In the south-east of Berlin you will find an early example of social housing: the Gartenstadt Falkenberg (Falkenberg garden city).
Berlin, around 1910: The city was bursting at the seams, large parts of the population, especially the workers and lower classes, lived in tenements. Four- to five-storey buildings arranged in closed wings around an inner courtyard. This construction method led to unequal living conditions, with especially poor air and light conditions in the rear buildings. A contemporary piece of writing denounced this with the following words:
“[...] replacement of the musty, spoiled air [is] mostly impossible [...]. With every view out of the window you are compelled to come into contact with the neighbourhood, all feelings of cosiness and home are suspended here”
Rural advantages in the city
How were workers supposed to stay healthy in cramped, unhygienic housing conditions? Social reformers in England had already been trying to answer this question for several years. Around the turn of the century, the garden city movement was created in England. One of its pioneers was Ebenezer Howard with his work Garden Cities of Tomorrow. A central point of the movement was the “marriage of city and country”. This meant: neither as misanthropic as the big city, nor as pre-modern and underdeveloped as rural life. Life in these garden cities was meant to be economically self-sufficient and jointly organised.
In Germany, the idea fell on fertile ground. During the first decade of the 20th century, several estates of this kind were built. However, not as in England with the aim of economic self-sufficiency.
Founded in 1902, the Deutsche Gartenstadtgesellschaft (German Garden City Society) set up its own building cooperative for Greater Berlin. After tough negotiations, it succeeded in acquiring a plot of land around the Falkenberg in a hillside location near Altglienicke. In 1912, the then unknown architect Bruno Taut was commissioned to build a new estate based on the model of a garden city.
Taut’s original plan envisaged 1,500 apartments for up to 7,500 people. However, economic difficulties caused by the First World War put a spoke in the building cooperative’s wheel, and after 1918 the implementation of Taut’s concept came to a standstill.
An estate with a sense of community
Between 1913 and 1916, a total of 128 apartments were built in two construction phases. In 1913, Bruno Taut designed 23 residential units around the Akazienhof. He arranged 34 terraced houses in several groups for individual families as well as two semi-detached houses and one detached house around a central square.
The ensemble was intended to consciously serve as a reminder of a village idyll. Years before Bruno Taut’s design of the Hufeisensiedlung (horseshoe estate), the architect had already anticipated the concept of a closed residential courtyard. The view from the window was not intended to compel good neighbourliness, but to stimulate a sense of community. The first tenants moved in as early as 1913.
In 1914 and 1915, a further 94 apartments followed along the Gartenstadtweg, as well as a number of isolated residential buildings in 1916 despite the war. The site lay on a slope, so Taut adapted his clusters of houses to the terrain.
If you go for a walk in the estate today, you will notice that the houses are not arranged symmetrically. It was important to Bruno Taut to break with the symmetry of traditional architecture. His one- to two-storey houses are grouped together. Some are set back from the street to avoid straight axes. It almost seems as if the houses embody the individuals who are supposed to live in them. Each one separate, but united in the common space.
The individuality of the houses is particularly emphasised by a feature that Taut used here for the first time and which later became his trademark: the use of coloured wall surfaces as a design element.
Blue, red, black, yellow – limitless is the variety of colours in the estate. On Gartenstadtweg you will find a total of 14 different shades in different combinations. That’s why Gartenstadt Falkenberg is also referred to as “Tuschkastensiedlung” (box of watercolours estate). Thanks to a professional renovation in the 1990s, the colours shine as intensely today as they did shortly after construction of the estate.
However, it is not only different coloured façades that are used here. The architect also played with colour fields, geometric shapes and systematic contrasts between windows, doors and façades in his design. This was groundbreaking at the time. No bay windows, staircase towers or the like any more as decoration. But solely the clear form of the houses, shaped by the colouring.
Here, Bruno Taut took a significant step away from the flamboyant forms of the Gründerzeit, at the end of the 19th century, towards the later reduced style of classical modernism. However, he still used conventional elements. Saddle roofs with red plain tiles, white chimneys and wooden shutters emphasise the rural idyll.
Outside the music is playing
The main role of planting is already incorporated in the term “garden city”. The estate in Altglienicke also set standards here. It was the first residential development in Berlin with a sophisticated horticultural concept. The garden architect Ludwig Lesser, who was taken on specially for this purpose, systematically created allotment gardens. Each of the apartments had a garden, the size varied between 135 and 600 square metres, with fruit trees and trellises.
The green spaces still contained a remnant of the garden city’s idea of self-sufficiency. Each inhabitant was free to grow fruit and vegetables for their own needs. In addition, Ludwig Lesser’s garden architecture contributed to underlining Bruno Taut’s estate concept: avenues and hedges emphasised the spatial planning, while planting blended into the colour concept.
In this way, the living spaces and open spaces in the estate went hand in hand. Bruno Taut called this concept “outdoor living space”, forming a key characteristic of his architectural work.
Our tips for the journey to the “Tuschkastensiedlung”
Those making their way from the city centre to Falkenberg and have time in hand can stop off at Adlershof. The ‘science city’ invites you to take a tour. You can visit exciting relics of aviation history such as the “Trudelturm” (large wind tunnel), as well as the electron storage ring BESSY II.
In the immediate vicinity of the estate, the Dahme river invites you to take a walk, cycle or swim. Directly in front of the Grünau S-Bahn station you can catch bus 68, which takes you to the Strandbad Grünau lido, among other places.
Writer Theodor Fontane previously described Grünau in his work “Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg” (Wanderings through the March of Brandenburg). Grünau is also known for its 1936 regatta course and the GDR’s Olympic Games selection.
Practical information from visitBerlin
Adlershof and Gartenstadt Falkenberg are best reached by taking S-Bahn line 8 to Grünau. The Berlin Welcome Card is ideal for local public transport.
Major nineteenth-century novelist Theodor Fontane described the idyllic location of Grünau in his “Travels through the Mark Brandenburg”. By 1900, wealthy families had begun settling along the banks of the Dahme, building the villas that still dominate the neighbourhood. The district became even more famous with its regatta that attracts many rowing enthusiasts and fans in the summer.