The Großer Heineberg is a 56-meter hill in Potsdam-Bornim (peak at 52.435010, 12.988588, map below). After WWII it was used as a dump for building materials, and while the vegetation has generally made a comeback the soil is still filled with pieces of brick, tile, and glass, with larger piles of rubble appearing frequently.
THOUGH THERE ARE dozens of locations in greater Potsdam with “Berg” (literally “mountain”, though often applied to much more modest hills) in their names, the region is overwhelmingly rural, flat, and agrarian. Nonetheless, even among the sprawling corn and alfalfa fields and winding highways of Potsdam Nord, occasional clusters of hills reach high enough altitudes to be notable.
Urlaubs(t)räume des Sozialismus, new from Wasmuth & Zohlen, explores the unique architectural history of East Germany’s vacation centers. The book starts by framing the concept of “vacation” in the DDR as being something fundamentally different from what it was in the West: in the latter, vacations were seen as an escape, a chance to “get away” from everyday routines and problems; in the former, they were an integral part of life, built into the yearly rhythm alongside work, school, and sick leave. The idea that regular vacation time was a right of every family was declared with the founding of the DDR in 1949, and throughout its four-decade history, the government created a vast infrastructure designed to bring industrial efficiency and simplicity to the process of planning one’s holidays.
IMMEDIATELY UPON ITS completion in 1970, Berlin’s Haus der Statistik (which stood north of Alexanderplatz in the shadow of the just-built Fernsehturm) took its place as one of the central organs of the GDR state apparatus. With the collection of data and statistics for all of East Germany as its goal, the eleven-story complex housed numerous bureaucratic units, including several floors of Stasi offices. Its street-level businesses were the ultimate in urbane GDR style, hosting two lounges (Jagdklause and the fabulously named Mocca-Eck), a hunting/fishing shop, and Natascha, a boutique offering the latest Soviet imports.
DURING ITS FOUR-plus decades of existence, the GDR was a unique geopolitical paradox. Its place at the heart of the Cold War conflict belied the simple, day-to-day lives of the vast majority of its citizens. This paradox manifests itself visibly in the architecture of the former GDR, where often-cosmic abstract and geometric tendencies exist alongside the drab and mundane.