The Hut on the Garden Plot - Informal Architecture in Twentieth-Century Berlin

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Urban, Florian (2013)

In Berlin, self-built huts and sheds were a part of the urban fabric for much of the twentieth century. They started to proliferate after the First World War and were particularly common after the Second World War, when many Berliners had lost their homes in the bombings. These unplanned buildings were, ironically, connected to one of the icons of German orderliness: the allotment. Often depicted as gnome-adorned strongholds of petty bourgeois virtues, garden plots were also the site of mostly unauthorized architecture and gave rise to debates about public health and civic order. \ud \ud This paper argues that the evolution and subsequent eradication of informal architecture was an inherent factor in the formation of the modern, functionally separated city. Modern Berlin evolved from a struggle between formal and informal, regulation and unruliness, modernization and pre-modern lifestyles. In this context, the ambivalent figure of the allotment dweller, who was simultaneously construed as a dutiful holder of rooted-to-the-soil values and as a potential threat to the well-ordered urban environment, evidences the ambiguity of many conceptual foundations on which the modern city was built.
  • References (131)
    131 references, page 1 of 14

    Schäche (Berlin: Jovis, 2004), 114; see also Harri Gräser, “ 'Grüne Slums' sollen neuem Stadtteil weichen,” Tagesspiegel, 24 June 1962; Senator für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, MV Plandokumentation, 20.

    10. Before 1920 Wilhelmsruh was part of the Rosenthal municipality, which was then divided. The eastern portion became a part of the Pankow district (East Berlin after 1945). The western portion around the street named Wilhelmsruher Damm became part of the Reinickendorf district (West Berlin after 1945). In the documents from the 1950s, this area is referred to as Wilhelmsruh or Wittenau-Ost; currently it forms the subdistrict of Märkisches Viertel.

    11. Senator für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, MV Plandokumentation, 14.

    12. Memories of Alfred Zitz, longtime president of the Siedlergemeinschaft Neue Zeit in 1956, in Bernd Hildebrandt and Klaus Schlickeiser, Abschied von der Laube (West Berlin: Gertrud Großkopf, 1990), 46.

    13. For example, to resident Wilhelm Münch, who had lived in his allotment shed on Wentowsteig 29 since 1925. Ibid., 56.

    14. Ibid., 70.

    15. The numbers are from 1956; quoted in Hildebrandt and Schlickeiser, Abschied von der Laube, 185.

    16. The estimate of 8,000 is from 1956. Senator für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, MV Plandokumentation, 14. A contemporaneous description mentions that of the 365-hectare area, only 73 hectares were officially divided into parcels. Gräser, “ 'Grüne Slums' sollen neuem Stadtteil weichen.” 17. Letter of Städtische Baupolizei-Polizeipräsident von Berlin, 1 Apr. 1919, Landesarchiv Berlin A Pr. Br. Rep 057 Nr. 724, p. 28.

    18. Sometimes both materials were combined. Ursula Reinhold, born in 1938, describes her childhood and youth in an allotment shed with wooden walls. After years, her father gave in to her mother's complaints and reinforced the wood with an additional layer of brick for better insulation. Ursula Reinhold, Gemütlichkeit: Erinnerung an Kindheit und Jugend im zerstörten Berlin (Berlin: Trafo, 2003), 10-24.

    19. Senator für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, MV Plandokumentation, 28; and Schlickeiser, Abschied von der Laube, 142-43.

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