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.
THE GENESIS OF Berlin as we know it today happened just over a century ago, when, on October 1, 1920, the modern city of Greater Berlin (“Groß-Berlin”) was formed from eight adjacent cities and dozens of outlying districts. The formation of this new super-city doubled Berlin’s population from 1.9 million to what was, at the time, a staggering 3.9 million people, making it the world’s fifth-largest city after Tokyo.
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.
RÜGEN, GERMANY’S LARGEST island, lies where the eastern Ostsee opens up into the Baltic. Closer to both Sweden and Denmark than to Hamburg, the island has remained remarkably untouched over centuries of changing rule…
THAT SPECIAL TIME of year… when the pastels of the DDR Plattenbauten match the budding flowers.
Marzahn, in the far northeast of Berlin, isn’t exactly a standard Berlin hotspot. You could spend a lifetime in Berlin without ever setting foot in this former GDR suburb, and while it’s easy enough to reach by train or tram, it’s not exactly on the way to any notable destinations, and lies past other eastern attractions like the Tierpark and the Muggelsee. But as Marzahn resident Bertie Alexander writes, “There’s a secret pleasure in not being caught up in the incessant hype and stereotypical lifestyles of Berlin,” which is a sentiment that rings true for many of us who live in the city’s less-hyped outlying districts. (You can read his excellent piece in its entirety here.)
Aesthetically, Marzahn is something of a time-capsule of the former east, particularly in its housing: as examples of Berlin Plattenbauen go, Marzahn is the ne plus ultra in both quantity and quality. Plattenbauen (“panel buildings”, roughly)—the endlessly-reproducible housing towers that could be stacked indefinitely like brutalist Legos—were one of the trademarks of the former East Germany, along with many other communist countries. These towers of white or gray concrete, accented with whimsically-colored balconies, were megalithic kitsch, sky-high projections of dark whimsicality built to offset crises of overpopulation (particularly, in the case of Marzahn, stemming from immigration from Eastern Bloc countries from the 1960s onward).