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.
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).