“Berlin, you can be so ugly. So dirty and gray…” Peter Fox sings in his Berlin anthem “Schwarzzublau”. The socialist housing block (Plattenbau) at Memhardstraße, near Alexanderplatz, which inspired us to this Note Block (12 x 8 x 6 cm) is also called the “ugliest building of Berlin”. Nevertheless it is enjoying increasing popularity. Let’s say it is just not conform to the common ideals of beauty. There is even a website for “Memi” (german) and an interesting blog post (english).
Like the socialist housing block – Berlin is not pretty in a traditional way, not a classic beauty. Even our former mayor Klaus Wowereit (known for the Berlin slogan “poor but sexy”) once said: “God, this is ugly.” when he saw some new buildings at Alexanderplatz.
Plattenbauten – the architectural witnesses of the German Democratic Republic – have undergone several image changes. In their early days they were extremely popular. Hot water and central heating promised comfort and so the apartment blocks became popular through all social classes.
This changed after the German reunification. Vacancy, alcohol, violence and unemployment dominated the image of the socialist prefab buildings. The overweight long-term unemployed “Cindy from Marzahn” – a fictional character, performing in pink jogging suit is perhaps one of the most positive images that are associated with the socialist residential blocks. Plattenbauten are considered ugly, colorless and uniform .
But – this is slightly changing. Population growth and lack of affordable housing accelerate the image change. 2015 the British star architect David Chipperfiled says in an interview (german) “prefabricated buildings are ugly, but from a social perspective, they are also interesting.” Because prefabricated buildings can not be gentrifcated well – their buiding substance does not work for luxury apartments – even if they are located in the city centre like the block at Memhardstrasse. And so these grey, uniform, socialist residential blocks become keepers of a heterogeneous mix in inner cities. Who would have thought it would end up like this?