East vs West: German Architecture in the Post-War Period
Following the devastation of the Second World War, the two halves of Germany faced a massive challenge - reconstruction of a ruined nation. The Germans were however assisted by their allies, being NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and these two power blocs' aid resulted in some very divergent architecture in the eastern and western halves of Germany. While brutalism reigned in the east, the dominant style of the Soviet Union, West Germany enjoyed more eclectic and inspired building projects enabled by the liberalised construction industry. In today's article, we will be taking a look at the differences between the two halves of the nation, and some of the most notable buildings of the period. These buildings are known as Neubau, whereas pre-war buildings are called Altbau.
As mentioned previously, West Germany had more fortune in the architectural sector as architects and construction companies enjoyed far more freedom in their industry. This led to more ambitious and experimental construction projects being completed across the nation, particularly during the Wirtschaftswunder - the economic boom of the 1950s. At this time, West German companies threw up housing projects for millions of people left destitute during the war, a truly impressive feat considering the massive damage which German industry and infrastructure took during the fighting in Europe. It's been estimated that roughly half of Germany's population today lives in buildings erected during the 50s and 60s.
One good example of West German architecture would be the Ruhr University. The first university to open in Germany after the war, the Ruhr University campus was designed in the brutalist style, less common in western European nations, and consists of 14 high-rise buildings which all stand at nearly identical height. The construction of the Ruhr University turned Bochum into a university city, or "knowledge city", and the university continues to be modernised and reworked to this day. However, the post-war architecture has remained, and stands as one of its most noteworthy features.
Because of East Germany's communist government, construction contracts were handed out by the government alone, and therefore without the element of competition to drive up contractors' efforts, the buildings are generally of poorer quality. East German apartments can be characterised by ill-fitting, tight doorways and toilet cubicles which unfortunately don't leave enough to the imagination. It would however be unfair to say that East Germany was some dystopia of ugly architecture, and this article does not argue that, as some beautiful construction projects were completed during the DDR's existence. The modern German government has not been particularly kind to post-war architecture however, and the wrecking ball looms above many of the post-war periods buildings as they are deemed unfitting for their environment.
A good example of East German architecture would be the Haus des Lehrers, build in East Berlin in the early 60s. The building, its name meaning "House of the Teachers", hosts conferences and events taking place in Berlin. Perhaps its most notable feature is the long mural which wraps around all sides - painted in the style of Mexican wall art, it is called "Our Lives" and depicts images relating to life in the former DDR. Today it functions as a converted office building and hosts the headquarters of several Berlin-based companies.