The Anatomy of the Altbau, Berlin


Traditional homes are nostalgic, crowded. Wide-plank wood floors are historic, complacent. Tall windows speak in dualisms as they bring long shadows that can both awaken your soul, or inflict longing. Architectures’ perversions are seemingly never-ending, as are the emotions they evoke in their inhabitants. Berlin is no exception to the phenomenological nature of architecture and as most adore the grandiosity of classic, altbau living, only few understand it through a kinesthetic or multisensorial lens. Sure, Berlin has wonderful pre- and post-war dwellings that leaves interior designers and bloggers alike swooning, but to understand Berlin architecture as an experience is to understand the Berlin experience.

Long before the conception of blogging, industrial design, interior design and aesthetics, Berlin was anatomically constructing a way of life through what is now referred to as the “altbau” – or, “old building.” The key characteristics of such flats are wide-plank wood floors, tall, narrow windows, front-facing balconies, extravagant crown molding, single fixture lighting and – a sense of community with rear courtyards. Neighbors are a name, not a number and just as their names become familiar, so do their faces with community-style living and courtyards, which are utilized as meeting spots, smoking corners and bike storage.



As a sense of both clarity and historicism are romantically entangled in the altbau, a sense of minimalism emerges – the need to “fill,” whether it’s a room – or a void – is negated by the primal need for self and other. The altbau’s airy spaces provoke feelings of freedom during the summer months with early sunrise times and longer evening shadows – longevity, romance and merriment define the experience. The winter months undoubtedly resurrect a depression, a depression only enhanced by the height and greyness of the altbau. Typically, the defining period between altbau and neubau is the Second World War, where devastation and destruction left Berlin levelled and for the first time ever, classless. This levelling of both buildings and hierarchy made way for neubau, where quick and efficient housing was preferred in order to provide shelter. Here, we find the stark brutalism and concrete jungles of the East, as well as a preference for outdoor living – is there a connection? Certainly.


Recently, the pseudo-perfectionism of ‘selfie culture’ is juxtaposed against the real issues incessantly plaguing Berlin housing – of which includes sustainability in urban living, displaced communities and lack of affordable space. Many organizations in Berlin now find themselves in the combative cross-fire of political and social turmoil, attempting to reorganize passionate communities and inspire a sense of empathy for Berlin’s ever-changing, transient population. These are the people, businesses and organizations Konstrukt Magazine seeks to feature, and embody. One thing is certain, your oversized wall mirror and unique candle holders are great – but when it comes to the anatomy of the altbau – the neighbors and community are its skeleton.