27 April 2011

Equivocated to Death on the NDS


Activism ∕ Condos ∕ NDS

When I yesterday made a return trip to Strelizer Gärten with my friend David, visiting from Malmö, I was at first overcome with the same ambivalence with which I’d previously reacted to it. On our exhaustive, exhausting tour of the New Death Strip last summer, this condo complex was the penultimate stop I’d made on that psychic journey, and at the time I was pretty weak as far as drawing any hard conclusions about it. Although I’d perceived it as a feel-good yuppie design ghetto, planning a new housing development minus a parking garage seemed commendable, and its overly-styled, trendy looking condo units were held in check by the collectivized, non-heirarchical approach of its overall design. Last, the very employment of the dreaded “townhouse” typology was not, to my mind, as bad as some critics purported them to be, and way better than any other example of its kind that I could think of, at least in Berlin. The project’s organization around a publicly-accessible pedestrian street even seemed to convince me that it was all for the greater good, in the end.

Showing David around there yesterday, I was in fact starting get some really good vibes. From the interior pathway one can see some nice progress taking place, the individual units are each doing there own thing but are also building up to a coherent whole. The scattering of toddlers’ plastic vehicles in various shapes and colors lent the place a scruffy, unpretentious feeling, though they might also just have been put out there by some of the fully grown residents in order to deter people who hate young families in general, and small children in particular. Which is exactly what many of them would probably think that we are, and which David might in fact be; his response to all this was to acerbically remark that none of the little ones would ever be allowed to push themselves around in plastic tanks or Ferraris, of course. Continuing his line of thought, he speculated that it’s typical for such well-looked after kids to end up becoming really rotten adults. He might be right, but whatever. We then saw a polished chrome espresso machine through the plate glass window of some particularly well outfitted digs, on the counter of one of those kitchens filled with lots of expensive utensils hanging from an elegant rack system (nothing from Ikea here!). David, who’s an architecture journalist as well as a trained chef, snarked: “Beatrix Potter Minimalism”.

I was myself feeling more upbeat, noticing how a resident had left her townhouse to walk a few doors down and knock on the door of a neighbor. From his doorstep they had a quick word about some non-pressing issue or another, and on her short trip back home I greeted her with a smile and a cheerful “guten Tag!”, which she returned in kind. Certainly the two of us were made to feel more than welcome on an interpersonal level. Maybe the space of this irrationally curved pedestrian street is a bit like that of a medieval village in Tuscany, a place that I’ve never been to but which I imagine being inhabited by some very good-natured, neighborly folk who would help out a stranger in need.


All of those impressions were shattered once we circled back around to Bernauer Straße, from where I saw this “ATOMKRAFT? NEIN DANKE” flag on the rooftop of one of the units. Smugly fluttering in the breeze between a couple of shiny new solar panels, the energy calculations had, to my mind, not been performed exhaustively enough in order to warrant such posturing. How can someone actually do this and simultaneously live in a new-build single family home with giant plate glass windows? No matter how awesome the energy ratings are, I don’t buy it. And neither, of course, did David.

I wished that I’d had a can of black spray paint handy so I could have defaced the unit’s precious new façade with the words “die yuppie scum’, or something along those lines.