Berlin Rathaus Mitte

by jonnywhitlam

East Berlin, newer than it looks.

Photo number 2 I want to talk about from my Social Spaces exhibition is this particularly boring looking building. It is perhaps one of the most fittingly designed structures in the world. The title of this building roughly translates as the Town Hall for Berlin’s ‘Mitte’ district. ‘Mitte’ literally means middle, and it’s not just Berlin that takes the opportunity to name the centre of the city ‘middle’. In what can seem a particularly stereotypical German fashion, towns and cities all over the country do the same thing.

Inside this rather drab looking building the citizens of Berlin get up to all sorts of tedious bureaucratic things. This is the kind of place you visit to register for a dog license, or to tell the government you’ve moved house. I know, not the most interesting thing in the world.

However,  I was drawn to this building for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it sits next to the U-Bahn station Schillingstraße. There is a fantastic amount of bizarre modernist East German architecture around this area, from the cool-looking Kino International to Café Moscow, and even downstairs into the faux-DDR (East German) internals of Albert’s. Schillingstraße can be a fascinating place. Now, I had come here to admire the 60s and 70s modernist architecture a couple of times, I’d seen the ‘equal-living’ style communist-era apartment buildings, and even the grand towers at Strausberger Platz that signify the late-40s/early 50s use of what became known as the ‘Wedding Cake Style’ (or ‘plattenbau’), commonly used in Moscow. It’s a wonderfully weird feeling you get at this place, a feeling that can be hard to come by, the feeling that East Germany was a real place.

The strangest thing about Rathaus Mitte is how well it all fits in, despite the fact it was built in 1998, 8 years after reunification. It’s so easy to take a look at the monolithic, drab structure and imagine the drones of the SED (Socialist Unity Party – the ruling party in East Germany) running around this building, doing the government’s bidding.

So it can be a bit strange, why was it decided that such a style would be used? Because it does fit into what can be at times an area of such style, and such ignorance? Because the former-Easterners that lived in this part of Mitte were now used to this style for their government buildings? Did they reject the hyper-modern structures we see today such as the new German Chancellery?

It’s one of the things that I love about Berlin, that even the most mundane structures have a story to tell, can raise so many questions and bring so many surprises.

If you would like to visit the exhibition it will be on at Speakeasy Sprachzeug  language school, 116 Boxhagener Str. Berlin (Nearest U-Bahn is Frankfurter Tor.) from June 24 until August 24. If you would like to buy a print of this or any other photo please feel free to send me an email (see contact).

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