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    Urban Development  

Archive: Capital City Berlin - Development Programme 1993 until 2013

illustration: city map with timeline Government District
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Among Society

What nobody wants to believe – we managed to accommodate all the functions of parliament and the residential requirements of the representatives within walking distance of the Reichstag building. The convenient parliament of shortest distances – we have that.
Volker Hassemer, 1991

The most important basis for this atmosphere of democratic openness was, and is, careful design and positioning within the city of the new parliament buildings.

One example is the Paul-Löbe-building. It was within the context of that overall development that the protrusions in the comb-like facade, the open inner courtyards and the literally "transparent" offices of the delegates provide numerous "insights" and intersections with the public, urban spaces. In the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-building, the art room is open to all visitors, functioning as a gallery for exhibitions of works from parliament’s art inventory. In addition, pieces of the former east-west border installations were turned into a memorial of the Berlin Wall for this historic location.
But even the chancellery itself is far from an intimidating monument behind glossy, distancing walls. As the architect Axel Schultes said, the front facade "is like an open gate". Thus the chancellery is integrated into the varied play of shapes of the parliament and government ensemble, which in its entirety, forms the backdrop, the frame, to urban life. The cupola only reluctantly placed by the architect Sir Norman Foster on the re-designed Reichstag, and originally denigrated as "Wilhelminian", must surely now be considered the jewel in the crown of this republican building ensemble.

Reichstag Cupola, 2013
Reichstag Cupola
© DSK, 2013
A visit to this transparent masterpiece of engineering provides the ideal view across the government district and the adjacent neighbourhoods. But more than that, it allows any citizen – or indeed, tourist – to look down upon the representatives in the parliamentary chamber from the classic position of "sovereignty".

English sociologist John Parkinson deemed these more than just architectural or urban planning refinements. Comparing 16 government centres and capital cities, he placed Berlin near the top of "physical sites of democratic performance" as part of his project "Democracy and Public Space".

In order to enable a concrete realisation of this initially only symbolic dimension of the urban planning programme with the generosity befitting its role, "open spaces" were created in the government district from the very beginning, since the traffic routes necessary to supply the Reichstag, the Paul-Löbe-building and the Jakob-Kaiser-building run underground.

So blending the parliament and government buildings, including administrative buildings and most of the ministries, with the urban structure resulted not only in the "convenient parliamentary functioning" that the German parliament’s council of elders called for in September 1991; integrating the government district into the centre of Berlin created an urban mosaic, one that the population can both access and experience. Rapid preparation and exhaustive planning were necessary in order to integrate the range of "capital city functions" into a metropolis that changed both fundamentally and rapidly after 1989. Just creating the physical conditions – first and foremost secure ground to build on – required extensive razing and clearing, such as removing the massive foundations for the monumental buildings planned by Albert Speer for the Third Reich, as well as disposing of old ordnance.

But most important was creating a structural network through more than 20 urban and landscape design competitions and more 40 zoning plans, all of which stressed public accessibility and urban integration. The result is that even prominent individual structures blend well with a government district harmoniously integrated into the city on the Spreebogen and Spreeinsel, without dominating, or worse yet impeding, the development of urban spaces. This concept of construction in dialogue that is public and open to change has rubbed off on Berlin’s cityscape. The ministries and administrative buildings in the centre, whether pre-existing or in newly constructed buildings in the central areas of Berlin, the embassies in the former diplomatic sector, at Pariser Platz or scattered in the historic city centre, as well as the new buildings for the offices of each German state, some of which are in the Ministergärten – these buildings are no longer domineering icons of a unilateral political power, but rather blend with their urban neighbours, inviting exchange with the city and with civil society.

bridge construction or redevelopment projects in the area of the development programme

text: Jochen Stöckmann
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