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The Problem of Berlin

Organizing Committee:


The Problem of Berlin

After earlier classes exploring ideas of the political and architectural practice (cf. the City and the Political), the purpose of this spin-off is to move from the abstract to the concrete. No longer 'any' city, but Berlin – what it's made of, how it feels, and where it's going...

Perspective Deficit

The scale and complexity of the subject make it difficult to understand. To grasp something about the city as a whole requires us to shift our gaze, to see it neither from the fashionable kiez nor some imagined 'outside' in the grosssiedlungen on the outskirts. Our point of view must be able to wander, to traverse the sites and social forces that shape it, and weigh their various influences. The aim is not to master the fields listed below in their detail, but to observe their interplay holistically. Otherwise one could study city planning on its own forever but learn little without examining the influence of economic and demographic factors, as well as that of social opposition, as the context behind the eventual outcome.

A materialist taxonomy; what do people do here; what is the composition of the economy; where is poverty concentrated and how is it defined. Who are its employers, landlords, rulers, opponents?

Failed plans from Berlin's past and current imagining of its future: the difference between renewal and gentrification; how is its future economy conceived; why are there so many empty offices?

What do the bankers think and the official statisticians?

Over four sessions the aim of the class is is to provide an empirical familiarity with the morphology of contemporary Berlin, and to understand its political geometry through an awareness of this past. Hopefully by the end we will have a feeling for the material, gain a sense of what conceptual tools can work on it, and have debunked a few myths.


The themes of the four sessions are as follows:

(i) The city as planning object. Here the growth of the city will be sketched from Hobrecht in the 19th century to the Planwerk Innenstadt. Ideological assumptions foregrounding this process have changed, most notably in the passage from functionalism to a desire to retain city fabric or construct urbanity. How the situation stands currently is an open question.

(ii) Economic organs of the city. This section will identify the major employers and activities in Berlin today, from the public sector to tourism, science parks and supposed creative industries.

(iii) Composition of its habitants. Boosterism tells us Berlin is thriving, but is it growing? Demographics is key to understanding real estate markets, but also the identity of its workers, however defined, and its poor. Rich and poor alike must be housed so analysis of the forms of ownership of dwellings, and their financing, will be of importance here.

(iv) History from below. Housing and governance of space has emerged regularly as a key site of social conflict in modern Berlin. Since the seventies movements in two phases have had an impact on spatial and social planning: that in west Berlin from the late 70s, and that from 1990 onwards crystallized in the east after the fall of the wall. We will look at the methods and legacy of both in terms of specific achievements, regulatory changes and kiez culture.


For each session there will be a book extract/essay and a document from an institutional source (bank, city office, etc)


This class will be self-facilitated. The above description is a proposal open to modification both before and during the course of our meetings. In order to encourage active participation, those attending are asked to bring materials of their own, relevant to the discussion, to briefly present and share with others. Photos of relevant sites and scenes could form a useful media for the discussion.

In Closing...

The tone of the above description stresses the factual and empirical, but no amount of data cannot solve the problem of Berlin. Much of the most insightful description of the city is subjective, impressionistic and counter-factual. Contributions and suggested readings in such a vein are invited.


Hi everyone,

just created a new proposal on mapping as activism, which we talked about the class.

i took up on the new york proposal for a start, but all suggestions very welcome how to proceed, also ideas about local practices.

we could possibly create some discourse with the new york class as well (it looks like there was a huge interest on mapping there).

here is the link to the proposal:

there's a new proposal following up on our discussions on "the city and the political" and "the problem of berlin"..

take me off from the list please
i am not in berlin

cheers, angela

Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2012 22:40:13 -0800
Subject: The 1980s and 90s


sean's picture

In terms of collecting data, I was impressed by this crowd sourced map
of recent strikes in China:

and was wondering if that site ( would be useful
for aggregating data in conjunction with what Rob had shown.


After Rob's presentation of OSM in the last class it was suggested that we gather some examples as regards maps and mapping,

GentriMap is a project of Andrej holm's aaround the visualisation of gentrification. Progress seems to have stalled and there is nothing yet to see (!) but you can read what it's about (in German) here.

INURA (a group of "active urbanists") produced a map about Berlin a couple of years ago. It's quite big and takes a while to open.

Bureau des Etudes have been producing conceptual maps charting networks of power and production for many years, have a look at a few!



Due to organizational constraints the class will start tomorrow a little earlier than usual, that is to say 20.05 sharp, as we have to be out of there by 22.00.  Details about the reading is are on the page for the meeting.

As you will have noticed the messaging function on TPS's system has been working as promised.

Hope to see you tomorrow at Archiv.

fiona geuss's picture

hello everybody,
there is a listing of rents on sueddeutsche zeitung, also on berlin:

sean's picture

I am posting a comment to see if it gets delivered to the Problem of Berlin class - if it gets to you then hooray! If not, or if this effort fails in an even more visible way, then I have some excuses ready for the next time we meet :) and Alan has the addresses on paper.

I came across two documents which I thought could be of interest in the last couple of days. Firstly as many of you know there was a conference about social housing organised by Kotti & Co. + allied groups at the Senate last week. To prepare for the event they produced a reader, which you can find here. It's in German but the articles aren't especially long.

Secondly I found a very useful briefing about german tenancy law in english, which was assembled by a german legal scholar at the European University Institute. This guide is composed of two parts: the first gives the general background to the law, the second provides quite detailed answers to the legal context in a range of scenarios - this is the most detailed piece I have found in english and I imagine that it could prove useful.

Sorry for the delay in posting the new readings, they are now osted on the page for the third meeting which will take place this monday at 20.00.



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