by Chloe Rachel
Holzmarktstraße at Jannowitzbrücke has some of the tallest, most modern, and strangest buildings I have seen in Berlin. It houses three brothers called 75 (red and yellow), 73 (blue and yellow), and 69 (yellow and blue). These brothers were all born in 1971 in a modernist architectural style for an East German housing development. During the Communist rule, the east side of Berlin’s living conditions became worse and worse with each passing year. As such, housing programs were put into place so that East Berliners could find a new and cheaper place to live. Helmut Stingl and Joachim Seifert are the parents of the Holzmarktstraße brothers, they designed and worked together to build a new and improved housing complex that would suit the needs of the people. Stingl wasn’t worried about the style; he wanted mainly to bring cheap apartment housing to the center of the city instead of having it on the outskirts. His idea was to have a few buildings embracing already existing parks and neighborhoods. Apparently, according to some of the renters of the building, plumbing, electricity, and trash management were not installed properly. Some people living in the buildings thought they didn’t have much comfort, but they also didn’t pay very much either. Eventually these problems were fixed, and with each new renovation came a new leasing contract to raise the rent. The perfect solution of the Holzmarktstraße brothers fixing the housing problem became a nightmare to deal with which then transformed into an unavoidable costly situation.
At this point you might be asking yourself, why are you attracted to these buildings at all? From the first moment I saw these triplets I was immediately reminded of IKEA and wondered what their story was. Also, I happen to live in brother 69 and can say that the modern outside of the building is not maintained on the inside. My apartment on the 9th floor and a friend’s apartment on the 3rd still have an East German feel in the interior design. This feeling of DDR, East German structure can be mostly felt in the kitchen. It looks very old, has a huge wooden built in cabinet that looks as it came from a different era. The sink is old and the plumbing deficient. Although I didn’t personally live during the DDR in East Berlin, my mother did live in Erlangen in West Germany, and visited friends living in the East German sector. When she stepped into my apartment, especially the kitchen, she told me she felt like she was transported to the East again. Of course I cannot begin to understand this feeling, but the look on her face told me that the flash back was a surreal. She was mostly struck by the massive wooden cabinet and was reminded of the movie Goodbye Lenin. She said that all that was missing was East German food on the table.
Despite the lack of modernity on the inside, the location is unbeatable, as it is right next to Alexanderplatz and other prime locations in Berlin. Not to mention, the view from the 18th floor which is an extraordinary view of the TV tower. This building, if it were to be fully renovated on the inside, could be the perfect place for a hotel with a splendid view of one of Berlin’s most fascinating icons.
The Holzmarktstraße brothers are not alone, they are part of a larger family of housing programs which were developed during the DDR. All around Berlin, one can spot the other members of this family. For example, cousin Plattenbau can be seen at Berlin-Marzahn, where she was constructed of prefabricated concrete slabs or the “large-panel system building” method in English. Although the Holzmarktstraße buildings aren’t as known as their cousin Plattenbau, they still have a certain unique charm that adds to the overall look and feel of Berlin. Originally developed to offer better housing in a nicer urban environment, the brothers still stand tall today and are a reminiscent of not so ancient times, gone forever in a city that has reunited and risen since the fall of the wall.
Photo 2: Credits by Chloe Rachel