The construction of plattenbauten (platte – plate, Bauten – buildings) began in the 1960’s and arose out of necessity as the city’s housing crisis deepened. Actually plattenbauten were constructed in many cities in Europe during this time. Mass destruction after the second world war, was followed by a large population increase as refugee numbers increased. This resulted in an urgent need to build scaleable low cost housing.
The plattenbauten were produced en masse, one design at a time and that design ie 70 would be used repeatedly until a new design was deemed necessary. The plattenbauten were designed to create fast and cheap housing solutions, in fact it’s said that some of the designs could be erected in less than a day. They were usually at least 5 storeys high and extremely uniform in appearance. It’s said that people who lived in them would count the windows up and to the left or right to identify their apartment from the street because the outside of the buildings had no distinguishing characteristics to speak off.
There were only a few variations on the design of a plattenbau and each of the designs were given a number such as 58 or 70. Each plattenbaute was made from prefabricated concrete panels outside and the inside consisted of lots of plastic with some chrome and wood fittings here and there. The style of these apartments became representative of the era and is one of the highlights of the wonderful DDR Museum, which covers the history of Germany during the time of Socialism.
Despite this generic kind of style, a plattenbau apartment was highly desired by young people at the time because they included ‘luxuries’ such as central heating, running water, and internal bathrooms and had kindergartens, schools, shops and parks nearby. Because they were so cheap to produce and construct they were also an affordable housing option for newlyweds with young families. This of course meant there were long waiting lists with some people waiting many years for an apartment to be allocated to them. According to the Museumswohnung, a museum in Berlin about the plattenbauten, rents were fixed at the 1936 rate of 109 mark per month (about €75)! An average original plattenbau apartment today would be double that amount at least, per WEEK!
Fast forward a few decades, the Berlin Wall has fallen and the comparatively decadent lifestyles of the west have been revealed. Berliners’ start to lose interest in the plattenbauten as the spotlight is turned on the deficiencies of the east. Some plattenbauten areas attracted low income earners, unemployed people and larger numbers of immigrant workers, and soon after were associated with trouble. However this was short lived as ‘DDR style’ started to become fashionable again. Now the plattenbau apartments are again a highly desired housing option, with many of them situated right in the heart of the city with access to some of Berlin’s greatest parks and shopping precincts.
The plattenbau apartments have become ‘retro chic’ with many apartments being renovated and redecorated with a more open plan layout. The resurgence in popularity also came partly thanks to the German made film Goodbye Lenin that was filmed in and around plattenbau areas of Karl Marx Allee and Alexanderplatz. More history about the plattenbauten can be found at the DDR Museum on the banks of the Spree, right across from the Berlin Cathedral.