Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Not too far from Berliner Platz in Stuttgart, one comes across some buildings which defy color. They absolutely refuse to play by the rules of the rainbow or any shade thereof. Visiting them is something akin to walking into a black & white photo, circa 1963. As Sophia would say, "Picture it, Stuttgart, 1945. The war has just ended and smoke is still rising from the rubble. All the old buildings that memorialized the days all the way back to chivalry are smoldering or simply left as partial façades, yadda, yadda, yadda...".
One must consider that to many directly following the war, the best way to get a phoenix to fly after such a bitter period in history filled with confusion and fear, resulting in almost complete destruction, was to simply look to a new and different future and to do whatever one could in order not to look back. Follow that bird; look forward! Easier said than done, to be sure, but a new breed of architects was to come out of the ground with their phoenix with the objective of creating anything "new". Actually, something more like "different", as it turned out.
Not that modernism was something invented by post-war German architects. No. They didn't have the patent on that. But they did exercise some daring in order to be different, especially in a city as staid and traditional and sometimes narrow-minded as Stuttgart could/can be at times. Perhaps a better word to describe the city is stubborn. Your writer means this word very neutrally, actually. Stubborn doesn't mean that the people are bad; no, it just means that they are hard to budge out of their old Swabian traditions at times when it comes to something new and different (that's not all bad, either, e.g., Stuttgart21 --> Booo! Hisssss! Bahhh!).
So, the rubble was cleared and a new city began to arise in the parts of town which had been laid bare by air raids. In many cases, there was simply the need to build something fast in order to provide housing for the displaced masses. People needed homes and the Marshall Plan assisted in making that possible with the rebuilding of much of the entire western part of the country. What was rebuilt directly after the war was simply a band-aid to provide shelter and to get commerce on its feet again. Being the hardworking, determined folk that they are, much to their own credit, the German population worked hard in rebuilding their lives and country.
However, in so many cases, the façades of the grand old edifices of centuries' old masterpieces were left standing until they could decide what to reconstruct and what not. Would they try to return to the look of the past, something most non-Europeans might call "romantic Europe"? Or, would they now have the excuse they needed to start from scratch and to try out new things and ideas? Clearly, based on so much of the modern structures in German cities, they opted for a blend of both, sometimes going to the extremes and sometimes allowing one to reminisce by at least keeping the fronts of older buildings and backing them up with something completely modern and efficient.
In the end, a number of exquisite architectural beauties were lost. Some were retained as façades, as stated above, and others fully restored to their past glory. But attempts at creating living black and white structures of glass inside a cacophony of intersecting lines and perspectives made of steel and cement were soon found on the not-to-be-missed venues of the modernist's tour of Germany.
Your writer makes absolutely no bones about that fact that he is not attracted to the German idea of the architectural abstract and modernism. But that is not to say he doesn't like modern buildings. On the contrary, this writer has a definite penchant for the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and many other examples of modern-day architectural wonders found the world over. He just has a hard time with gloom, which so many post-war German buildings represent to him. BUT...
...all is not lost! Peace has indeed been made with the buildings found at the Berliner Platz tram stop. Understanding is required on the part of your writer as well as all who want to better understand a people and their cities; they're the ones who have to live in them. Yes, the buildings in this post are indeed now considered friends and are a welcomed, dare I say favorite, part of this writer's tour of Stuttgart. But, don't get the idea that it is free license for any future attempts at copying them with anymore such structures in the city. They would only be considered cheap seconds.