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August 27, 2019

Examining the Architectural Idiosyncrasies Between The Formerly East-West Districts Of Berlin

Text by Huzan Tata. Photographs by Rohan Hande

The Berlin Wall, a prominent symbol of the Cold War, had divided a country, and city, for decades. After the wall fell in 1989, the German capital was left to reconcile two contrasting aesthetic and ideological identities.

First impressions
On arriving at the U-Bahn train station, the first thing I noticed was that the streets are laid out almost in a grid, and I could get around without relying on Google maps much. I could lose myself in the city and still find the way back to my hostel.

Distinctive designs
While different time periods seem to co-exist comfortably, there are certain areas where you will find only Altbau constructions (buildings built before World War II) — probably the most sought after right now — and others with only Plattenbau (mass-produced, partly pre-fabricated) buildings from the East German areas of the ’70s. Former East Berlin has more Plattenbauten than West Berlin — the socialist party had promised everyone their own residences. Since they obviously couldn’t expand beyond their limits, they built huge complexes to house as many families as possible. Modern, central areas like the borough of Mitte and the public quarter of Potsdamer Platz have sharp glass buildings and museums. Neukölln (in the southeast) is by far the best neighbourhood I’ve lived in; it gets its charm from the mix of students, middle-class families and people between the ages of 25 and 35 who want a more exciting lifestyle.

Photographer’s eye
The Plattenbauten are fascinating due to the way that they were constructed. The word basically means ‘plate-building’, and these structures were built using prefabricated concrete plates; it’s a super-efficient method. If I had to pick something else that stood out, it would be the iconic analogue photo booths that dot the city, all of them almost identical to one another. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen so much graffiti anywhere else. It enveloped almost every structure that I saw and has become a part of the architecture.

Lasting memory
Having grown up and lived in Mumbai most of my life, I’m used to a certain pace and the coexistence of cultures and religions, as well as certain restrictions. I found that Berlin is exciting, fierce and unafraid — it lets you be who you want to be.

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