Charlottenburg Schloss and Postdam

CHARLOTTENBURG SCHLOSS:

On Friday, we students were led on a tour of the Charlottenberg Schloss, located in Charlottenberg (southwest of downtown Berlin/south of the Tiergarten). Our tour guide, Helmut, or as I’ve unofficially nicknamed him, Herr Feeney (he looks and acts a lot like Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World), lived in former East Berlin and can even speak Mandarin Chinese. For this excursion our guide used this one building to show the gradual change in how architecture manifests the spirit of the time in regards to power and reign.

The Charlottenberg Schloss is a very old building, dating back to 1695, and many kings have resided in its halls. Though under each ruler, the building has undergone specific changes in a way to represent the relationship between the ruler and the people. The first, Frederick the Great, had very large ambitions. Being the one who put Prussia on the map, he had to prove the might of his reign and capital to the others, London and France. During this era of Absolutism, Baroque methods of design were employed to evoke the idea that the Charlottenberg Schloss is the center of the world, and the seat of all power. The building acts as a focal point, with wide avenues radiating out from it. The plan is symmetrical and the entry is aligned with the North-South Axis while the wings run along the East-West axis. In front of the building, in the frontcourt, is a bronze sculpture with Frederick the Great mounted on his horse looking both regal and terrifying. There, behind, in the dome was his bedchamber. And as Helmut put it “Frederick I did not just ‘get up from bed’ he would ‘rise from bed’ and the people would celebrate his awakening as he was the sun to Prussia.”

Walking along the west wing of the building we came upon a rather humble looking section. It was here that we learned that the wings were expanded with additions over the years and that this particular addition we were looking at was commissioned by Frederick II. He was not like his grandfather Frederick I. Rather he was friends with Voltaire and a man with new ideologies for his reign. Where Frederick I said that “I am the state,” Frederick the III said, “I am the first servant to the state.” He is famous for abolishing torture and for religious freedom in his country. And therefore, instead of taking his grandfather’s bedchambers he made this new, more humble addition, where he would sleep and just ‘get up’ from bed.

POTSDAM:

This was a daylong tour that was chock full with information and architecture. But unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal. The entire complex was meant to showcase a harmony between water, sculpture, garden, and architecture. But being that we are in winter, we couldn’t get the full grandeur of the grounds. But despite that setback we were still able to appreciate the buildings and our guide, Helmut, committed himself to showing us the most impressive and historically interesting buildings.

Potsdam, apparently, has the largest concentration of palaces in a single city, boasting a number of 34. This large amount of palaces weren’t just to show off wealth. Well in a way they were. By putting money into architecture and the arts you show your competitors (i.e. other countries) that you have a lot of money to put into those things, but also have the capability to fund an army, so watch out!

Potsdam also housed the Prussian Army. But since there were no barracks it became a law that each family would have to provide housing for two or three soldiers. This made it into a very militaristic town. The plus side for this was that housing was free and education became standardized.

There was a lot of history given to us, but I will share the most interesting one. We visited a summer palace called the Sanssouci Palace. It has a leveled garden space in front of the palace. The middle section of the palace is designed to look like pantheon, having statues for all aspects for the arts. But here’s the interesting part. Frederick the Great had a bone to pick with a farmer that had a windmill next to his palace. This windmill made too much noise and bothered him from his work, making him lose concentration for political matters. Civilly, he went to this farmer and offered to buy his land and tear down the mill and be done of the nuisance. But the farmer objected, saying that his grandfather had this windmill, his father had this windmill, and by god that his son too will have this windmill. So what did Frederick the Great do? Did he say ‘chop his head off and then tear down the windmill?” No, instead he went to court and the church served as the arbitrator. And so they both went to present their arguments, and the church came out to favor the farmer, saying that since the mill was not for sale the king had no right to tear it down. The mill still stands there to this day.

First Week of Classes

Most find the first week to be rough since you’re getting back into the swing of things, taking classes and all. Though I think that this program is well structured in that it eases the students back into studio. As for now we are just focusing on techniques for documenting site information and building a 1:500 scale site model. History is actually really interesting since Berlin is our 200-year case study. I actually prefer this kind of intense focus since we can study the evolution of the city in the class and then see/interact with history by stepping outside. Having lectures combined with tours is really helpful since the material we’re learning isn’t confined to the projector and paper, rather it is liberated from the classroom and comes alive and much more personal when visiting the sites.

Now as for the other classes, sustainability and German language, those are equally interesting. Our first lecture for sustainability was “Inconvenient truth-esque” as Jan put it. It wasn’t presented in a way to scare us, though the facts are daunting. Rather Jan was just showing us that there are some issues in the way that energy is being consumed and that we, as future architects, have a role and large responsibility in the energy industry. I really look forward to the future lectures since sustainability is a big interest of mine. For the German language class I was placed in the advanced level class, which consists of five students, including myself. The first day was kind of like jumping into the deep end of the pool since it has been a long time since my last German class (Junior year of high school) and I have never been in a situation where I depended on my German speaking skills. But this class is exactly that, the teacher limits her use of English in order to force the students to think and respond in German. This is actually the fastest way to learn German since it gives you constant, unrelenting exposure to the language, and eventually you get used to it. After getting all of the awkwardness and timidity out of the students in the first session, each subsequent class has been a lot of fun. And already I’m picking up on German outside of the classroom.

We have a couple of cool field trips ahead of us, one is a visit to Charlottenburg Schloss (palace) and a visit to Potsdam. I’ll write up some text and upload some photos for those soon!

A little Food – A little Wifi – A little of Everything

I figure many of you who plan to go to Berlin or have heard anything about traveling in Berlin have been exposed to the doner kebab. Well let me tell you something, all the fantastic things you hear about this king of street food are true. This magnificent import from Turkey is a special kind of sandwich that is traditionally filled with lamb and complimentary vegetables and sauces. In my opinion it’s always best with everything packed into it, so when they ask you what you want, just say “alles bitte” and you’re in for a treat! A close second to doner kebab is the currywurst. This is basically a sausage that is loaded with curry powder and other spices from the east, making it an exotic cousin of the more familiar Italian sausage. Usually served in its own gravy and some fries, this is a perfect snack to hold yourself over until the next meal. The best thing about these two street foods is that they’re always three euros (or under) and it’s German law to have one every 20m on every street. Okay the second part may not be true, but it’s delicious and cheap and you’ll be eating like the locals. Also, being a student studying abroad, it’s nice to have a cheap go-to when you’re trying to save some money but still want to eat well.

On top of the great street food there is a great café near by our apartments, Mundvoli. It’s a nice place to sit down to have breakfast or just grab a pastry to go. Their croissants are really flaky and buttery and they’re cinnamon rolls dainty and sweet. They also have sandwiches and other breakfast dishes if you want to sit down. Though I must say, their orange juice is really good. It’s freshly squeezed and somehow pleasantly pulpy (this is coming from a guy who doesn’t like pulp). When I took my first sip my only reaction was “wow, that’s fresh! I have to write about this!” Aside from this café, there are plenty of other bakeries around the neighborhood and even the mini markets have a good selection of pastries and such to help you start your day.

As for those making a pilgrimage for wifi, my go-to café for Internet is Kremanski. It’s a little trek from the apartment but definitely worth it. My only way to describe it is that when you walk there you think to yourself, “oh no there’s no lights on, it’s closed, it can’t be closed I need wifi, why is it closed it’s only 6pm? Oh wait, it’s just dim inside.” This place is chic, it’s hip, it’s happening, it’s pop’n, and it’s definitely where it’s at. If you want to sit in a café/lounge full of young professional hipsters and listen to music ranging from jazz to the Hawaii five’o theme song then this is the place for you. They offer more than just coffee and tea for beverages and have a great selection for pastries and sandwiches. Ideally you should come here to socialize but they do provide a comfy nook in the back for those that need to get work done and use their wifi. Overall it’s a friendly and welcoming environment and my go-to for posting these blogs.

Berlin Walking Tour!

On Sunday there was an optional walking tour of Berlin provided to us. David, our British tour guide, led us in and around Mitte, a district in Berlin. On top of just taking us around to various sites, he was able to give us some historical insight on the buildings and provide some fresh British humor.

We visited buildings in chronological order, starting with the Berlin Concert House in Gendarmenmarket Square. These were built in the 19th century when Frederick der Grosse, the current king put Prussia on the map. The next sites we visited bridged old history with modern history and showed how these buildings once played a role with the monarchy and then with the Nazi Regime. Of the memorials/sites that I found to be powerful was a plaque in the Square of Humboldt University and the pieta named“To the Victims of War and Tyranny” by Kollwitz in a building designed by Karl Freidrick Schinkel, Neue Wache. The plaque had a quote on it saying “Them that begin by burning books, end by burning men” – by Heinrich Heine. This quote was actually referring to the Spanish Inquisition, but was placed in front of the Humboldt Library, where 20,000 books were burned during the rise of the Nazi regime. The rest we all know.

After observing these bridges in history and how buildings can be connected to different eras we moved on to more modern subjects. From the Brandenburg Gate we went to the Holocaust memorial and took a moment to walk through the pillars. Although the memorial is abstract and its interpretation open, there is no denying the presence it commands and the way it provokes interaction and reflection from its users. Below the memorial is a museum with personal accounts and memorabilia to teach the public about the holocaust and its effects.

One of the last things we saw was the longest preserved site of the Berlin Wall in Mitte. Behind it was the Topography of Terror, where the headquarters of the SS were formally located before being torn down to make space for the death strip behind the wall. On that same site is a free museum that displays information on the SS and the suffering in concentration camps.

Having gone on just three tours so far, the Berlin Wall, the German Urban Planning and Development Office, and this, it is evident that Germany has had a tumultuous history in the past two centuries and is very self aware of it. But instead of hiding these scars Germany distributes this information so that the public is informed and history isn’t forgotten. Everyone benefits from this, as it is not just a part of German history but a part of Human history.

Orientation Week

During orientation week every day starts at the studio. The building where all of our classes take place is located in a really nice neighborhood called Schoneburg. Once everyone gathers at studio we usually have a presentation about living in Berlin, topics include health and safety, public transportation/travel, and classes.

After one of our presentations we went on a tour of the Berlin Wall on Bernauerstrasse in Mitte, Berlin. I was surprised when I saw how much of the wall had been preserved for the memorial we visited. Even parts that weren’t completely preserved were represented in a way that allowed visitors to understand the scale of the Berlin Wall and its many layers. Our tour guide was an expert on the subject. He would tell stories that revolved around the wall so that we could imagine what it would be like to live in that area and time. This was a great introductory tour as it really helped us understand an important part of German history that has been affecting Berlin for the last 25 years.

For our next tour, Jan, one of the professors, led us to the Department of Urban Planning and Development for Berlin. Here, there is a public display of a huge 1:500 scale model of the city. Since the day before was about understanding the effects of the Berlin Wall on the street level, this day we were able to understand these effects on an urban scale. The buildings in the model were made of two different colored materials. White signified buildings that existed before 1989 and natural wood signified buildings that have been built since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Jan was able to provide further insight by showing us the patterns in Berlin’s urban development and telling us the significance of some of the sites. Afterwards Jan took all the students out for a special treat to go to the top of the TV tower to get an aerial view of the city!

Our last tour for the week was a site visit for our studio project. After meeting our studio professors we went up to our site in Pankow. Pankow is a relatively older part of the city and one of the first villages. But despite being an older and more rural part of Berlin, there is still a wide variety in the style of architecture. Site visits are really helpful in understanding the location of the project. Being able to occupy the physical space and observe the surroundings allows one a better sense of the environment. Since classes haven’t formally started yet, our professors just wanted us to observe and take notes of the site for discussion next week. As for now, we have a full weekend ahead to explore Berlin!

Upon Arrival

Hello Readers! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Daniel Chen and I will be continuing the Northeastern Berlin Blog for the Spring Semester of 2015!

I guess I should say a bit more about myself. I am a third year architecture student at Northeastern University, but that’s rather obvious. I guess it is no surprise that I am studying abroad since I do love to travel. When I was very young I made trips every summer to visit family in Taiwan and when I was nine I moved from Connecticut to Hawaii. During the summer of 2014 I went on an All-American road trip with my cousin and we traveled along the perimeter of the United States of America. This study abroad will be my first time in Europe and I’m really excited to experience Berlin and everything else that Germany and Europe has to offer, and anyone else on this track should also be excited!

Being that it was my first time in Europe and my first time in 5 years traveling internationally, I was a bit nervous to leave home. But once I got to the apartments and saw all of my friends from studio I was able to relax. Having your friends from studio travel abroad with you really helps in adjusting to living in a new environment. Everyone is there to support one another and to explore together.

One difference between Germany and U.S.A is the technology. This is an easy fix, as all you need are some adapters and you’re all set. Another obstacle that we have to deal with is the wifi situation. Some students got cell phone plans where they could make international calls/texts with minimum fees and bring data abroad for Internet access. But we’re all required to have a German phone so that we can be reached in case of emergencies. This is organized during orientation week. Everyone went to a German version of Best Buy to get cellphones. I was lucky enough to have a friend give me her German phone from last semester so all I had to do was add money to it. People also use wifi sticks to create wifi hotspots with their computers but that’s a bit more complicated, I’ll get back to you all on that since I’m still figuring that out. For now though, I will most likely be uploading these from Internet cafés while sipping on coffee and snacking on some pastries.

The neighborhood that we live in is called Kreuzberg. Living in the apartments here is a lot like living off campus without a food plan. You’re completely responsible for your own meals and for the cleanliness of your apartment. But the nice thing about the apartments here in Germany is that all the students live in the same complex. So you don’t have to take the U-Bahn (the equivalent to Boston’s T) to visit friends. In fact sometimes, the fastest way to contact your friends is to simply walk to their door and ring the bell. I personally think that the minimization in wifi and cellular use here in Berlin encourages interpersonal connections and face-to-face conversations/experiences, which is rather nice. You spend less time looking at a screen/playing on your phone and more time looking at your friends and exploring the city.

These are my first impressions of Berlin just coming off of the plane. There are a few small tours already planned for this orientation week, which I’ll talk about in the next post, but we have a lot more excursions planned ahead for the semester and I can’t wait to discover what Germany has to offer.

Jewish Museum

On Thursday we visited Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum opened in 2001. It’s contains a permanent exhibition of the comprehensive German/Jewish history, as well as facilitating temporary exhibitions and library archives. The museum is essentially reinforced concrete construction with a zinc façade. The circulation into the building is through the basement leading to 3 major axes. The first is the “Axis of Continuity” which leads to both the “Garden of Exile” and the “Holocaust Tower”. You enter the 3rd floor main exhibition space via a processional stair from the “Axis of Continuity”. This permanent exhibit flows through the angular geometry of the building. The irregular window typology is designed to point in the directional of notable Jewish residences around the city, while the skylights service the office spaces on the top floor.

I felt the “Memory Void”, “Holocaust Tower” and the “Garden of Exile” were very successful spaces of contemplation. The movement through the building depicted the progress of time through history very well. All in all a very powerful architectural experience.

Dutch Embassy

We spent Tuesday evening at Rem Koolhaas’s Dutch Embassy, which opened in 2006. It was built to facilitate the combination of the east and west embassies after Berlin’s reunification. Koolhass was required to follow strict zoning laws such that the design had to complete the city block and engage the site boundary. His concept was to build a separated object building offset from a L-shaped perimeter building. The embassy functions as a secure building while still celebrating a Dutch openness and it is one of few embassies that gives tours to the public. The circulation takes a very unusual winding path through its eight stories and finishes on the roof garden. There are views to the river Spree and to the prominent Fernsehturm. This is very interestingly done with a sightline constructed through the entire embassy and through the adjacent L-shaped perimeter building. The interior materials contrast between low-grade raw concrete and lavish polish wooden finishes. Koolhaas also creates visual connections between offices and conference rooms throughout the building. The working spaces are hidden from the circulation path and are accessed by curious secrete passage ways.

The embassy was celebrating its 10th anniversary, so we got to see a temporary exhibit of original OMA models! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos inside the embassy but overall it was very inspiring to experience my first Koolhaas building.

Artis Engineering

On Monday we visited the factory for Artis Engineering completed in 2012. Artis Engineering are a company that are primarily a high-end cabinetry design build workshop. This award winning building was designed by Roswag Architects, of which the project leader was Jan Schreiber. Jan is also our seminar assistant and so he led us on a personalized tour of the building. It is made of timber construction and is a very low energy building. This building incorporates an onsite furnace heating system which uses their own waste timber for fuel, a high standard of insulation, the use of photovoltaics and floor heating systems. It was great to see such an effective application of timber construction and I thought it was also aesthetically pleasing with timber being expressed throughout all of the office spaces.

Music

On Friday night some of us went to see the Berlin Philharmonic play in Hans Scharoun Philharmonic concert hall. This building was completed in 1963 and revolutionized the performance experience by centralizing the stage, surrounded by the audience. Circulation takes place around and under the auditorium. It is a very impressive building tectonically and spatially but the best part was witnessing the amazing acoustics. The performance was excellent and a real highlight.

On Saturday I walked around Schöneberg with my host Marco. We explored the neighborhood and had some excellent coffee at DoubleEye, a great café on Akazienstraße, only a short walk from Studio. I recommend it to all prospective students coming to Berlin. We also saw the 1914 Rathaus Schöneberg, which became famous for hosting JFK in 1963. This was in which he helped galvanize the support for West Berlin with his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

Later that night we went to a jazz club called the A-Trane in Charlottenburg. This is a well-known small but elegant club that sees international acts play throughout the year. It was great to listen to some talented musicians play swing standards as well as some original compositions. This again was another highlight and completed a very cultured weekend.