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Germany: Honecker's barracks-like buildings take revenge

From state of abandon to 'boom',higher rents relaunch Plattenbau

03 October, 09:14
(by Pierluigi Mennitti) (ANSA) - BERLIN - Twenty-five years after German reunification, there is an item of the old East Germany, which is bound to take an unexpected revenge, thanks to the housing shortage and consequent rise in their prices, especially in big cities. We are talking about the 'Plattenbau', long name in German language for the barracks-like buildings, which used to be the urban symbol of socialism. The term is a combination of two words, panel (Platte) and building (Bau), which explains everything you need to know: easy to build, reflecting the economic logic of egalitarianism.

In the Western countries this type of building was considered to be as a 'testimony' of Communist drabness. It's true: they were not so beautiful, although the elderly people in the GDR remember today that when, in the seventies, Erich Honecker launched his new housing plan, accommodation in these buildings, heated and equipped with modern comforts, were very appreciated, compared with the cold and shabby apartments you could find in historic buildings. After the fall of regimes, everybody wondered what to do with those barracks-like buildings. In some cases it was decided to renovate them starting from exterior surfaces, by adding balconies or colouring the facades. In other cases (such as Dresden or in the Marzahn district in Berlin), it was decided to reduce their height, by eliminating four or five floors and by 'lightening' these buildings. Today they are becoming as popular as they used to be, since the real estate market is static. Prices have shot up in Berlin to more than 4,000 Euros per square metre on the upper floors, and many architects have designed innovative solutions. Starting from the capital, this revival has spread to other cities of the former GDR, such as Leipzig, Jena, Dresden. For Honecker's barracks-like buildings, it's a sort of redemption after so much misunderstanding.

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