I’m standing in Berlin’s Hansaviertel at the Grips Theatre, eagerly waiting for the art:berlin tour to begin. For the next two hours, we will be criss-crossing an area that was created during the Interbau 1957.
The tour starts punctually with a short historical introduction to the area.
The historical Hansaviertel
The Hansaviertel is a district bordering the Spree River to the northwest, north and northeast, the park of Bellevue Palace, the Straße des 17.Juni and the grounds of the Technical University of Berlin to the east and south.
The Hansaviertel was founded in 1874 and development began according to the plans of the Berlin-Hamburger Immobiliengesellschaft. A large group of Hamburg merchants belonged to the company. The plan called for Hansaplatz to be built in the centre, with Klopstockstrasse, Lessingstrasse and Altonaer Strasse leading off in a star shape. A wide variety of residential buildings were built – detached houses and apartment blocks in the country house style and multi-storey residential buildings in the block perimeter development typical of Berlin with side buildings, cross-buildings and backyards…. According to a royal decree, no factory or commercial buildings were allowed to be built in the Hansaviertel until 1910.
In 1877, the viaduct of the city railway was built across the Hansaviertel, creating connections with the Bellevue and Tiergarten stations to Charlottenburg and the centre of Berlin.
When the National Socialists seized power, the destruction of the Hansaviertel began. The synagogue was burned down in the 1938 progrom, Jews had to vacate their homes, and in 1943 the quarter fell victim to air raids. Of about 340 buildings, 300 were destroyed.
After the war, the houses were demolished and only 30 buildings remain today.
The new Hansaviertel
After the Second World War, overall urban planning began for Berlin. In 1946, Scharoun, as city planning director, was commissioned by the Allies to present a concept for the redesign of Berlin. However, his ideas were only partially implemented; there were too many legal, financial and political reasons.
The destroyed Hansaviertel remained an inner-city rubble area for a while. It was then decided to rebuild it in the style of modernism of the time. To this end, the plots of land were bought back and it was decided to limit themselves to the southern Hansaviertel. The framework for this was to be the International Building Exhibition of 1957, and so the area was given the name “Exhibition Grounds in the Hansaviertel”. In a competition, 52 architects from 13 countries were invited to submit their designs. In the end, 35 buildings were realised by 31 leading architects, such as Alvar Aalto, Egon Eiermann, Walter Gropius, Arne Jacobsen, Oscar Niemeyer and Max Taut. The result was 1160 flats in high-rise and low-rise buildings around Hansaplatz, a shopping arcade, a cinema, two churches, a low-rise building with a library and a kindergarten. Green spaces were laid out between the buildings.
Tour through the Hansaviertel
After a short historical introduction, the tour first starts through the shopping centre. A cinema existed here for a few years, and today the well-known Berlin Grips Theatre is located in the premises. Unfortunately, there are only a few shops here now, but you can shop for your daily needs.
Afterwards, we criss-crossed the Hansaviertel.
First we took a look at some of the skyscrapers. A total of six skyscrapers were built in the Hansaviertel for the Interbau 1957. Each one was designed by a different architect, such as Gustav Hassenpflug or Luciano Baldessari, and you learn some interesting details on the tour. But all the high-rise buildings have one thing in common: they have a square floor plan, more than 10 storeys and the lift is in the middle of the building.
The terraced buildings consist of houses with an elongated ground plan. They are mostly 4-10 storeys high. Particularly famous is the house of the Finn Alvar Aalto with eight storeys and the eye-catching building by Oscar Niemeyer with the free-standing lift tower. I am a fan of Walter Gropius’ architecture. Gropius is also represented in the Hansaviertel with an interesting building in the Hansaviertel.
What I didn’t know until now – there are even some one- and two-storey detached houses in the Hansaviertel. These are “hidden” behind the taller buildings and cannot be seen when driving past. The Dane Arne Jacobsen contributed four buildings here. I find the houses from the street very plain and above all windowless. However, the building is supposed to enclose an inner courtyard and be open to the south.
I don’t want to give too much away. If you want to learn more about the Hansaviertel, the art:berlin guided tour is the right place to go. I found it extremely interesting and informative. And after the tour was over, I walked around the Hansaviertel for a while and discovered many beautiful photo motifs.
Disclosure: Participation in the art:berlin tour was free of charge for me. Thank you very much! This article is based solely on my impressions and was written independently of the tour.