Against Brutalism

Against Brutalism

It is no coincidence that in Kreuzberg scores of people can be mobilised against town planning concepts. Since the late seventies Kreuzberg has been one of the centres of Berlin’s Hausbesetzer Movement (squatter movement). The argument, which was fought bitterly at times, about how and where one would like to live, has a long tradition in Berlin. The conservative intellectual, Wolf Jobst Siedler, had already given a warning in 1964 about “extinguishing the underlying urban fabric”, which forms the basis of the “emotional city experience”. In his book „Die gemordete Stadt" [The Murdered City] he opposed the modernist idea of the car-friendly city and living in housing estates. Without restraint, he indulged in the nostalgic impulse to glorify the advantages of the old, middle-class city and commented ironically on the excesses of post-war modernism, using the example of West Berlin.

Siedler sarcastically called out his praise for the “functionally inefficient brutalism of the most banal kind”, which he saw in contemporary construction projects, against the “eclectic inscrutability” of Wilhelmine stucco houses. He accused modern city planners of robbing the city of the individual, the artistic and with that eventually the spirit of Europe’s urban civilisation: “Life wants to be repressed, and that too for the sake of aesthetics.”

However, in the end it wasn’t ironists like Siedler who radically championed the preservation of the old structure. In the sixties, Berlin was the scene of massive conflicts between the State and students, press and young left-wing intellectuals. After the uprising in 1968, a colourful biotope developed in Berlin where new forms of cohabitation were experimented with. Here, ideas like anti-authoritarian upbringing or working in self-governing small businesses met with the impulse to protect the substance of the old quarters. What the war had left of the old quarters was now being threatened by deterioration and demolition, speculation and city planning.