Berlin in the XX century: architecture and city planning

The art of living in Berlin

Berlin is a city in constant change, and has undergone no less than four urban replannings in the last century, the result of ambitious construction programs sponsored by different national governments.

At the end of the nineteenth century, large housing blocks with stone facades were built to meet the massive growth of the Berlin population, which increased from 200,000 to 3,800,000 between 1820 and 1920.

In the 1920s, architecture in Berlin was influenced by the social-democratic ideals of the Weimar Republic, which promoted a new approach to residential housing with a focus on the quality of life of the inhabitants. In these years several housing estates and garden cities were built around the city centre, transforming Berlin into a true metropolis.

The advent of Nazism interrupted the progressive avant-garde urbanism and gave way to the development of a monumental style at the service of the regime: the Olympia Stadium and Tempelhof Airport are exemplary models of architectural propaganda of the Nazi period. In the Second World War Berlin was object of devastating aerial bombing, which left great swathes of the city a heap of ruins. During the Cold War urban design and architecture became one of the main fronts in the political struggle and epitomized the ideological gap between east and west.

West Berlin’s response to Alexanderplatz, the showcase of socialist monumental architecture, is embodied in the individual, overtly modernist buildings of Aalto, Gropius, Le Corbusier and other internationally prominent architects. In their projects, the concepts of space, structure and shape as well as the creation of extended green areas express the Western principles of individuality, freedom and democracy.

After the reunification, the barren expanses along the Wall axis turned into incredibly attractive, immediately available locations for architects from all over the world. Potsdamer Platz (Renzo Piano, Helmut Jahn, Richard Rogers), the Berlin Central Station, the Holocaust Memorial (Peter Eisenmann), the glass dome of the Reichstag (Norman Foster), the Treptowers and other building sites are places where the reborn city can most effectively express itself and its desire for change.

Suggested duration: 4, 6 or 8 hours.

The Museums

Reviving the past

Berlin’s past is brought to life in its museums and galleries. The city collections display their treasures and lead the visitor through a cultural journey from the dawn of civilization to contemporary art. Most museums – such as the Pergamon Museum, with the eponymous Hellenistic altar, the Egyptian Museum, known worldwide for the bust of Nefertiti, or the National Gallery, which presents art of the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries – are part of the cultural heritage of the Prussian Empire. Other buildings, such as the Jewish Museum, are simultaneously remarkable examples of contemporary architecture and important exhibition centres. If you are more interested in modern German history, you might visit the Checkpoint Charlie Museum or the the Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Centre in the Bernauer Strasse.