by Laura Said Arrieta
The Hackesche Höfe are a set of courtyards surrounded by some really interesting buildings. I said “some interesting buildings” because not all of them are as fascinating as the ones that surround the first courtyard (not coincidentally, these are the ones that appear in the tourist guides). The Hackesche Höfe offer the visitors an interesting commercial mix. The visitors can drink a coffee, eat in a fancy restaurant, go to the theater or cinema and also buy clothes and accessories of known brands. Spending about one hour in the Hackesche Höfe drinking a coffee or just walking around is an interesting option for tourists who want to have a break during their visit to the center of Berlin.
The Hackesche Höfe are mentioned in almost every tourist guide and the city marketing made an awesome job presenting the area as a real Berliner’s place to hang out. But, is it a real place to hang out for the citizens or is just another illusion made by the city marketing? Do real Berliners go there for the cultural offer, shopping or drinking a coffee? Actually I don’t have anything against places designated for tourists and I think every city needs to have some in order to let the tourism industry flourish. I also really like the Hackesche Höfe and I used to go there very often in my first weeks living in Berlin. I just disagree with the fact that the city marketing makes the tourists believe that they are hanging out at a Berliners’ place. The Hackesche Höfe is a nice place to go as a tourist, but it is not a place where Berliner citizens go often. Anyway, I will always recommend the place to every foreigner visiting Berlin.
The story of those buildings is very interesting and shocking at the same time. The Hackesche Höfe witnessed many different phases of the German history. The place has its main entrance on Rosenthalerstrasse 40, and its history as a commercial area begins here around 1858, when Hans Quiltz, a glass manufacturer, acquired a license for commercial use of the place. Later, in 1907 Kurt Berndt got the property and worked with the architect August Endell on the development of Hackesche Höfe. August Endell is responsible for the magnificent Art Nouveau design of the first courtyard’s façade. Between 1907 and 1920 the place was used for many different associations like the Expressionist poets´ association and the Jewish Girl’s club. In 1920 the Hackesche Höfe was sold to a company named Hackesche Höfe Association. The main shareholder of this association was Jacob Michael, a Jewish businessman. In 1933 Michael started having problems with the Nazis and decided to move to Holland. The property was confiscated as a foreign asset by the national socialist government. After the war, the Soviet Military Administration took the property, and in 1951 it became a communally residence. In 1993 the Hackesche Höfe was recognized as a property of Jacob Michael’s descendants. Between 1995 and 1997 the reconstruction work took place and the architect studio Weiß & Partner was in charge of the project.
The Hackesche Höfe tells the visitors its story and reminds them of the difficult German past. Knowing the history of those buildings and courtyards; the visitors cannot stop feeling something while walking through them. In my opinion, the visit to the Hackesche Höfe could be even better with the option of getting an information review at the entrance. I think the city marketing should pay more attention to the history background instead of positioning the place as a “modern” hang out place.
On the other hand, the Hackesche Höfe is also attractive because of the space it generates. As the architect critic Paul Goldberger said in his book Why Architecture matters:
“The quality of architectural space is never an accident. Space is shaped. Many architects conceptualize a particular kind of space first, and then create a structure that will allow it to be realized”_
The space created in the Hackesche Höfe incites movement; When you go there you feel automatically the desire to move, to explore the place. You get the feeling that the place was designed for people to circulate, to walk. In that sense I agree with Goldberger; the space in the Hackesche Höfe was not created casually. I guess that is one of the reasons why it is a great place for tourists to take a coffee or just walk around. Like the space created in the Hackesche Höfe the architecture of the buildings is also very enjoyable. The forms used in the Art Nouveau buildings are pleasant composition of shapes that let the visitors enjoy them even if they are not experts on architecture tendencies.
As I stated at the beginning I will always recommend the Hackesche Höfe, not because it is a Berliner citizen’s place (as the tourist guides want us to believe), I will do it because it is a great place to enjoy architecture and German history at the same time. Knowing the history behind the courtyards; the place has the power to let the visitors develop feelings towards it. And that power is the reason why architecture is considered art.