Berlin’s Cultural Clusters

Continuing my summer series on lessons learned from great cities, a recent trip to Berlin shone a light on the city’s three great cultural clusters, and what makes them sing. Or in one case, solitary. Of course inseparable from this conversation is the effectiveness of public space and what happens when the public takes ownership of a square or plaza and inhabit the space during most daylight hours.

What you nurture becomes yours truly, whether an idea, a garden or a puppy. One reason babies and puppies are so lovable is to ensure their survival, because they require significant amounts of time, energy, and resources to grow and thrive. In a similar vein, if public spaces are to be nurtured by their surrounding inhabitants, they must be lovable.

Squares and Plazas

“There is surprisingly little in modern engineering design literature dealing with the subject of plaza’s and squares. This is not surprising in that the more classical and formal use of these public spaces has fallen out of use in the last 50 or 60 years. In recent times, however, there has been resurgence among traditional town planners in the design and use of these places.” ~Peter Swift

Peter’s observation certainly holds true in Berlin as well, where the older squares and plazas are significantly more successful than any newer ones that I experienced. The form-based SmartCode defines civic space as park, green, square, plaza, or playground, and a forthcoming SmartCode Module by Swift et al further breaks down civic space into 41 design types.

Civic space within Museum Island was always inhabited, offering a comfortable sense of enclosure, seating, shade, and interesting sights.

Civic space within Museum Island was always inhabited, offering a comfortable sense of enclosure, seating, shade, and interesting sights.

Lustgarten, the great square outside the Altes Museum and Berliner Dom is approachable despite its formality.

Lustgarten, the great square outside the Altes Museum and Berliner Dom is approachable
despite its formality.

The somber but beautiful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by Peter Eisenman, finds relief in the Tiergarten trees behind.

The somber but beautiful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by Peter Eisenman, finds relief in the Tiergarten trees behind.

And in the sense of enclosure and human scale from the surrounding urbanism.

And in the sense of enclosure and human scale from the surrounding urbanism.

Gathering places like this one where we can come to better understand and appreciate diversity offer some hope that the gravity of past sorrows will stop future atrocities.

Gathering places like this one where we can come to better understand and appreciate diversity offer some hope that the gravity of past sorrows will stop future atrocities.

Some SmartCode advice that would have been beneficial to Berlin: “A Square is an open space available for unstructured recreation and civic purposes. A square is spatially defined by building frontages. Its landscape shall consist of paths, lawns and trees, formally disposed. Squares shall be located at the intersection of important thoroughfares. The minimum size shall be 1/2 acre and the maximum shall be 5 acres.”

Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz have seen significant redevelopment in the last decade, but you may detect reverberations left over from the Cold War in the large scale, which leads to isolation.

Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz have seen significant redevelopment in the last decade, but you may detect reverberations left over from the Cold War in the large scale, which leads to isolation.

While I was only there on the weekend, Potsdamer Platz didn’t seem to be a place where people lingered, offering neither seats or shade. However, it was still one of my favourite spots for coffee.

While I was only there on the weekend, Potsdamer Platz didn’t seem to be a place where
people lingered, offering neither seats or shade. However, it was still one of my favourite spots
for coffee.

The large pink pipes are temporary for construction only, to service the high water table. Although why they weren’t placed a block over instead of through the heart of the principal square is questionable.

The large pink pipes are temporary for construction only, to service the high water table. Though why they weren’t placed a block over instead of through the heart of the principal square is questionable.

Cultural Clusters

Berlin’s three cultural clusters where I spent the most time were The Museum Island, Charlottenburg Schloss, and the Kulturforum. In each neighborhood, the primary focus is on the visual arts via museums and galleries. Only the Culture Forum has performing arts. However, I still view them as cultural clusters, and enjoy looking at what makes them sing. Or solitary.

A short walk between the five delightful museums on Museum Island, including this Alte Nationalgalerie, keeps a healthy visitorship engaged.

A short walk between the five delightful museums on Museum Island, including this Alte Nationalgalerie, keeps a healthy visitorship engaged.

Restaurants, hotels and shops along the Spree from Museum Island offer up a walkable, compact, complete neighborhood.

Restaurants, hotels and shops along the Spree from Museum Island offer up a walkable, compact, complete neighborhood.

Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Mies van der Rohe, is the star of the Kulturforum. The autocentric environment means most of the people are in the galleries below grade.

Neue Nationalgalerie, designed by Mies van der Rohe, is the star of the Kulturforum. The autocentric environment means most of the people are in the galleries below grade.

Great sculptures in the plaza around the Neue Nationalgalerie, like this Henry Moore, enjoy a good deal of solitude.

Great sculptures in the plaza around the Neue Nationalgalerie, like this Henry Moore, enjoy a
good deal of solitude.

The only enclosed exterior space at Neue Nationalgalerie is not accessible to pedestrians, only through glass.

The only enclosed exterior space at Neue Nationalgalerie is not accessible to pedestrians, only through glass.

I’d be interested in hearing your ideas in the comments below of great modernist or contemporary architecture that does a great job of human scale, walkability, and sense of enclosure, like this Schloss Charlottenburg. Or check back here next week for a few examples from Paris that do just that.

I’d be interested in hearing your ideas in the comments below of great modernist/contemporary architecture that does a great job of human scale, walkability, and sense of enclosure, like this Schloss Charlottenburg. Or check back here next week for a few examples from Paris that do just that.

Formal gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg.

Formal gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg.

Valuing European Cultural Clusters

If you want to delve deeply into this subject from an economic development and public policy perspective, I recommend Developing Successful Creative & Cultural Clusters: Measuring their outcomes and impacts with new framework tools, completed earlier this year.  The study, by European Creative Industries Alliance, Institute for Innovation and Technology, and ProjektZukunft Berlin, measures “outcomes and impacts of cluster initiatives in the field of creative and cultural industries (CCI) throughout Europe” and develops “tailor-made and demand-oriented public support measures.”

However, the study does not deal with the form of regional development, only the need for it to cluster within the region. Without the consideration of walkability and livability, these sorts of economic approaches will have limited impacts on local resilience.

Cycling Berlin

It’s tough to round out any PlaceShakers blog without addressing ways to get around between urban places. The most satisfying way in Berlin, at least for three seasons, is via bicycle.

With typical German precision, red tiled cycle lanes mark out an extensive cycling network. And just so the cyclists behave themselves and stay off the pedestrian portion of the sidewalk, notice the bumpy little pavers on each side of the red lane!

With typical German precision, red tiled cycle lanes mark out an extensive cycling network. And just so the cyclists behave themselves and stay off the pedestrian portion of the sidewalk, notice the bumpy little pavers on each side of the red lane!

On larger streets that were in need of a street diet, instead of the red lanes there are an intricate series of turn lanes that reduce the design speed for cars.

On larger streets that were in need of a street diet, instead of the red lanes there are an intricate series of cyclist travel and turn lanes that reduce the design speed for cars.

A great system of cycling crosswalks keep cyclists mounted through intersections, and make way for younger cyclists.

A great system of cycling crosswalks keep cyclists mounted through intersections, and make way for younger cyclists.

That’s it for Berlin. Stay tuned next week, when our destination is Paris.

Until then,
Hazel Borys

If PlaceShakers is our soapbox, our Facebook page is where we step down, grab a drink and enjoy a little conversation. Looking for a heads-up on the latest community-building news and perspective from around the web? Click through and “Like” us and we’ll keep you in the loop.

Comments

  1. Public places without seating are an insult to all of us.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] has a similar cyclist network approach to Berlin, but without the wide rumblestrips to keep the cyclists in line! However, their bike-sharing is the [...]

Join the Conversation

*

Confirm that you are not a bot - select a man with raised hand: