhof – it’s now abandoned and has been turned into a park, but it is still one of the biggest buildings in Europe, and well worth a visit. You can look around by yourself or book a tour.
When the city was divided, each half had its own architectural style, so you’ll notice a different feeling when you walk through the east of the city. The best way to understand the difference is walk around West Berlin, say, the Tiergarten area, and then take the train to East Berlin, and walk down Karl Marx Allee. A private walking tour (250 Euro) is available. The huge imposing Soviet-style buildings were common in the East, and despite the effort Berlin has put into integrating the two halves of the city, the Berlin architecture gives away the city’s divided past.