World Heritage #1239 – Berlin Modernism Housing Estates

Feb 19, 20202020s, Germany, North and Central Europe, World Heritage Sites

The end of World War I called for drastic improvements in the living conditions of ordinary and poor people. The Weimar Republic responded to this challenge by calling for innovative urban planning ideas in Berlin. 

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes more than a thousand properties of outstanding universal value. They are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.


Official facts

Country: Germany

Date of Inscription: 2008

Category: Cultural

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s (short) description of site no. 1239:

The property consists of six housing estates that testify to innovative housing policies from 1910 to 1933, especially during the Weimar Republic, when the city of Berlin was particularly progressive socially, politically and culturally. The property is an outstanding example of the building reform movement that contributed to improving housing and living conditions for people with low incomes through novel approaches to town planning, architecture and garden design.

The estates also provide exceptional examples of new urban and architectural typologies, featuring fresh design solutions, as well as technical and aesthetic innovations. Bruno Taut, Martin Wagner and Walter Gropius were among the leading architects of these projects which exercised considerable influence on the development of housing around the world.


My visit

In 2020 I visited one of UNESCO’s six housing estates, the Hufeisensiedlung (horseshoe estate) in the southern outskirts of Berlin. The other estates on UNESCO’s list include the Schillerpark housing estate, Wohnstadt Carl Legien, Weiße Stadt, Siemensstadt housing estate in addition to the pre-war Gartenstadt Falkenberg (Falkenberg garden city). The Hufeisensiedlung was the largest project and became the reference project of the modernist reform movement. 

If you compare this to many other attractions in the German capital, it comes in the “special interests” category. There were few visitors around. The horseshoe-shaped apartment building with a pond in the middle is a striking feature of the area. It was radical in its time. I took the U7 metro line to Parchimer Allee and walked down the Fritz-Reuter-Allee to the horseshoe, passing by lines of differently built homes on both sides of the street.


What is included in the heritage site?

Two housing companies and groups of architects were assigned with the task of designing and developing this area. They have left behind very different marks. One should notice that only the residential area to the west of the Fritz-Reuter-Allee has been listed by UNESCO. That includes the horseshoe building and several terraced houses surrounding it to its north, west and south. The company was the trade union-linked GEHAG (Gemeinnützige Heimstätten-, Spar- und Bau-Aktiengesellschaft). GEHAG was led by Martin Walker and the architect he engaged was Bruno Taut. 

Krugpfuhlsiedlung (Krugpfuhl housing estate) on the east side of Fritz-Reuter-Allee was developed by the other company, DeGeWo. They built traditional residential buildings (with saddle roofs, bay windows, and pointed dormers), and were not “rewarded” with a UNESCO listing. However, I did find the contrast very interesting. It gives a better perspective of the modernist ideas behind GEHAG’s development project.


Success or not?

The horseshoe estate was designed for non-affluent people, with a socialist idea at the bottom of it. This is the reason why the terraced houses called the Red Front (pictured above on the featured image) bears a double significance: Colour and ideology.

The cost of building the flats had one big disadvantage: Ordinary workers could not afford the rent. In addition, the unusual choice of strong colours in the interiors was not very pleasing to the residents. Instead they put up their own wall-papers. Read more here and here

There is a restaurant in the horseshoe, the Gaststätte Zum Hufeisen. I recommend it for its traditional cuisine.

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Browse the pictures below. Buildings outside UNESCO’s listing are marked Krugpfuhl.


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