Signs of the East
November 9th 1989, the Berlin Wall ‘falls’ and from this night on the Cold War is essentially over. Whilst this was a time of great celebration, the reunification of Germany has not necessarily been an easy process. For 40 years two sides of Berlin were not just in different countries, they operated under completely different political and social systems.
Eastern-European communism was undoubtedly a failure, and for all its faults the West clearly won. Politically this seems to make sense, especially in the case of Germany, where the division of these nations seemed somehow unnatural. This meant that West Germany and East Germany were not defined by their language, culture or history as the majority of modern nations are today, but by the politics of the Cold War.
Following reunification in 1990 Berlin once again became the capital city of a unified Germany. This has of course meant massive political, social and financial upheaval. This also means that East Germany, the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), has ceased to exist. However its monuments, buildings and architecture will remain as evidence that it was not just the politics that separated these two places, but daily life, customs and values as well.
Wondering around former East Berlin it is easy to see and to imagine how the adversarial politics that defined the 1960s were reflected in the architecture. For the communists this meant the buildings had to be large and imposing, they were the creation of the government, of the party. This of course meant that it was the party that was in control. But more than this: this was communism, everyone was equal and as such entitled to equal living space. These principles were met by one of the most affordable styles of architecture at the time, which was of course prefabricated buildings. The use of prefabrication made the ‘equal living’ ideology easy to implement, it also made construction fast and cheap. Two things that were incredibly important in a city destroyed by the allied bombs, and especially important on the eastern side of the wall where money and resources became ever more scarce.
So love it or loathe it, the nature of the political scene in the 1960s produced some interesting architecture, creating vast areas of Berlin that are not designed as the centre of a capitalist city, there are not shops and bars on every corner, not every road has room for each family’s two cars, walking through former-East Berlin can still in many circumstances feel like walking through another country.
For more scenes of the East German past in the modern German present check out my Flickr set – East Germany.