Metropolis: Berlin

Diellëza Tahiri
4 min readSep 27, 2022

Berlin is one of the most characteristic cities of the metropolis period in Europe. It describes best the beginning of industrial revolution and the transition from laissez-faire to capitalist rationalism to extreme edges. The industrial revolution in laissez-faire times happened in other cities first and not Berlin, which being a military capital of Kingdom of Prussia, was not an industrial city at that time. However, the establishment of Germany as a compromise of many States, brough Berlin as its capital and therefore huge transitions with it. The industrialization of Germany started late compared to other countries in Europe. That is why it had the advantage to not make the same mistakes as UK or France, but instead, to apply properly the fordist/taylorist principles, technologies and to swiftly become the greatest industrial country in the world. Hence most important companies of industry are German, like Siemens, Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft, ThyssenKrupp, etc. The rapid change of Berlin, from a provincial military city into the most powerful industrial metropolis in the world, caused an incredible amount of people migrating to the city, seeking jobs and housing. The two tools for city planning, can be seen quite clearly in Berlin: the regulation plans that actually were dated even before establishment of Germany, like the one of Hobrecht which more or less followed the idea of Paris. But Berlin is not Paris, and surely it tends to apply cheaper ways of city planning; as a result, they built big blocks with less streets where thousands of people would live in very small military tenements or also known in german as Mietskaserne.

James Hobrecht: Bebauungsplan der Umgebungen Berlins (1862)

While the discourse on the housing question in Germany helped produce the notion of an ethical urbanism aimed at humanizing the city, it did so by naturalizing the same system of urban development that initially led to the spread of the Mietskaserne, that in fact were the most horrible housing typologies in Europe. They often had elaborate historicist facades facing the street, increasing their apparent value and shielding from public view the horrid conditions within them (which for bourgeois reformers included poor hygiene, overcrowding, criminal activity, and the spread of socialist ideas). These tenements were not only for working class, but for the majority of people living in Berlin. These horrifying living conditions which were caused by using both tools combined, Hobrecht plan and Mietskaserne, led the country to revolution of communist parties and ideas.

Mietsakaserne Conditions in Berlin (image credits: Bundesarchiv et al.)

After the first world war outcome, Germany began to cope with not only incredible economic crisis, but also moral crisis of existentialism. People were desperate to change the doomed reality as much as they were willing to do anything that is new, a year zero with open minded people. This explains why Germany will lead the modern revolution of innovation in art, architecture, engineering, science, and other fields, while places like France, were still flourishing in their comfort and not seeking anything new. It will be very obvious this kind of transition that could happen only in Germany, especially in urban planning. Awakening of architecture and urbanism certainly started in Berlin, where urban art got converted into functional schemes and rationalism took over everything. Martin Mächler Plan just after the first world war in 1919, is proof of this radical change of mentality in Germany and it’s the start of a new way of architecture, literally following rationalism to a point where it became relatively absurd. Many known architects contributed to solving the housing problem in Berlin during this time like Walter Groupius, Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner and others.

Martin Mächler: Berlin Plan (1919)

Berlin lost its attachment to history, to heritage, to the old times due to its incredible transformation, and only focused on industrializing and rationalizing the city. After the first decades of its industrial bloom, economic crisis, mental crisis, and poverty pushed the society on the edge of despair. That is why Hitler came to power and won the support of the people, by huge promises of a better life for Germany, he gave the people what they wanted to hear and thus the Weimer Republic was finished. Unfortunately, what was called democratic idealism, unexpectedly turned into a horrifying dictatorship that brought the next years of terror with the Nazi Regime in Europe. In terms of architecture, Hitler hated modernism and metropolis rationalism. He wanted to go back to classical architecture and bring monumentalism to Germany to what he demanded from Albert Speer to create, a pure style of German Architecture.

The second world war surely had fatal outcomes, and specifically caused the destruction of Berlin. Bombings from the west, left huge voids in the city, which can partly be seen even nowadays throughout the city center.

Berlin in 1939
Berlin in 1945

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