Lichtenberg, Berlin: A Sketch from the ground

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Lichtenberg, Berlin: A Sketch from the ground

Lichtenberg, Berlin: A Sketch from the ground

Socialism, plattenbau and Vietnamese culture: Berlin’s historic attic space and its everyday realities.

Journeying through the vestiges of DDR urban development, Bram Esser traces a playful sketch of the shifting social climate of Berlin’s Lichtenberg district. Uncovering its past and present, while predicting its future, he reminds us that apparent urban failure can often conceal a thriving local community.

I. Herzbergstrasse 100. From the street, an innocuous office building, typical of the DDR. A monument signalling the frontier of Soviet bureaucracy, still standing strong while the society that produced it has long since crumbled. One era’s workplace, though, is another’s playground, and now the synchronized clack of clerk’s type-writers has been replaced with distinctive hum of Berlin’s underground.

We enter through the basement, and a long dimly lit hallway greets us. We see no one, but hear the muffled sounds of drums, synthesizers and guitars. Following the music we enter a room and are met with a wall of distortion, hitting us with a cold beat which jumps from our heels to skulls. We move downwards and leave the office building through the back gate. We are in Lichtenberg, Berlin. The city’s historic attic space. A place where things are kept out of sight and expected to gather dust. Scrap-yards, overgrown plots and disused factories litter the horizon, broken up by high-rise apartments used to house mass influxes of immigrants.

This is a land of pre-fabrication, with 150,000 plattenbau erected from 1976-1989 on once fertile farmland. Homes for settlers arriving from Russia, relocating to almost carbon copies of their previous USSR dwellings. Being from German descent, these immigrants were granted citizenship and quickly acclimated to their environment, creating a postal service to send care-packages to close-ones back in the USSR. A system that is still operational today, with packages collected in small shops attached to the plinths of apartment buildings. […]

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