New Class: “The Problem of Berlin”

After earlier classes exploring ideas of the political and architectural practice (cf. The City and the Political I and II), the purpose of this spin-off is to move from the abstract to the concrete. No longer ‘any’ city, but Berlin – what it’s made of, how it feels, and where it’s going… This class is proposed and facilitated by Alan. In Alan we trust.
Subscribe to this “The Public School Berlin” Class and stay updated right here. Don’t miss the first meeting on Monday, October 22 – 20:00 at “Archive Books”. Details here.

Perspective Deficit
The scale and complexity of the subject make it difficult to understand. To grasp something about the city as a whole requires us to shift our gaze, to see it neither from the fashionable kiez nor some imagined ‘outside’ in the grosssiedlungen on the outskirts. Our point of view must be able to wander, to traverse the sites and social forces that shape it, and weigh their various influences. The aim is not to master the fields listed below in their detail, but to observe their interplay holistically. Otherwise one could study city planning on its own forever but learn little without examining the influence of economic and demographic factors, as well as that of social opposition, as the context behind the eventual outcome.

A materialist taxonomy; what do people do here; what is the composition of the economy; where is poverty concentrated and how is it defined. Who are its employers, landlords, rulers, opponents?

Failed plans from Berlin’s past and current imagining of its future: the difference between renewal and gentrification; how is its future economy conceived; why are there so many empty offices?

What do the bankers think and the official statisticians?

Over four sessions the aim of the class is is to provide an empirical familiarity with the morphology of contemporary Berlin, and to understand its political geometry through an awareness of this past. Hopefully by the end we will have a feeling for the material, gain a sense of what conceptual tools can work on it, and have debunked a few myths.

The themes of the four sessions are as follows:

(i) The city as planning object. Here the growth of the city will be sketched from Hobrecht in the 19th century to the Planwerk Innenstadt. Ideological assumptions foregrounding this process have changed, most notably in the passage from functionalism to a desire to retain city fabric or construct urbanity. How the situation stands currently is an open question.

(ii) Economic organs of the city. This section will identify the major employers and activities in Berlin today, from the public sector to tourism, science parks and supposed creative industries.

(iii) Composition of its habitants. Boosterism tells us Berlin is thriving, but is it growing? Demographics is key to understanding real estate markets, but also the identity of its workers, however defined, and its poor. Rich and poor alike must be housed so analysis of the forms of ownership of dwellings, and their financing, will be of importance here.

(iv) History from below. Housing and governance of space has emerged regularly as a key site of social conflict in modern Berlin. Since the seventies movements in two phases have had an impact on spatial and social planning: that in west Berlin from the late 70s, and that from 1990 onwards crystallized in the east after the fall of the wall. We will look at the methods and legacy of both in terms of specific achievements, regulatory changes and kiez culture.

For each session there will be a book extract/essay and a document from an institutional source (bank, city office, etc)

For the first meeting I would suggest chapter 3 of Elizabeth Strom’s “Building the new Berlin – the politics of urban development in Germany’s capital city”, titled “Central city Planning Development”. This piece covers the period from Hobrecht until the 1980s.

An additional piece which she wrote with Margit Mayer in 2001, “The New Berlin”, looks back at the 1990s, filling that gap with similar economy.

This class will be self-facilitated. The above description is a proposal open to modification both before and during the course of our meetings. In order to encourage active participation, those attending are asked to bring materials of their own, relevant to the discussion, to briefly present and share with others. Photos of relevant sites and scenes could form a useful media for the discussion.

In Closing…
The tone of the above description stresses the factual and empirical, but no amount of data cannot solve the problem of Berlin. Much of the most insightful description of the city is subjective, impressionistic and counter-factual. Contributions and suggested readings in such a vein are invited.

This proposal follows a draft for the class “The City and the Political III: Berlin ect.“: The third season shall start off with exploring certain themes concerning Berlin, breaking itself down into three modules:

1/ Berlin’s 20th Century & The Masterplan (aka “The Problem of Berlin”)
facilitating: Alan

2/ IBA 1901—2020
facilitating: Ines / Nico

3/ Liegenschaftspolitik & Urban Commons: An Introduction
facilitating: Katrin / Christian

—As indicated, each module has a facilitator that can initially guide the group and recommend readings.
—Each module may last 3 – 4 sessions, in order to get deeper into a theme, and ideally produce together some form of outcome.
—Outcome is not limited to any kind of format, it is of course encouraged that the group produces something useful and relevant to their discourse.
—Feel free to propose further modules/themes, some retroactive ideas include: the right to the city / the architect in the neoliberal city.
—Please sign in as facilitator for themes. It’s good to have more than one person preparing these things—and it’s more fun!

At the end everyone gets a certificate to say well done.

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