• The Many Shapes of Postwar Reconstruction in a Divided City

    Sundus Al-Bayati, 2019 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Recipient
    Nov 2, 2021

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    War is different than other crises that affect cities like natural disasters or even a global pandemic. War is rooted in the psychological and cultural memory as an experience that is meant to undermine the morale of a society and to ultimately destroy people’s sense of place. In fact, “undermining the morale'' has been an established strategy in warfare since World War I with the advent of air raids. Bombing a city from the air didn’t stop at targeting its military and industrial bases, for the objective was not just to cripple the enemy’s militaristic capacity but to destroy its infrastructure, economy and its housing stock. The goal was to crush the spirit of the enemy by unleashing utter chaos and dysfunction in the city; to stop life in its tracks. 

    I remember taking the bus to school at the age of sixteen, three years into the Iraq War and looking out the window and being fascinated by the site of destruction in Baghdad. I snapped a few photos with my old Nokia phone of a destroyed mosque (I even found the images, see Figures 73–75 at the end of the post). The site of destruction remained with me in the way it challenged what’s real or possible. A destroyed landscape is saturated with past social and cultural experiences, among which is the event of destruction. Rebuilding takes on more than just answering to the practical and aspirational needs of a conventional architecture project. The disruptive force of war forces the urban environment to choose between preserving the past and looking forward. If war is personal, then so is the way we rationalize rebuilding.

    Reconstruction might be concerned with immediate and basic needs such as providing housing or clearing the rubble but is largely shaped by more abstract notions like national identity and people’s sense of place, exhibited in embraced or rejected architecture styles and urban forms. Whether the need to rebuild is driven by a political and economic ideology, a desire to break from the past, an opportunity to correct certain problems in the urban landscape, or providing solutions to a housing crisis, the process of reconstruction cultivates an image that evokes national associations between people and their environment. Governments, politicians, planners, etc., rely on these images to advance proposals of what replaces a destroyed site. Berlin’s urban landscape is an embodiment of the many images that were at the heart of debate following the war and the ascent of the Berlin Wall.

    There is no one dominant approach to post-war reconstruction that describes the way Berlin has been shaped since the end of World War II. An amalgam of influences contribute to the diverse forms of rebuilding. The most important factor is Berlin’s status as a divided city. After the end of a gruesome war of air raids and bombs, Berlin’s urban landscape became the physical and symbolic site for the political and ideological war between East and West. Architecture and ideas about reconstruction followed along this ideological divide. Following 1945, many architects, planners, politicians, and citizens sought to distance themselves from the monumental neoclassical architecture of the Nazi regime. Furthermore, Jeffry M. Diefendorf discusses in his book, In the Wake of War, much of the debate about post-war reconstruction was influenced by arguments of different architectural styles that existed pre-war and that ranged from modernism to traditionalism.1

    Postwar architects and planners grappled with the concept of “Zero Hour,” Germany’s attempt to completely break with its Nazi past after the war, which included the style of architecture embraced by Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer. Diefendorf elaborates that explicit monumentality of Speer’s architecture was not the only thing that was rejected at the time: “The deficiency of imaginative postwar architecture also resulted from the catastrophe of the Nazi experience, which ultimately and thoroughly discredited not only neoclassicism but also the ideas of monumental and representational buildings.”2

    Modernism was also a contested style in postwar Germany. Modern architecture had already existed before the war, exemplified by the work of Walter Gropius and the Deutcher Werkbund, but years of the Nazis’ attack on modern art and architecture had limited its growth and popularity. Additionally, there was a movement of traditionalist architecture in Germany that was concerned with questions of historic preservation against the forces of industrialization that swept 19th-century cities. The Heimatschulz movement (the word literally translates to homeland protection), which advocated for traditional styles, believed German architecture “must be organically derived from the German landscape, climate, and historical traditions.”3 The forces of modernization and historic preservation are among the most critical challenges in almost every city, but in postwar Berlin, years of division between east and west and Germany’s continuous struggle with its tainted past complicate the questions of reconstruction. Brian Ladd describes this infliction in German architecture in his book, The Ghosts of Berlin: “German architecture and urban design cannot escape the crisis of German national identity.”4

    Some of the questions I was asking myself as I explored Berlin: When does reconstruction actually begin and end? What part of the past is told? Whose past is told? Do we recreate the past right before the war in faithful detail? Do we recreate a different past? Do we preserve the present as a memorial to the war in the form of ruins? Do we see the war as an opportunity to modernize the urban landscape and replace it with a completely new style? 


    Reconstruction as Political and Ideological Instrument of the Cold War in Divided Berlin

    When the war ended in 1945, Berlin’s devastated landscape became the site of another form of confrontation between the East and West. Instead of one Berlin, there were two and each side claimed that theirs was the real Berlin. Before the Wall formally and physically divided the city in 1961, the governments of East and West Germany used architecture and urban design to express their political and ideological philosophies and to facilitate the creation of two separate German identities.5 Nowhere are the competing identities more pronounced in the city than in the housing developments of Stalinallee in east Berlin and the Hansaviertel in west Berlin.

    Soviet and Western forces used postwar development to solidify their diverging ideological and political identities in the form of ambitious and innovative architectural models that each regime deemed fit for the reconstruction of their new capital. Both regimes embraced modernism as the language of new Berlin at first, but the GDR soon rejected the style in lieu of the monumental classicism typical of Soviet architecture. After the German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949, it initiated the development of one of the most bombed out districts, Friedrichshain. The major part of the project is Stalinallee Boulevard (Karl-Marx-Allee now). Stalinallee is one of the most emblematic projects of the GDR. The boulevard is 90 meters wide, 3 kilometers long, and extends from Frankfurter Tor to Alexanderplatz in Mitte. It is lined with monumental apartment buildings decorated with architectural tiles. The GDR envisioned Stalinallee as a dynamic boulevard that allowed the mingling of living, commercial, and leisure activities. Commercial uses occupy the street levels of the apartment buildings and the width of the boulevard was to accommodate parades and celebrations. Now the boulevard is dominated by traffic noise of cars zooming in and out of its wide lanes.

    I started my walk down the boulevard from the Frankfurter Tor. The prominent twin towers on both sides of the boulevard designed in the Stalinist classicist style by Hermann Henselmann mark the entrance into the long stretch of the project (see Figure 1). Following the domed towers, one might notice a deviation in the street façade from the monumental Stalinist architecture; unadorned, modern looking, five-story apartment buildings stand behind a row of poplar trees. Before the GDR opted for the socialist classicism of the Soviet Union, modernist architects like Hans Scharoun were retained by the Soviet sector for the reconstruction of Berlin. These apartments were designed in the modernist style of the 1920s and were a part of a bigger plan led by Hans Scharoun and his associates to reconstruct the new Berlin (see Figures 2–3). 

    Figure 1, twin towers
    Figure 1, twin domed towers at Frankfurter Tor, Hermann Henselmann, Karl-Marx-Allee


    Figure 2 Arcade Houses

    Figure 3 Arcade Houses
    Figure 2–3, Arcade Houses, Karl-Marx-Allee


    However, after construction started on these buildings, a change in the planning of Stalinallee occurred when a delegation of architects and planners travelled to Moscow and other cities in the Soviet Union to study their architecture and urban planning. The results were presented in the manifesto “Sixteen Principles of Urban Planning” that sought to unify the urban design and architecture of the GDR with a language that is consistent with Stalinist style of other Soviet cities. The rest of Stalinallee pivoted quickly to implement a different style that emphasized monumentality, ornamentation, hierarchy and centralization. Modernist architecture was deemed decadent and capitalist. Hence, a row of poplar trees were planted in front of the modernist five-story buildings to hide their facades. From Frankfurter Tor to Strausberger Platz, stands one of the most representative forms of political propaganda as architecture in East Berlin. Meant as an architectural model for postwar housing, it couldn’t be replicated elsewhere in Berlin as the buildings were expensive and unsustainable to build ( see Figure 4–8).

    Figure 4_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 5_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 6_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 7_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 8 Stalinallee Phase 1
    Figure 4–8, Karl-Marx-Allee, 1950–1959


    After Nikita Khrushchev’s ascension to power, the process of de-Stanlinization constituted the third shift in architectural style along the boulevard in the 1960s, starting from Strausberger Platz to Alexanderplatz. The boulevard was renamed Karl-Marx-Allee. Khrushchev criticized Stalinist architecture for its lavishness and inefficiency and embraced modern building aesthetics. Brian Ladd adds, “the best way to house the masses, he argued [Khrushchev], was to develop prefabricated industrial forms for apartment buildings”6 Thus, modern architecture made a comeback on the socialist boulevard (see Figures 9–11). The new buildings were simple rectangular boxes of concrete and steel but matched the scale and façade pattern of existing buildings.

    Figure 9_ Stalinallee Phase 2

    Figure 10_ Stalinallee Phase 2

    Figure 11_ Stalinallee Phase 2_Kino
    Figure 9–11, Karl-Marx-Allee, 1959–1969


    The first phase of Stalinallee (1952–1954), was the first major reconstruction project after the war that addressed the challenges of postwar urban planning and housing shortage. It was advertised as the GDR’s showcase of what a newly rebuilt East German city would look like. Not surprisingly, a year later, the West German government promoted the International Architectural Exhibition Interbau for the reconstruction of the residential district of Hansa, adjacent to the Tiergarten, which was completely destroyed in 1943. The Interbau 1957 invited the pioneers of modernism to submit their ideas for the planning and design of a housing project for the Hansaviertel in the International Modernist style, which was professed as the style of a democratic Western society. Plans to rebuild the Hansavietel were discussed since 1951 as the city was suffering considerable housing shortages. Like Stalinallee, West Berlin’s government sought to put their city on the map as the site of innovative architectural designs for the new West German city.

    Figure 12 Sketch_Hansaverietel
    Figure 12, Sketch by Sundus Al-Bayati, Hansaviertel, building by Egon Eiermann


    The Interbau 1957 included designs by the most prominent architects of Modernism such as Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Egon Eiermann, and Oscar Niemeyer. One of the most popular events at the Interbau was The “City of Tomorrow” exhibit. It presented drawings and architectural models that disposed of 19th-century notions of city planning such as dense housing, narrow streets, and the mixing of working, living and commerce. The war presented Berlin with a new beginning. The city of the future will be ordered, decentralized, healthy and democratic. Towers of residential blocks will be scattered in a green landscape that will ensure access to light, air and greenery for all. The “City of Tomorrow” was to be found on the grounds of the Hansaviertel. 

    Figure 13, Walter Gropius 1

    Figure 14, Walter Gropius 2
    Figure 13–14, Hansaviertel, Building by Walter Gropius


    Figure 15, Alvar Aalto
    Figure 15, Hansaviertel, Building by Alvar Aalto


    Figure 16, Fritz Jaenecke
    Figure 16, Hansaviertel, Building by Fritz Jaenecke


    Figure 17, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 18, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 19, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 20, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 21, Oscar Niemeyer
    Figure 17–21, Hansaviertel, Building by Oscar Niemeyer


    Figure 22, St. Ansgar, Willy Kreuer
    Figure 22, Hansaviertel, St. Ansgar, Building by Willy Kreuer


    It felt good to finally step inside a realized utopian modernist project, to be that scale figure that is dwarfed by the tall towers in the landscape. I noticed the decibel level drop down when I walked deeper into the neighborhood. As I looked up at the curvy apartment building by Walter Gropius, I imagined that it must be pleasant to live there, among all the trees, with a view of the Tiergarten. The Hansaviertel surely looked different from the rest of Berlin. Like the first section of Stalinallee, its planning and construction proved too expensive and complex to replicate elsewhere in the city. It remains, like Stalinallee, an architectural model for postwar reconstruction that envisioned a new urban identity for Berlin. In 2022, the city of Berlin will propose both Karl-Marx-Allee and the Hansaviertel to the “Tentative List” for UNESCO World Heritage as unique examples of postwar development projects that occurred concurrently to address the challenges of reconstruction.


    Nikolaiviertel: Recreation of a Medieval Quarter and the Question of Historic Preservation in Postwar Reconstruction

    A short five-minute walk west of Berlin’s biggest commercial center, Alexanderplatz, sits the historical Nikolai Quarter in the district of Mitte, recognizable by the two towers of St. Nicholas Church at its center and its narrow winding alleys with small cafes and restaurants that are a popular tourist attraction in the area. The St. Nikolai Church is the oldest church in Berlin, dating back to the early 13th century. The alley and street pattern around the church comprised one of the only remains of medieval Berlin before the war. The site was obliterated during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, except for parts of the church and few remains of other buildings. After the rise of the Berlin Wall, the central area of Berlin became a desolate land. 

    What visitors experience today is in fact a complete reconstruction by the German Democratic Republic during the 1980s. The site remained vacant after the war until the GDR sought its recreation to be completed in time to celebrate Berlin’s 750th anniversary in 1987. From the perspective of historic preservation, this reconstruction was controversial. After the war, the historic preservation and restoration of inner cities in Germany generated a lot of debate about what can be restored, repaired or completely recreated. 

    Figure 23, Sketch, Nikolaiverietel
    Figure 23, Nikolaiviertel, Sketch by Sundus Al-Bayati


    The conversation centered on individual buildings, as well as on the historical character of the city core or Altstadt. Architects and planners debated whether only important iconic buildings that were slightly damaged should be restored or if a group of buildings that were razed during the war could be completely recreated to document the historical characteristics of inner cities including the scale of buildings and the street patterns. Some critics argued that reproducing copies of historical buildings that were completely destroyed would create a false sense of history that tries to evade the Nazi era that led to the war and the event of destruction. However, infilling what was destroyed with modern buildings risked destroying the character and the identity of inner cities. Most agreed that a significant historical building that is moderately damaged can certainly be restored and parts of it recreated because enough of the original building’s details remain to guide a faithful reconstruction. Some preservation officials supported the recreation of historically significant buildings even if nothing of the original existed because they argued that these buildings were historic symbols or documents of the past.7

    There wasn’t a unified framework that guided reconstruction and historic preservation principles in Germany after the war. German cities either largely opted for modernization, like West Berlin, or varying degrees of historic preservation in rebuilding their Altstadt; for example, Nuremberg adapted a combined approach to preserving its historic core: iconic buildings that were slightly damaged were restored and new buildings were built that matched in appearance the character and scale of historical buildings. The issue of “Zero Hour” remained at the heart of the debate of modernization vs. preservation: whether to acknowledge a break in German’s history after the war and start a new chapter or recreate vanished quarters of the city to maintain a historical continuity that potentially bypassed the uncomfortable chapter of Nazism and the war.

    More than three decades after the war, the Nikolai Quarter remained vacant until the East German government advanced a plan to recreate the historical area, which included restoring St. Nicholas Church and rebuilding a whole neighborhood of 17th and 18th century merchant houses that once stood along its medieval narrow streets.8 In this reconstruction effort, motivated more so by competing with West Berlin in preparing for the 750th anniversary celebration of the city rather than historic preservation, the East German government sought to establish a historical continuity that goes back to the Middle Ages, cementing the urban identity of East Berlin as the  true German city. Brian Ladd elaborates on the image that the East German government tried to provoke in creating a replica of the Nikolai Quarter in 1987: “…the neighborhood of merchants testified to the vigor of the new middle class at the end of the Middle Ages, rising to power in a feudal society and thus illustrating (in the most Marxist theory) the bourgeois revolution that was the prerequisite of the proletariat revolution that the Red Army brought to Germany in 1945.”9

    Figure 24, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 25, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 26, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 27, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 28, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 29, Nikolaiviertel
    Figure 24–29, Nikolaiviertel


    Visible Ruins 

    The sight of ruins has historically been a subject of romanticism and nostalgia in architecture and art but this fascination with ruins became more prominent since the 18th century as seen in well-known examples like Piranesi’s etchings of Roman ruins or Turner’s Tintern Abbey. These works illustrate the aesthetics of ruins; their persistence and decay as objects of contemplation. They are often tourist attractions to be walked around and enjoyed as one would with art in a museum. But, how do we engage with ruins from the war? Are ruins just the material manifestation of conflict, a memorial for the destruction or could they play a more active role in telling the story of the city and its history? 

    I’ve explored ruins in Berlin and Anhalter Bahnhof’s site and its future use in the Exile Museum stood out as more than a mere aesthetic treatment of ruins. Anhalter Bahnhof was one of the three train stations where Jews were deported from Germany and the proposed Exile Museum will tell their story of exile and other stories of displaced people. On the other hand, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church situated in one of Berlin’s biggest commercial districts has become one of the most popular tourist attractions for its striking look as a war relic. Similarly, the intricate brick façade of Franziskaner-Klosterkirche is the only thing left standing in this church from the 13th century (see Figures 43–47). Unlike the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, it is tucked away in a park surrounded by trees. Its state of openness as a result of the war is definitely a site to revel in.

    Walking in Berlin, sometimes you forget that about half of the city was destroyed in World War II. The scars of war are not as visible anymore. In East and West Berlin, modern planning was the dominant approach to reconstruction after the war. Damaged buildings were rarely repaired or preserved and most were cleared in favor of new modern buildings and wider streets. There are few exceptions that stand out as reminders of what the city looked like after the war for many years. 

    One of the most famous symbols of Berlin is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Kurfurstendamm with its broken and hallow spire (see Figures 30–36). The church was built in 1895 and was damaged during the air raids of 1943. In 1961, Egon Eiermann completed a modern addition to the church that consists of a new church and a separate campanile tower. As excited as I was to see a church with a hole in the middle, an actual ruin from the war, my enthusiasm died down as I walked into the area of Kurfurstendamm. How odd did this church and the bizarre modern addition look in the middle of all the noise, traffic and glamorous shops. The ruins stand in striking contrast to the heavily developed and commercial district around it. When the city was divided between the Allies sector and Soviet sector, the Kurfustendamm became a central area for West Berlin and was one of the first areas to be developed quickly to be the most famous Western district for entertainment, business, and shopping. Egon Eiermann’s original competition entry proposed removing the ruins of the church but public outcry led to the revised current design, where still a big portion of the remaining church was demolished to make room for the new buildings. Ruins can be deceiving at times; their shapes suggest how the forces of war struck them but we forget that modernization and profit-driven developments are as powerful as war in destroying the urban landscape. 

    Figure 30, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 31 Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 32, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 33, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
    Figure 30–33, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church


    Figure 34, Chapel, Interior
    Figure 34, 1961 church addition by Egon Eiermann, interior


    Figure 35, Chapel, Exterior
    Figure 35, 1961 church addition by Egon Eiermann, exterior


    Figure 36, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Old and New
    Figure 36, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and addition by Egon Eiermann


    Another prominent ruin that one might encounter in Berlin is the Anhalter Bahnhof (see Figures 37-42). All that remains of the former train station are the ruins of the main entryway and a portion of the front facade. The station was one of Berlin’s most important train stations and so it was targeted during the war. The building was damaged but it was the period after the war that saw its eventful destruction. Anhalter Bahnhof’s history is closely tied with the history of Berlin from Nazism to the Cold War. In Hitler’s great plan for Berlin, the tracks of the station were severed to make room for Albert Speer’s North-South Axis project. The station would have been demolished in Speer’s project and replaced with a public swimming pool but then the war happened. Anhalter Bahnhof witnessed another crucial historical moment in Berlin. The station became a deportation point for almost 10,000 Jews who were sent to Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia. The train station remained barely functional after the war until it was closed in 1952 when East Germany redirected all the train lines to Ostbahnhof since Anhalter Bahnhof resided in West Germany. In 1960, the station was demolished in its entirety except for the front portion. In 2025, the historic relics of the station will be part of a new museum that will sit behind it, the Exile Museum. The museum will tell the stories of exile of those who were deported during the Nazi regime and also of current displaced groups. The Exile Museum offers an example of a meaningful engagement with ruins from the war; the historic fragments become more than a romantic picture from the past, detached from any historical, social and political implications but are essential in telling the story of Berlin from their very charged location. 

    Figure 37, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 38, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 39, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 40, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 41, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 42, Anhalter Bahnhof
    Figure 37–42, Ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof


    Figure 43, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 44, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 45, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 46, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 47, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche
    Figures 43–47, Ruins of Franziskaner-Klosterkirche


    Invisible Ruins: Berlin’s Parks 

    In Berlin, the parks of the city have stories to tell as well. Berlin is a city rich with parks and some of them engage with the history of the war in subtle and striking ways. As you approach and experience the beautiful winding and hilly landscape of Volkspark Friedrichsain and Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, you might not know that these hills you are walking on were formed from the rubble of World War II. Schuttberg is the German term for a hill made of rubble. After the war, Berlin was covered with mounds of rubble. The task of clearing the rubble and stacking it in piles fell on the women in Germany because of the loss of men during the war. These women were called the Rubble Women. One of the most infamous examples of Schuttberg in Berlin is Teufelsberg. It’s not only a rubble mound that took 22 years to create but underneath it lies the unfinished Nazi training college designed by Albert Speer. 

    Burying the destroyed remnants of the city after the war under scenic landscapes reminds me of the tradition of Tumuli, mounds of earth and stone that sit over a grave to mark a burial site. 


    Social Housing from East, West and Unified Berlin

    In Stalinallee and Hansavierte, East and West Berlin regimes used rebuilding and the introduction of new housing models as a way to generate new identities for their cities. As discussed, both of these projects were unsustainable to propagate due to their cost and planning. Housing shortages and crowded 19th-century tenement living in both East and West Berlin led to the development of satellite cities outside of Berlin. Unlike Stalinallee and Hansaviertel, there are more similarities than differences in these developments. Both sides used prefabricated mass housing to offer dignified and affordable housing to their citizens that was the opposite of the overcrowded dark tenements in the city. I went to look at a couple of these examples of social housing: Marzahn (1977–1990) in east Berlin and Gropiusstadt (1959–1975) in west Berlin. Literature about these two developments abounds, so I will not get into their history and let the pictures do the work. 

    Figure 48, Marzahn

    Figure 49, Marzahn

    Figure 50, Marzahn

    Figure 51, Marzahn

    Figure 52, Marzahn

    Figure 53, Marzahn

    Figure 54, Marzahn

    Figure 55, Marzahn

    Figure 56, Marzahn
    Figure 48–56, Marzahn


    Figure 57, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 58, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 59, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 60, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 61, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 62, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 63, Gropiusstadt
    Figure 57–63, Gropiusstadt


    In the 1980s, West Berlin shifted its urban planning approach from modernization to discovering and preserving the 19th-century city. The 19th-century tenement housing that was not accepted in the last three decades after the war suddenly became an important aspect of Berlin’s urban identity. This shift to pre-war architectural styles and urbanity, which was termed “Critical Reconstruction,” emerged during the International Building Exhibition in 1980s. A number of well-known international architects were invited to design housing projects in the center of Berlin as part of IBA 1987. Architects include Zaha Hadid, Aldo Rossi, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, among others. Pictures of some the buildings I explored are below.

    Figure 64, Alvaro Siza

    Figure 65, Alvaro Siza
    Figure 64–65, IBA 1987, Bonjour Tristesse, Alvaro Siza


    Figure 66, John Hejduk

    Figure 67, John Hejduk

    Figure 68 John Hejduk
    Figure 66–68, IBA 1987, John Hejduk


    Figure 69, Raimund Abraham
    Figure 69, IBA 1987, Raimund Abraham


    Figure 70, Zaha Hadid
    Figure 70, IBA 1987, Zaha Hadid


    Figure 71, Aldo Rossi

    Figure 72, Aldo Rossi
    Figure 71–72, IBA 1987, Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri


    Figure 73, damaged mosque, Baghdad

    Figure 74, damaged mosque baghdad

    Figure 75, baghdad
    Figure 73–75, Photos from my phone, 2016, Baghdad



    1 Diefendorf, Jeffry M. In the Wake of War: The Reconstruction of German Cities after World War II. Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

    2 Ibid, 63.

    3 Ibid, 50

    4 Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 2018, pp 234.

    5 Pugh, Emily. Architecture, Politics, & Identity in Divided Berlin. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014.

    6 Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 2018, pp.186.

    7 Diefendorf, Jeffry M. In the Wake of War: The Reconstruction of German Cities after World War II. Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

    8 Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 2018.

    9 Ibid, 46.

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  • Berlin: Post-War Reconstruction (or Destruction)

    Sundus Al-Bayati, 2019 H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Recipient
    Oct 4, 2021

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.


    From Baghdad to Berlin

    In my first week in Berlin, my Pacer app. registered 62 miles walked. Berlin had unusually sunny weather after weeks of rain, so I didn’t want to waste any days sitting inside recovering from my jetlag, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get to know the city straightaway. I think Jane Jacobs would agree. On my map, I outlined the sites and buildings I planned to see that were either destroyed during World War II or rebuilt after the war. I wanted to get a sense of the city first. Walking allows your mind to wander. My mind drifted back in time to the early 20th century, when the German Empire sought to expand its colonial power by connecting Berlin to Baghdad through The Baghdad Railway. 

    The Baghdad Railway, also known as the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, built from 1903 to 1940, was a way for Germany to strengthen its alliance with the Ottoman Empire and assert its power as a rival to Britain and France in the Middle East. The Railway would allow Germany to establish a port in the Persian Gulf, granting it access to valuable oil reserves in Iraq, and linking Germany with its colonies in Africa.1 The Baghdad Railway was part of the Ottoman Empire’s plans to develop railways to link Turkey and Iraq. The increasingly weak and indebted empire granted the bid for the construction of the Baghdad Railway to Germany’s Deutsche Bank. When World War I broke out in 1914, the Baghdad Railway was 600 miles short of its planned destination. I often wondered what kind of Baghdad it would have been had this train route existed between the two cities. Maybe instead of applying for an entry visa to Germany a month in advance, detailing my arrival and departure dates, presenting my bank statements, providing proof of address and legal residency in the U.S. and submitting booked accommodation in Berlin (before I know if I am allowed to enter the country or not), I could hop on a train from Baghdad and find myself in Berlin two days later. Mobility is a theme I fantasize about frequently being an Arab and from a Muslim country. Everywhere I go, my passport is scrutinized, and I am subjected to a lengthy visa process. I never know whether I am going somewhere until I arrive there. This year of travel will be an adventure.

    As I navigate the visa process for each destination, the COVID restrictions, and the political climate in my war-torn cities, my itinerary might change. Unfortunately, there are too many cities whose urban landscape has been completely changed by war and conflict that I couldn’t fit in my year-long exploration, which I might explore if my planned itinerary is disrupted. The cities on my list are not unique in their experience of war. War and destruction have always been the history of cities. However, war in these cities is positioned in a time that is not too far in the past and not too recent that enough can be observed about their different processes of reconstruction and its effects in shaping the urban landscape. This is the reason why Baghdad, where I grew up during the UN sanctions of the 1990s and 2003 war, is not on the list. Baghdad is still in a state of destruction.

    I cannot think of a more intriguing city to begin this research into the complexity of post-war reconstruction than Berlin. Not only did half of the city get damaged during World War II, but the preceding era of Nazism, and the subsequent years of the city’s division manifested to the world as the Berlin Wall, make Berlin a city that continuously contends with its identity and past. This struggle is present all over the city. 

    In his War and Architecture pamphlet from 1993, Lebbeus Woods identifies two patterns of post-war reconstruction: either erasing the old site and creating a new utopia or restoring the site to its previous pre-war condition. Woods distinguishes between two approaches of reconstructing destroyed buildings according to their type: “ordinary buildings” such as apartment buildings and offices, as well as “symbolic structures” such mosques, churches and public buildings.2 While I don’t agree with Woods that a building type could solely drive the process and narrative of reconstruction, I think it is important to differentiate between the scale of a singular structure, such as the building block, and the scale of a group of structures like the neighborhood block. For this post, I’d like to focus on two iconic buildings in Berlin that offer two somewhat opposing examples of reconstruction.

    Topography of Terror Museum

    The first stop I made in Berlin was the Topography of Terror Museum. The site, formerly the Prinz Albrecht Palais, used to house the headquarters of Gestapo, Sicherheitspolizie, SD, Einsatzgruppen and SS Reich Security Main Office. The evolution of this site since World War II is a salient example of one of Berlin’s longest and most contentious debates about post-war reconstruction and its associations with the city’s history and identity. 


    Topography of Terror Site (click to view full-size image)


    Prinz Albrecht Palaist was built in the 18th century, and later renovated by Berlin’s most prominent architect of the 19th century, Karl Friedrick Schinkel. The site was destroyed during the Allied bombing in 1945 and sat in ruins until 1949, when the West Berlin government blew up the rest. By the mid-1950s all the SS and Gestapo buildings were demolished and the rubble was cleared. The buildings weren’t so damaged as to warrant their demolition but nobody wanted to preserve the “most feared address in Germany.”3

    The act of deliberately erasing what remained of one of Berlin’s historically critical landmarks and especially one without any public input would later determine the future of the site when a new generation perceived this action as a way for their government and its people to erase their tainted past and deny their connections to Nazi Germany.

    Until 1981, the site sat vacant and was leased for different uses, such as to hold debris from nearby construction sites.4 In 1986, pressured by the “Active Museum of Fascism and Resistance in Berlin,” the city government led an excavation at the site and discovered the jail cells of the Gestapo.5 The discovery led to the establishment of the Topography of Terror exhibit the following year. The positive reception of the exhibit led to a rethinking of the site; following the German unification, a design competition was established to invite architects to design an exhibit space and a documentation center to continue to investigate the Nazi past. Peter Zumthor’s design was selected but the construction stopped few years later due to funding difficulties and debates about Zumthor’s design. The Zumthor design was dropped and a decade later a new architect was selected, the German architect Ursula Wilms. 

    As I approached the museum, I was surprised by how desolate the site felt. The new museum consists of an indoor exhibit and documentation center and an outdoor exhibit that occupies a small footprint. The rest of the site is left untouched. I learned that was the most important design criteria established by the museum commission. The sense of flatness and desertedness I felt is meant to document the deliberate flattening of the site and the subsequent years of neglect and disregard by the West Berlin government in its attempt to erase the Third Reich. The site remains a representation of the complicated relationship between Berlin and its difficult past.

    The indoor exhibit, a rectangular box of metal and glass, almost hovers on the site to disrupt its history as little as possible. The outdoor portion of the museum brings the visitor close to the exposed jail cellars of the Gestapo where people were tortured and imprisoned. 


    Excavated Gestapo prison cells make up the outdoor exhibit 

    This example of post-war reconstruction challenges the traditional approach of rebuilding a replica of the old 18th-century palace that was destroyed and instead documents the historical and political forces that formed the site since the war. This form of reconstruction sees architecture beyond a mere object to be replicated to restore pre-war normalcy, but as a product of lived and shared experiences that constitute the complex narrative of a city. In its minimal intervention, the site retains evidence of the Third Reich and records the city’s dialogue with its uncomfortable past.

    The Humboldt Forum 

    A thirty-minute walk east of the Topography of Terror Museum stands another controversial example of post-war reconstruction: the Humboldt Forum, or as the political science professor Jan-Werner Müller calls it, “Prussian Disneyland.” It’s a lucky coincidence for me to be in Berlin while the controversy about this building is very much present in the minds of Berliners. The museum opened its doors on July 20th. Perusing news articles around the time of the museum’s opening gives an idea about the ongoing controversy directed at the architectural form of the building that unapologetically reconstructs an icon of Germany’s colonial past. The debates about the reconstruction of the palace have been ongoing since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    A snapshot of recent articles following the opening of the Humboldt Forum


    The newly opened Humboldt Forum, view from the Spree River, Berliner Dome on the right


    Reconstructed baroque facades against the modern concrete grid of the eastern facade


    Reconstructed baroque facades against the modern concrete grid of the eastern facade


    The original Berlin Palace was built in 1443 and became the royal residence of the Hohenzollern until 1918. King Fredrick I of Prussia ordered the expansion of the palace, which was completed by architect Andreas Schluter in 1713 to become one of the largest and most important buildings of Northern Baroque architecture.6 The palace was severely damaged during the bombing of Berlin, but other parts of the building, including the iconic facades, survived. After a few years of neglect, the East German government demolished the building in 1950, claiming the site too damaged to preserve. They proposed it become a square for mass demonstrations for the proletariat to express their struggles and needs. The site remained undeveloped for over a decade and was used as a car parking lot until 1973, when a new building was constructed by the GDR government, the Palace of the Republic.7 The new modernist building housed the Volkskammer, the parliament of the German Democratic Republic, as well as public and cultural spaces like a bowling alley, cinemas, theaters, and restaurants.

    After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Palace of the Republic was closed due to the discovery of asbestos contamination. In the following decade, controversy about the future of the site took central stage again in Berlin between proponents of demolishing the site and reconstructing the vanished Berlin Palace as a symbol of unified Germany and preservationists and activists who saw the Palace of the Republic an integral part of the history of Berlin and its divided era.8 Nonetheless, in 2003 the Bundestag voted to demolish the building, and it was not until 2007 that a decision to rebuild the 18th-century Berlin Palace—or parts of it—was passed.9 The plan was to rebuild three of the lost facades and the Berlin Palace dome, based mainly on photographs since no detailed drawings of the building exist, and have the interior of the building serve as a space for cultural programming. Today, three of those new-old facades stand next to a fourth of a modern architectural style. It now houses a collection of non-European art such as artifacts from Asia and Africa, looted by the German Empire.

    The newly reconstructed baroque facades of Humboldt Forum


    Humboldt Forum and Berlin Television Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm) to the right 


    The Atles Museum viewed from inside the courtyard of Humboldt Forum


    An interior courtyard in the Humboldt Forum where modern and baroque walls meet


    Close up of the reconstructed baroque details in the interior courtyard of the museum


    Before it was reborn as the Humboldt Forum, the Berlin Palace was sort of temporarily reconstructed once before. In 1993, the businessman Wilhelm von Boddien founded a lobby group that was essential in winning the debate to rebuild the Berlin Palace. Using private funding, the group managed to erect two full-scale facades from painted canvas attached to a massive scaffolding structure.10 The idea was to demonstrate the importance of this reconstruction in reclaiming its place back in the historical center of Berlin next to the Berliner Dome and the Berlin Cathedral. This was a successful strategy to win favorable public opinion. The art mockup is an uncommon example of public participation in the discussion of what replaces a destroyed building in the aftermath of war and its implications for people’s sense of history and place. Was the public manipulated by nationalists? 

    Sketch_Understanding the History of the Site (click to view full-size image)


    Being the latest creation at the end of a long cycle of construction and destruction, the Humboldt Forum stands as a clear example of how a city’s buildings are continuously molded by ideological and political forces. More importantly, it demonstrates who has the power to decide what stands in the place of a destroyed building and thus deciding what fragment of the past is told. The recent controversy is focused on the use of the Humboldt Forum for the display of looted objects but there is another equally important debate: was the erasure of the Palace of the Republic that already stood there for over 30 years warranted? To intentionally deconstruct an existing landmark that represents the very identity of this city, the city of the Berlin Wall, and construct in its place an empty vessel of a vanished royal past, seems to be no more than an act of vengeance and a symbol of triumph of the neoliberalism that West Germany pivoted to immediately after World War II.

    The two iconic sites, on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, are two among many destroyed during the war but they are exemplary in their ability to present a fundamental theme in the narrative of this city, the ongoing struggle between remembering and forgetting.

    History of the Site


    The Palace of the Republic lives on in the museum store as keychains and cups among other things 


    Marx and Engels Statue remains in Marx-Engels Forum in front of the former Palast Der Republik and the current Humboldt Forum



    1 McMeekin, Sean. The Berlin-Baghdad Express the Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power. Belknap, 2012. 

    2 Woods, Lebbeus. War and Architecture = Rat i Arhitektura. Princeton Architectural Press, 1997. 

    3 Topographie Des Terrors, https://www.topographie.de/en

    4 Ladd. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 1997. 

    5 Ibid,

    6 Ledanff, Susanne. “The Palace of the Republic versus the Stadtschloss: The Dilemmas of Planning in the Heart of Berlin.” German Politics and Society, vol. 21, no. 4, 2003. 

    7 Ladd. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

    8 Ibid.

    9 Ledanff, Susanne. “The Palace of the Republic versus the Stadtschloss: The Dilemmas of Planning in the Heart of Berlin.” German Politics and Society, vol. 21, no. 4, 2003.

    10 Ladd. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

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