50 Years Halle-Neustadt The Socialist Model City

Halle-Neustadt
Halle-Neustadt | Photo (detail): © Julius Lukas

Half a century ago the foundation stone was laid for one of the largest construction projects in post-war Germany. The Halle-Neustadt settlement was designed and built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as a socialist model city for its chemical plant workers.

When East Germany crumbled almost a third of its population was living in prefab panel block buildings. The socialist state government gave preference to this concrete slab architecture because it was economical and also due to ideological orientation. Panel block buildings or Plattenbauten were consequently erected in practically every East German town. The development to the west of Halle/Saale (Saxony-Anhalt) that commenced in 1964 under project manager Richard Paulick was, however, rather special. Here the Neustadt development was no mere settlement, it was an entire city. Its tower blocks and residential buildings were designed to house the workers from the near-by chemical plants.

District heating and a bathroom of one’s own

Neustadt also came with a social vision. The goal was the construction of an ideal city, one that was modern and functional and designed to accommodate the needs of its inhabitants, also one that educated the people ideologically. For sociology professor, Peer Pasternack, Neustadt was “an exemplary model of a societal project”. A major city built according to the principles of socialism should also promote the development of a socialist society. Neustadt was designed as an alternative to the cities of the capitalist world where there were rich and poor neighbourhoods. This did not apply to Neustadt where everyone was to live under the same, equally good conditions.
 
  • Halle-Neust. 1982, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1982-0430-008/CC-BY-SA Foto: Thomas Lehmann
  • Halle-Neustadt Foto: Julius Lukas
    Halle-Neustadt
  • Halle-Neustadt Foto: Julius Lukas
    Halle-Neustadt
  • Halle-Neustadt Foto: Julius Lukas
    Halle-Neustadt
  • Halle-Neustadt Foto: Julius Lukas
    Halle-Neustadt
  • Halle-Neustadt Foto: Julius Lukas
    Halle-Neustadt

In the building specifications, for instance, it was laid down that there was to be only one north-facing room in each apartment. The buildings were aligned to capture the sun and there were practically no roads in the residential areas. A key principle was to keep distances short. A rapid transit railway took the workers to the Buna and Leuna chemical works in eleven minutes. An average of three minutes was needed to reach the kindergarten. The people could spend their leisure time in the recreation parks and green spaces that covered 42 per cent of the city.
In contrast to the old neighbourhoods, where most buildings had not been modernised and apartments had old-fashioned heating stoves and no private toilets, the chemical workers’ settlement boasted district heating facilities and each apartment had its own private bathroom.

Discrimination of the housing developments

Apartments in Neustadt were extremely popular due to the enhanced comfort they offered. The residents living there felt privileged. After the laying of the foundation stone in 1964 new developments were constantly being built all over the city. Neustadt was growing fast, and in the nineteen eighties it counted a population of close to 100,000 people. The peaceful revolution of 1989 not only brought the downfall of the GDR, but also the collapse of the socialist model city project. Political decisions put an end to any further expansion.

Although panel block buildings were very popular in the socialist state they were much scorned on after reunification. Peer Pasternack refers to “a wave of discrimination against East German housing developments.” These buildings were seen as a symbol of the GDR and were consequently rejected. In October 2000, an article on panel block buildings in the news magazine “Der Spiegel“ commented: “Dynamite is the only option.“

Demographic statistics also indicated that people were moving away. “Halle-Neustadt quickly turned from being a prototype of the controlled expanding socialist city in the GDR into a prototype of the uncontrolled shrinking city in East Germany”, Peer Pasternack comments. Young people were the first to go. They were followed by the well-educated, high-income middle class who wanted to return to the cities where old building refurbishment had started in 1990. Those staying on in Neustadt were mostly the people who had originally moved in and considered themselves privileged. Others came because they could only afford the inexpensive Neustadt apartments.

Image work

Once counting 100,000 residents, the city has barely 45,000 living there today. It took a long time before concepts were drawn up for the chemical workers’ settlement. Intense investigations are now in progress with the aim to develop visions for the future of this urban area. These range from an agricultural use up to the development of an artists’ quarter. For the urban planners the most important aspect is the image of Neustadt. They want to do away with the negative view of the nineties and highlight the wider benefits. This is because the positive features that made the settlement so special still apply today: it is green, boasts a good infrastructure and offers low-cost housing. These characteristics may keep Halle-Neustadt going for the next 50 years.