Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, Germany
As is often said, you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members. In the early part of the 20th century, Germany was ahead of its time in this respect. Around Europe, we were yet to see the large-scale social programs for the lower classes that are so common these days. But, even as early as 1910, Berlin was proving to be a progressive city. It demonstrated this with, of all things, housing.
Between 1910 and 1933, Berlin took an innovative approach to mass housing for people with low incomes. Rather than packing people into dull apartment blocks that were designed for value more than aesthetics, the city’s architects decided to create pleasant residential spaces that would encourage a sense of community.
Around the outskirts of the Berlin – where there was a bit more space – the city built housing estates that used techniques not seen before. These residential complexes had three things that were new – light, air and sunshine! There were several ways this was achieved and one of them was with large common gardens. The buildings also did not follow the standard approach of having a single block, but used various shapes to maximise the opportunities for sunlight.
These different complexes were built at different times and are spread out across Berlin. What is so interesting about visiting them is that you notice how each of them is unique. This was not a matter of designing one version and then just replicating it everywhere else. Each estate has its own feel and has been constructed in a way that fits in with the natural and urban environment it’s found.
A century later and they are still happily being used. I assume the interiors have been updated over the years but the basic structures are unchanged and show how durable the buildings are, both physically but also socially. That’s the thing about being progressive – normally if you are ahead of the time, your ideas will stand its test.
Visiting the Berlin Modernism Housing Estates, Germany
There are six locations across Berlin that have been included in the World Heritage Site known as ‘Berlin Modernism Housing Estates’. They are spread out across the city and it is not easy to get between each of them quickly. You can see their locations in this map:
Some are more easily accessible by public transport than others and it is possible to cycle between a few of them. If you are planning to visit more than one, it is worth doing a bit of planning to find the best connections from where you are staying.
The exterior of each of the estates is accessible to the public and you will be able to visit the courtyards and gardens attached to them. There are some tours you can use to see the inside of the buildings. These will give you a deeper understanding of why these homes were so influential in the cultural shift of social housing.