Tag Archives: development

Alternative Tour of Berlin: City Planning Thoughts

Walking tour focusing on culture and creativity in Berlin

Today we took a tour of alternative Berlin. We had taken a historical tour of Berlin on the 13th but today’s walking tour focused on sources of innovation and creativity in Berlin. The tour focused on art and graffiti, urban culture, alternative lifestyles, cultural icons like the YAAM Beach Bar, and artists’ squats. Themes that ran through these sights were significance of the areas and current city planning problems including the tension between preservation of Berlin’s history and modernization initiatives that might spur economic growth.

The alternative tour focused on many aspects, including the graffiti culture in Berlin. Although this tag does not look that impressive, there is a large fine since this is a very public area under the Berlin train station. Graffiti artists often gain credibility for the measures they took to tag the area and this tag becomes arguably a bit more impressive when considering the likelihood of a big fine.

We started our tour at Alexanderplatz, one of the best-known public squares in Berlin. It was a central meeting place during communist rule in East Germany. It has the iconic Fernsehturm television tower and the surrounding shops are very commercialized—including a Starbucks and other shopping chains. Like much more of what we would see, Alexanderplatz demonstrated the tension between history and modernization are affecting Berlin’s growth and redevelopment.

We saw quite a bit of street art on the alternative tour and this sculpture spoke to the theme of an increasingly commercialized world. The Native American is wearing the cliche I

Another aspect of alternative Berlin relating to city planning that we saw was in the Hackescher Markt area, specifically the Spandauer Vorstadt area. A number of artists’ squats, workshops and galleries sprang up here in the early 1990s. The area we walked through was a former artists’ squat and now has a flea market, a beer garden, the Anne Frank Zentrum (home of the Anne Frank: Here and Now Exhibition), and the Monster Kabinett (part art gallery, part haunted house holding massive robotic creatures, metal sculptures, and insect-looking beasts). This former art squat describes the action of artists to occupy (squat) in abandoned buildings and using these to create art. The concept of art squats, some of which are still open, really spoke to the alternative culture of Berlin and how different conceptions of housing are in the United States as opposed to in Berlin. Art squats in Berlin seemed to be much more accepted in Berlin than squatting would be in the United States.

Hackescher Markt had a really great market with jewelry, produce, coffee, spices, and lots of food.
This is the former artists’ squat that now has two beer gardens, the Anne Frank exhibit, the small flea market, and graffiti and art on the walls

My favorite part of the tour was when our guide mentioned YAAM Beach Bar, which our group went to after the tour ended. YAAM is an acronym for “Young African Art Market” and is located on the River Spree. YAAM is a cultural hotspot and has a club, beachbar, and gallery, complete with sand, hammocks, and picnic tables. YAAM is incredibly laidback and although it’s really close to some of the main attractions in Berlin, namely the East Side Gallery (the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall), it is not face paced and is a really unique area.

Mediaspree is one of the largest property investment projects in Berlin and aims to establish telecomm and media companies along the section of the banks of the River Spree where YAAM is located. Unused or temporary occupied real estate is to be converted into office buildings, lofts, hotels, and other new structures. Our guide said that YAAM’s current location is its third location due to these Mediaspree plans. YAAM is temporarily thriving in its current location, but only time will tell whether it will be able to survive the increasing commercialization of Berlin.

To the right of YAAM we saw the Mercedes-Benz arena being built which to me really embodied the increasing commercialization of Berlin. The arena is being built right by the East Side Gallery and Mercedes-Benz. That is the type of mix between history and modern initiatives that this alternative tour and all of our time in Berlin kept demonstrating. We can debate the merits of this commercialization and the Mediaspree plans, but it will likely take active citizens to keep places like YAAM from being bought up by larger corporations. This alternative tour demonstrated all of the careful planning that must go into city planning initiatives in a city that will likely keep growing for quite some time.

-Jennifer Craft

TXL: The Urban Tech Republic

TXL airport becomes showcase for future Smart Cities

After visiting the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we visited Berlin TXL: The Urban Tech Republic.

The Urban Tech Republic uses lots of bright colors and fun graphics to communicate that the finalized product is a fun, creative use of space that will benefit the community.

Our host first provided context for understanding Berlin. She described the two major phases of development in Berlin, after 1945 and after 1989. After these periods, the industrial employment base collapsed by two-thirds between 1989 and 2001. To combat this change, the city invested in the knowledge industry.

Students arrive at the Tegel Project office space. The organization shares the building with several other businesses.

Today, there are four major institutions in the city and a high concentration of talent, both of which curate an innovative ecosystem. Berlin now functions as a cultural center, known for its diversity, creativity, tolerance, cluster of start-ups, and more. As the presenter described, these qualities are summed up by the “three Ts:” technology, talent, and tolerance. There is also a digital ecosystem, which is concentrated in the capital. There are lots of co-working spaces and incubators in the area.

Students take notes and ask questions during the presentation. The Urban Tech Republic provides a perfect example of how to reshape old infrastructure for the needs of the future.

Berlin is doing well, seeing GDP growth and general economic health. As the population grows, the need for space for living and working within the city does too. Between 2003 and 2014, the number of inhabitants increased by 7 percent, and the working population increased by 17 percent. This influx of residents and workers will only enhance the positive feedback loop of innovation.

Students check out the plans and projections for the finalized project.

Then we began discussion about Berlin’s three airports: Tempelhof, Tegel, and Schönefeld. Tempelhof was closed in 2008 and was converted to a green recreational space. Tegel, which sits on approximately 500 hectares of land, will be closed in 2019 and opened up. The campus will have a green landscape, an industrial park, a commercial area, and a main campus. The space is meant to be a showcase of what a Smart City can and should be.

In the development of this project, the team faces several challenges: resource scarcity, climate change, demographic change, urbanization, and digitization. Even so, it is the Urban Tech Republic’s goal to “do well by doing good.” The organization engages in lots of activities to better the city: developing/testing mobility concepts, inventing materials, field-testing new energy sources, upgrading recycling, improving water tech, and creating ICT solutions.

Students take advantage of the opportunity to speak with a member of the Urban Republic staff.

Nearby residents are supportive of the project because they will not have to endure the noise pollution that airplanes create. However, some citizens think Berlin still needs two airports to manage the tremendous amount of traffic, but the Urban Tech Republic argues that the Tegel airport is already so old that it would be too intense to renovate to the international standards anyways.

-Olivia Corriere

Development of Wilhelmsburg

The Wilhelmsburg quarter of Hamburg is being developed alleviate density in the city.

In the morning we met up with Rolf and made our way to the train station. Along the way we stopped by some former meatpacking warehouses that have been repurposed into art galleries, a kindergarten, a brewery, restaurants, and other cultural attractions. While these businesses are revitalizing the area, the meatpacking district is becoming less and less affordable for people with low incomes. Rolf also mentioned that some people want to clean out the Rote Flora, the center for political extremism and one of the hubs for protest during the G20 summit, and convert it into a nonpolitical public space. However, this would remove some of the diversity and history from the St. Pauli quarter of Hamburg. After perusing some of the other redevelopments in the area, we proceeded to the platform and caught an S-bahn to Wilhelmsburg, the island in the middle of the Elbe River.

Our guide, Rolf, points at the old autobahn running through Wilhelmsburg on a model of the island. The autobahn is slated for closure in order to reduce noise pollution and make life on the island more pleasant.

Our first stop in Wilhelmsburg was the city planning office of Hamburg. In the center of the lobby was a detailed model of the entire city. We took a seat on the steps and Rolf launched into a lecture on the development of Wilhelmsburg. He explained that during the Third Reich an autobahn was built through Wilhemsburg. Hamburg fell under western control after the second world war, and companies in the packaging and shipping industry took root in Wilhelmsburg to take advantage of the port and the newly built autobahn. After reunification these companies expanded to the market in east Germany with ease, which actually hindered economic innovation and causes problems with job creation today. These companies developed the western edge of the island, leaving most of Wilhelmsburg untouched. As urbanization and globalization caused Hamburg to become more densely populated, the city had to come up with innovative solutions to housing people. One such solution was building up Wilhelmsburg and making it an appealing place to live.

However, there were many challenges to making the island livable and attractive. Wetlands, pollution, and flooding are all barriers to development on* the island. Nevertheless, the city of Hamburg, which owns the land, began by building a kindergarten, a medical center, a retirement home, and a hotel on the island. People began to move to the area. The south side of the island became a center for education, and north became filled with sporting facilities. The southeastern edge is a pristine, untouched forest, and the center is a large public park called Inselpark. This abundance of green areas makes the city feel spacious and less dense than it is in reality. Another autobahn was built through the island, and public transit makes traveling between the island and the city center easy and convenient. Rolf explained that in the future the city will close the old autobahn, reducing noise on the island and making a more attractive place to live. After gaining an understanding of the development of the island, we left the city planning office to see what the island had to offer. We strolled through the Inselpark, which the locals have turned into a recreational area. There were basketball courts, skateboarding ramps, a public pool, and even a towering rock climbing facility. People seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the park, and part of me was dying to put on a climbing harness and join in the fun. We continued our tour through a residential area. The flats in this area were created as part of an experiment that the government was conducting; one building had tanks of water on the outside walls and was growing algae to sell to fish farms, one was affordably built out of slabs of concrete and was subsidized by the government to provide affordable housing to low-income families, and another had solar panels to generate energy and walls made of foliage to keep the building cool during the summer and warm during the winter. The area had a friendly and inviting feel, and seemed to be gaining popularity.

A group of children gather on a soccer field in the Inselpark. The park was part of a citizen effort to make their neighborhood in Wilhelmsburg more lively and enjoyable.
The climbing gym at the Inselpark has been a huge success with young people. All skill levels can enjoy the gym, and if climbing doesn’t interest you then the bar or office spaces in the building may.
The algae house is a good example of the housing experiments that are happening in Wilhelmsburg. The outer walls of the house are filled with tanks of water and algae. The water is in motion constantly to prevent the algae from settling. This causes maximum algae production. The algae is dried and sold to fish farmers.

-Ayla Gizlice