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.

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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Song for Coal

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This year sees the 30th anniversary of the miners strike, an event that is still etched in the minds and consciousness of many, and which did so much to change the political and social landscape of Britain – whatever side of the political fence you happened to be on, things would not be the same.

To mark this event Nick Crowe and Ian Robertson have produced an amazing audio visual piece that is currently showing in the chapel at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  You enter through what at first appears to be total pitch black, you can hear haunting singing and monk like chanting while projected up on the wall is what appears to be a stunning visual representation of a stain glass window.  As your eyes slowly adjust you can find a bench and sit down and let yourself be immersed in sound and visual.

The ‘window’ is an astonishing thing, firstly that it looks so right projected as it is inside a church but it takes a while to get used to as it is moving and flickering as you watch it.  The colours are incredibly vivid and your eyes try to work out what is happening.  The window is comprised of 152 panels and each panel contains a film that looks at the history of coal, from it’s origins before mankind through to it powering the industrial revolution and beyond.  As the films play in the panels it creates a hypnotic kaleidoscopic effect that is enhanced by the music and singing (sung by Opera North) that accompanies the visuals.  You see flickers of plants, cars, flame, sculptures, Davy lamps, miners faces morphing constantly across the window to a mesmerising effect.

As I sat in the darkness, eyes transfixed by the visual and sound surrounding me you could hear occasional words like ‘it made us strong’ but it brought memories to me of the coalman delivering sacks to the house, of lighting the fire that heated the house, through to the strike and it’s devastating consequences and then made me think of our need to move beyond fossil fuels so that what once powered our world remains buried below the surface.

 

 

December Photo Fun – Week 5 – 2014 – Light

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We finished off this years #Decemberphotofun with the theme of Light picked by the kids.  What I didn’t realise when they picked it is that we’d actually done light before, when we did random Weekend Photo Fun back in October 2013.  However by the time I realised this photos were already starting to come in so I thought let’s just go with it and I’m so glad I did as this week has seen some truly beautiful and clever interpretations of the theme.  Those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment don’t see as much of the light as we would perhaps like but when we do see it it casts such a brilliant glare due to the lowness and sharpness of the sun at this time of year.  I’ve been lucky to have been out riding a bit over the Christmas holidays and to ride up on the snowy moorland tops with sun bouncing off the brilliant white countryside has been a source of real pleasure.  Whilst I look forward to the warmth of spring and summer there is something amazing about the light at this time of year.

We have two real sources of light, the sun and that which we have managed to create ourselves, electric lights, flames, matches etc all of which are brilliantly captured as well as the light from distant stars which of course when it set out on it’s distant journey to our eyeballs there were no humans on the planet when it began, something I find quite sobering in it’s enormity.  It was a hard task this week to pick the picture to go at the top as there are so many that we liked, the young boy creating horns in the sunlight, the rugby pitch, gig, striking a match, light refracting through ice and lots of great landscapes.  In the end we thought the pic of Dent station was gorgeous, natural winter dusk light and the illumination from the station lights creating a pool of wintery warmth.

As always thanks to all of you who play along with the themes that the kids pick and make it so much fun, we had a lot of photos this week so I hope I’ve not missed any out.  Click on the gallery below and you can then scroll through the photos in all their loveliness.  We’ll carry on with our photo themes during 2015 in the school holidays, half terms etc and will also through in the odd random weekend one.  If you want to play along with us keep an eye out for the hashtag on twitter or give me a follow @ianstreet67.  Do let us know which pictures you liked, hope you enjoyed playing along with us and hope you all have a great 2015.  Thanks.

Year of the Snail – 2014

 

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I’m now two years into my Project Snail idea, which in a nutshell, was to have more fun on my bikes and to do this by trying to improve my fitness, skill and confidence – all of which when I looked at myself I realised were areas where I was lacking quite a bit.  At this point last year I looked back over my first year and realised I had moved on quite a bit through a combination of riding more, riding with different people in different places and having some coaching from the marvellous Ed Oxley.

This year has very much carried on in the same vein and whilst I still have pretty major confidence issues I do feel like I’m improving slowly and I have definitely had a huge amount of fun over the year which is the whole point for me of riding my bikes.  As well as simply trying to ride as many days as I can, which hugely helps on the fitness front – little and often, I actually bought myself a proper full suspension bike which has brought me endless smiles, I simply love it.  It was great to have another session with Ed shortly after I bought it when the picture at the top was taken.  That section was a classic for me, I looked at it and bottled it numerous times but with Ed’s gentle encouragement I finally made it and I actually look like a proper rider I think on that photo.  Later on in the day we rode the section at the end of a run with Ed following me down, as we approached he veered off on another route whooping through the woods and when we got to the bottom he just said I knew you were going to be fine and would ride it so left you to it.  It was one of many small steps I took during the year each one of which, while nothing for many people, filled me with a huge sense of achievement.

I also rode in a couple of events, the Morvelo City Cross in Leeds which was huge fun and attempted to ride up a steep hill which was quite frankly silly and fun at the same time.  Although it did not involve riding I did put on an event which combined books and cycling with a couple of authors coming to talk about their adventures.  Having never done anything like this before I was worried it would be a shambles but it actually turned out to be a cracking night in front of a packed house.  I’ve got some ideas for some similar events this year as well.  Talking of events I guess the main one was witnessing the Tour de France take place in Yorkshire a weekend that will live long in the memory.  Seeing all the events that took place around the tour as part of the Yorkshire Festival and seeing different people on bikes in and around Leeds on a daily basis I’ve set up Leeds Rides which aims to show the human side of cycling in the city.  I’m hoping to try and get a thousand people on it in 2015 and then have a bit of an exhibition and a party.

Perhaps the most exhilarating step I took this year was to venture into night riding, something that genuinely terrified me but which is something that I have hugely enjoyed doing and which created some amazing memories and pictures. It also enabled me to ride much more over the winter which I’m hoping will pay dividends as the weather and the light improves and will have helped me considerably on the Project Snail plan.

Without doubt though the most important thing for me in my riding has been the people who I’ve ridden with who have helped, coached and cajoled me along.  Thanks to all of you it’s been genuinely humbling and loads of fun.  There are too many to mention in person but the Garage Bikes community in particular are a special group of people and riders who are great to be around and who make my world a better place.  I’m not a competitive person on a bike, for me it’s all about the social side of things, riding, having a chat and finishing with a beer (or occasionally having a cheeky swig from a hip flask on the ride) and this side of things has been the real highlight of the year for me.  The day before yesterday was a classic case in point, 3 of us on an amazing ride around Hebden Bridge, me out of my comfort zone but being encouraged by better riders, all of us enjoying one of the best rides of the year chewing the fat as we rode and finishing with a cracking pint.  If I have more rides like that in 2015 I’ll be very happy indeed.

Rob finished the the ride and tweeted the following.  I still think Project Snail is ongoing but who knows maybe I need a new nickname.  Any ideas ?