The 1950s in Berlin – a decade of new departures. The rubble left by the Second World War had been cleared, but the cityscape was still full of empty spaces – bomb sites between buildings left standing by the war. Wherever whole blocks had been destroyed, the scars took the form of big wastelands. Very rarely were the old buildings and streets reconstructed; instead the planners had new ideas. But the solutions devised in East and West Berlin were influenced by politicians and turned out very different.
During the Cold War, post-war architecture in the divided city became a stage for ideological conflict. Once Berlin had been split into a Western and an Eastern sector, the Allied powers began competing over the ‘correct’ model for society, and this was reflected in new buildings. For the two fledgling states, the Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East, new urban development was an important way of establishing a distinct cultural identity and flagging the differences. Which model offered people the best conditions to live in?
In the east of the city, a monumental, neo-classical style fostered pride in the young GDR. Grand boulevards like Stalinallee (now Karl-Marx-Allee) were lined by “workers’ palaces” echoing a “national tradition”. One of the early prestige buildings in the East German capital was, of course, the Soviet Embassy. In West Berlin, by contrast, architects often returned to the ideas behind “Neues Bauen”, the Modernist movement of the 1920s. The Kongresshalle in the Tiergarten and the Hansaviertel, a residential quarter nearby, embodied principles of ‘free’ architecture and urban planning.