The Interbau (International Building Exhibition) of 1957 was a bold attempt to not only rebuild but also re-modernize Hansaviertel, the bulb-shaped section of Berlin-Tiergarten that had been devastated by Allied bombs during the war. Designed by a team of modernist architects including Le Corbusier, Oskar Niemeyer, and Walter Gropius, the project presented its angular, geometric, and frequently colorful designs as a Western counterpoint to the grandiose neoclassical rebuild of Karl-Marx-Allee in the Soviet Quarter.
Interbau Apartment House (Oscar Niemeyer)
The monumental apartment block at Altonaer Straße 6, designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, lies at the approximate center of the sprawl of buildings that makes up the Interbau housing estate, roughly halfway between Hansaplatz station and the Großer Stern. While the majority of the building’s bulk is made of tidy right angles, its most striking features are acute: the massive chevron-shaped “feet” (which echo those of midcentury coffee tables), and the triangular tower on its southern side. The latter is attached to the main building by two above-ground passageways that place it squarely in the realm of the “city of tomorrow”—after all, “die Stadt von Morgen” was the name of the special exhibition that accompanied the Interbau.
Although the Interbau is generally known for the massive housing blocks it produced, the project also saw the construction of two remarkable modernist churches: St. Ansgar and Kaiser-Friedrich-Gedachtniskirche.
St.-Ansgar-Kirche (Willy Kreuer)
The Catholic church of St. Ansgar, which stands directly across the street from U-Bahnhof Hansaplatz, manages to combine several divergent architectural movements into a coherent whole. From its Jugendstil-flavored glass-and-concrete facade to its brutalist slab-concrete northern side and tower to the simple, almost Lutheran interior, the building is surprisingly multifaceted. Most impressive are its metal doors, which feature pounded brass panels, sculpted handles, and primitive-looking mosaics.
Stairway to Heaven: the deconstructed belfry of St. Ansgar. The three bells weigh in at 300, 440, and 780kg respectively.
Kaiser-Friedrich Gedächtniskirche (Ludwig Lemmer, 1957)
Slightly to the south, the Protestant Kaiser-Friedrich Gedächtniskirche sits at the edge of the huge urban forest that spans the Tiergarten. It sits on the site of a 19th-century church of the same name that was destroyed during the war, and features an open-air belfry similar to that of St. Ansgar, though it forgoes the utilitarian ladders for a looping circular staircase. Particularly in summer, both the ivy that climbs its walls and the nearby forest offer lovely organic counterpoints to the building’s angular geometry.
Photo by Jörg Zägel, used under GNU Free Documentation License
Sources and further reading:
A complete list of buildings in the Interbau and their corresponding architects
Interbau: The Modernization of Germany at dw.com
An in-depth look at the 1957 Interbau, featuring an incredible photo gallery from the past 70 years
A featurette on St. Ansgar at Secret City Travel