The Known Unknown: Berlin’s Hansaviertel

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been to a place countless times but you had no idea how special a place it is? There is quite a fascination to the discovery of already known places. In this case it is the Hansaviertel in Berlin, an area that I had always thought of as being situated somewhere else and that holds famous architecture of some of the most renowned architects of the Bauhaus, Neues Bauen and Modernism, such as Walter Gropius, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto, and Max Taut.

Only last year did I begin to explore the architecture of Berlin, which is an exciting place in this regard. Berlin is not exactly a beautiful city in a conventional sense, but its history has led to the most unusual, if not unique, developments. The grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century was followed by a war that left Berlin in rubble. The Cold War that ensued and led to the separation of the town and its people by the Berlin Wall turned Berlin into a battlefield of the architecture of two opposing systems – without actually having any money for it. Reunification, the moving of the government from Bonn to Berlin and the latest boom have added to a seemingly endless frenzy of a city that never ceases to change, a city that is never finished. You leave Berlin for a week to go on a holiday and when you come back, you won’t recognise it.

The Hansaviertel in the heart of West Berlin saw its splendour of exuberant Gründerzeit style houses almost completely destroyed in 1943. Ten years later Berlin decided to build a model future city on its grounds and invited the biggest international star architects to develop a new settlement – in rivalry to the truly gigantic and monumental Stalinallee (later Karl-Marx-Allee), that was being built in East Berlin. Both East and West wanted to show to the world that it is they who provided the best living conditions to their respective citizens. While the Stalinallee provided representative flats in which you can easily get lost, the Hansaviertel was equipped with small flats in primarily functional buildings of small, medium and high-rise format, loosely scattered, each surrounded by specifically designed green space. Two Brutalist churches, an underground station, a shopping area, a cinema (now a theatre), and a library as well as some cafés and restaurants (schools were nearby) completed a mostly independent living unit.

As I leave Bellevue S-Bahn station I’m greeted by two of the five highrisers (“Punkthäuser”) from 1957, when the new settlement was presented as the site of the Interbau exhibition. Are they pretty? No. All of the houses had to be built with as little money as possible and it shows, just like their age. Right behind them is the familiar Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts), where I saw Macbeth, Brave New World and The Grapes of Wrath in the English language as a teenager. It presents itself in a modernist individual, yet modest style with a naked Henry Moore bronze sunbathing. Smaller houses that remind me of the holiday camps of my childhood pop up here and there. They look as if living here is attractive. All the houses have their balconies directed towards the south and the green space makes the whole place look very comfortable. It’s mostly clean and graffiti is rare. Yes, I understand why the people who moved in in the 1950’s and 60’s have never moved out. Beauty in an aesthetic sense is not a criterion to apply here, but a highly individual character of each single building can’t be denied. It is this specific character that you get when every single building has a different designer.

The most famous of them all is the Oscar Niemeyer Haus, Niemeyer’s only building in all of Germany. It is a crazy one: it stands on filigree feet, which makes you wonder how they can possibly carry such a large building. The lift, that stops only at two floors, is kept in an extra tower outside the house. London residents may know the Balfron Tower (1967) that has a similar concept (but looks less pretty…).

The lofty, green Hansaviertel, that is situated right between the two city centres, feels like a world of its own. But then again every Berlin Kiez does, each an intriguing little universe in itself. I can’t wait to explore the next one.

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Thanks to Ian and Jason for their support.

Half Term Photo Fun – 2015 – Arch

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The kids picked Arch as the theme for #Halftermphotofun and in my mind I thought, ah it’ll just be all bridges and churches and while we certainly got some of those we had lots of other great interpretations proving yet again that my kids know better than I do.  The humble arch is, once you start looking, everywhere around us both in nature and the built environment as it it is the building block to so much of the world around us from an architectural point of view.  Writing that sentence I’ve just noticed that architecture begins with arch !  I did know that there were different styles of arch but didn’t realise that there were quite so many designs, I think I came across about 15 styles doing a little bit of research – the Ogee arch anyone ?  I’m not sure how many styles we’ve managed to have represented here but quite a few I reckon.

What I particularly liked when you see all of the arches together here is how inquisitive it made me feel, what’s through there ? adventure ? mystery ? are they portals to another world ? and then there were the different interpretations, arch enemies/ rivals of the rugby team forming an arch in the scrum, the arch of the foot or the eye, the fun the little boy is having making an arch and I think it was this photo that made me put the family photo at the top, if you can’t find an arch you can just make your own.

As always thanks so much to all of you who took part contributing and interpreting throughout the week, it’s been great fun as always.  I hope I haven’t missed any out but if I have then do get in touch and I’ll amend the gallery.  We’ll be back for Easter, unless we throw a random weekendphotofun in so if you are reading this and want to take part then you are more than welcome, just follow me on twitter @ianstreet67 or keep an eye on the twitter hashtags #halftermphotofun, #easterphotofun, #summerphotofun etc you get the drift.  Thanks everyone.

The art gallery as art

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There has been a trend when it comes to the architecture of art galleries that the gallery becomes a piece of art in it’s own right and perhaps is sometimes of more interest than the art inside it.  I can remember having this discussion when I was in Rome with a few friends and we went to the MAXXI designed by Zaha Hadid which carries on a trend perhaps started by the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  Closer to home the Hepworth is a visually impressive piece of architecture as it appears to float on the river.

In Leeds the Henry Moore Institute is striking in a different way, although I go there regularly it’s architecture is not accessible, it does not draw you in in a welcoming fashion as it’s smooth black facade appears more like the outside of Darth Vadar’s house than somewhere you’d want to enter.

I was somewhat taken aback therefore as I walked past it today to see hoards of kids playing around the front of the gallery picking hunks of clay off a big mound and basically doing what they wanted with it including covering the outside of the gallery as well as building sculptures, putting their names etc all around the entrance, steps and hand rails.  It was a real what the ….. moment and just made me smile.  I couldn’t do it justice in the photo but some have managed to throw blobs of clay right up to the top of the building.  It’s totally anarchic, surreal and playful.  Who knows the kids doing this might look at this building in a very different way now and might over the years start to venture inside, their journey into discovering sculpture ignited by splattering blobs of clay against the front of the gallery.

Viv Albertine – Clothes, Music, Boys

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With the return of Sleater Kinney and renewed interest in the Riot Grrrl movement it seems rather prescient that two of the major influences on the movement, Viv Albertine of the Slits and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth both have books out.  I’ve not got round to Kim’s yet but having just finished Viv’s I feel like I’ve just emerged from a mosh pit, a big smile on my face at the sheer unabashed joyfulness of it all but also bruised, sweaty, scared and somewhat unsettled.

This is no vacuous ghost written PR pamphlet it’s Viv’s voice telling her own story from the birth of punk through to today and it’s a story that is raw, uncompromising, funny, courageous, visceral, shocking, unflinching, uplifting and inspirational.  A bit like the music she played and the bands that reference her, The Slits and others of that ilk, the individual notes may jar at times and appear discordant but the overall sound and message is impossible to ignore.

Viv splits the book into two ‘sides'; Side 1 effectively charting her upbringing, discovery of music, youth, the punk movement, sex, fashion becoming part of The Slits and through to their break up.  Side 2 takes you through more sex and fashion, marriage, illness, depression, blood, family, motherhood, career, middle age, and creative rebirth.  It is not a comfortable ride, the stories and anecdotes assault you in rapid fire fashion sharply written with no punches pulled mirroring the songs of the movement that she was part of.  The characters, music, clothes, boys swirl around in a dizzying kaleidoscope as Viv grows up in the white heat of the punk movement before settling into the seeming middle class rural idle of a designer house by the sea, but as the saying goes be careful what you wish for.

Viv’s writing is whip smart throughout and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that is so unflinchingly honest, she does not hide from her own mistakes but throughout you get a sense of a woman constantly grappling with who she is and what her place is.  She is also laugh out loud funny and comes across as a warm person who you’d want to spend some time with.

A thought that remains with me after reading this book – what is punk ? and is it still relevant ? for me it’s not about what you wear, look or sound like, it’s about independence of thought the willingness to make your own mind up, go your own way and cut against the prevailing wind. Viv Albertine is the embodiment of this and this book is as punk a book as you could ever hope to read.  However what do I know about what punk is ?  Perhaps this extract from the book where Viv goes to see the Pistols and watches John Lydon gives the best interpretation of punk and it’s continuing relevance:

 All the things I’m so embarrassed about, John’s made into virtues.  He’s unapologetic about who his is and where he comes from.  Proud of it even.  He’s not taking the world’s lack of interest as confirmation that he’s wrong and worthless.  I look up at him twisting and yowling and realise it’s everyone else who’s wrong, not him.  How did he make that mental leap from musically untrained state school educated, council estate boy, to standing on stage in front of a band?  I think he’s brave.  A revolutionary.  He’s sending a very powerful message, the most powerful message anyone can ever transmit. Be yourself.

For me Viv’s fight to be herself IS the story and in telling it she asks the most pertinent question of all – What does it mean to be an independent, creative, intelligent woman and what has changed in society from 1976 through to today ?

 

Generative Art

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As I often do on a Saturday morning I popped into @coloursmayvary to check out the latest publications and give my eyes a visual treat with the lovely prints to buy.  As well as being a gorgeous shop they often have stuff going on, the other week they had old school printing machines in there and they’d been running letterpress workshops, today there was this huge mural that you could get busy on.  It’s been created as part of the run up to the British Art Show which is coming to Leeds in October and will apparently feature the largest collection of contemporary art in the UK.  Prior to this there will be all sorts of activities in the run up to the launch.

The illustration / mural above is part of the lead in, it’s been created by three artists with a Leeds connection – Lucas Jubb, Jay Cover and Kristyna Baczynski - each one of whom has created elements that have then been generated by code to produce this huge mural.  Apparently this is a new process called Generative Art/Design.  We the public can then get involved and colour in the mural and when it’s complete it will tour round Leeds in the run up to the British Art Show.

Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of colouring in ?  I found it quite hypnotic to sit there grab a pen and fill bits of the mural in, as you are colouring, little bits of the city appear – The Corn Exchange, Town Hall, Broadcasting House all connected in a random fashion (presumably due to the programming code) with swirls and a myriad of different shapes.  As I was trying to stay between the lines (not always successfully) it made me ponder a bit about Leeds and it’s future and perhaps this mural represents the ideal vision where technology, collaboration and interaction form the basis for the city and it’s people to thrive?

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The Smiles are the Same

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Today was an amazing experience riding with some great people, the weather was incredible for a winters day, bright blue sky’s with a low retina burning sun but it was still very cold and as we climbed onto the moor tops there was solid ice, snow and freezing fog that rolled in.  It was one of those classic British Mountain Biking days, and we had more wardrobe changes than a fashion show as layers came on and off as the temperature and conditions fluctuated wildly.

The were some highly technical (for) me sections on the ride that I took immense pleasure from just about riding although my fragile confidence did take a knock in places.  However what I thought about as we were riding round is how unique mountain biking is as an activity in terms of the enjoyment you can get riding with people of different ability.  The people that I was riding with today are miles better riders than me but we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in a way that I don’t think is possible in any other sport.  If I was playing tennis for example against someone really good then it would be a very dull experience however on a mountain bike that all changes.  You can ride along together chatting, laughing and chewing the fat and then if you get to a more technical or quick section the better riders can take it at the pace they want picking all sorts of lines and I’ll attempt to snail my way down.  We meet at the bottom all having enjoyed it equally in our own way and then ride on together to the next bit.

As always we finish at a pub for a pint chatting over the ride and the fun we’ve had, no matter the difference in our abilities the smiles are the same.

Sketching

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The ubiquitousness of phones in pockets means that the places where we are get documented in a way that’s never happened before, quick snap, up on instagram move on.  The instantaneous nature of this raises question on what are you actually seeing and documenting, although for those of us with no artistic ability whatsoever perhaps we are aiming to capture the drawing of that moment in our minds eye.  I was down in London earlier this week and caught up with my good mate @phildean1963 and of course we headed to the pub for a few beers and a bite to eat.

Phil has started a new project this year where he is trying to sketch pubs and restaurants that he goes in so as we sipped our pints and chatted Phil got to work and without hardly making any effort, glided and swept his pen across the notebook and in 10 mins had sketched the pub we were in (The Peasant – above).  I was quite mesmerised watching him do this and seeing the sketch take shape, where he started on the page, which bit of the pub he drew first and how it all came together.  It captured things in a way that is so far removed from the phone shot and looking at it again now it brings back memories in a way that my photograph of the pub simply doesn’t.  Now I don’t suffer from jealousy but I tell you I hugely admire people with talent and I’d love to be able to do this.  My dad loved to sketch and paint watercolour and one of my kids is taking a real interest in art and will often doodle and draw when we are out and about.  Appears it missed a generation with me though which is a real shame.

I’ve seen a few of Phil’s drawings before and what he really likes is to put a bit of detail in which he didn’t really have time to do when we were out.  Yesterday though he was at it again.  Talented guy and an all round good egg to boot.

 

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