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The future vision for Berlin: 1990s reloaded.

The future vision for Berlin: 1990s reloaded.

Markus Appenzeller

Yesterday the results of the international ideas competition for Berlin and Brandenburg 2070 was announced. The competition was explicitly branded as a tool to develop a future vision of Berlin and its surrounding Brandenburg. It was also meant as an event that maps out the future of the metropolis which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary as ‘Gross-Berlin’ which a century ago made an end to a fragmented setup of cities that had grown together and become Berlin. The competition also refers to a competition that took place in 1910 which asked a similar question.

Link to the announcement of the competition results on Baunetz.de

Back then, the competition delivered new ideas and is a landmark event in the making of an urban planning culture in Germany. In its aftermath, similar plans also were made for other cities and to this very day, the plans remain an important reference for the development of Berlin. What did these plans do? Apart from defining key spatial relationships for greater Berlin, it established a way of thinking about the city at large. It established modern planning principles that focused on improving life in the city and solving its problems.

Unfortunately, nothing of that can be said about the winner that was announced yesterday. The winning scheme adopts the ‘leitbild’ of the star that Berlin has been promoting and uncritically builds it. With this approach, the unique landscape of Brandenburg will disappear an be replaced by wedges of green that get narrower and narrower the closer one gets to Berlin. Vast areas of land in the green field are earmarked for development in this vision which is at odds with the need to reduce sealing of surface, to keep cities compact and to avoid eating away more and more landscape. It also and for ever focusses the regional sub centers onto the axis that links them to Berlin. Cross connections are not part of that concept, neither is the thinking in local and regional networks. This misses out on a potential these places have in their own right and instead turns them into sleeping towns for Berlin.

Zooming in on the smaller scale, the winning plan seems like a masterplan that has been submitted in the early 1990s when the city was reunified. Endless rows of perimeter blocks sometimes opened to make a link to the green and towers as city gate surrogates seem to be the only thing one can come up with. Nothing is more wrong. Not only do these typologies miss the diversity that contemporary urban societies need, they also miss any forward-looking attitude. A good urban space seems to be the result of the ever same simplistic typological repetition.

The winning scheme totally ignores the fact that Berlin is not a Prussian capital anymore but the result of pretty much all ideologies that drove urban development in the last 100 years. Establishing a 100-year-old model renders all this irrelevant and it does not accommodate any of the big challenges we are facing. No mention of climate change and its mitigation. No mention of a different mobility. No mention of an energy revolution. Not even a glimpse of a possibility that our cities might be different than they were 100 years ago.

But there is a danger in this plan that goes beyond the detailed solutions that it tries to advertise. It is the overall image it creates. This plan wants to finish Berlin. That might sound like a logical thing to do but it is not. The strength of Berlin is its unfinishedness. The breaks and juxtapositions of styles, ideologies and spatial configurations today is the big and unique quality of the city. Making an attempt to fix that, to solve everything by inserting blocks and smoothing everything therefore is laying a bomb at the very identity of this city. It is an attempt to do away with pretty much everything that characterizes contempotrary urban Berlin culture. It is a reactionist attempt to rebuild the Prussian Berlin, an attempt to indulge again in German megalomania rather than addressing the future problems.

by Markus Appenzeller

Link to the competition website

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