Bulky, striking and anything but delicate, some people love their simplicity while others can’t stand their austerity. While always controversial, Brutalism has a particularly complex history in Berlin.
From the classic GDR Plattenbauten to post-reunification memorials, here are 12 of the city’s most iconic (and contentious) Brutalist landmarks.
In 1981, Technische Universität professor and architect Gerd Hänska designed what is probably one of Berlin’s best-known examples of Brutalism – the Mäusebunker. The building has caused controversy, not only because of its bold appearance, a cross between a battleship and a war bunker, but also because of its use. As the name might suggest, the Mäusebunker initially functioned as an animal testing laboratory of the Freie Universität Berlin.
As of 2003, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin used the building as a research facility intermittently before ultimately applying for its demolition in 2020. But fortunately, the Department of Heritage Protection announced in May 2023 that the Mäusebunker is now listed as a historical monument, meaning that the bastion of Brutalism is here to stay.
- Hindenburgdamm 26, Steglitz
This bizarre egg-shaped structure looks like something straight out of a dystopian film from the 1970s, but it once had a thoroughly useful function as a wind tower. Built between 1934 and 1936, the Trudelturm was used for aeronautical research and was originally located at Johannistal Airport (yet another now-defunct Berlin airport, first opened in 1909 southwest of the city).
Researchers could simulate different types of wind movement inside the concrete cone. Today the Trudelturm has a new home at the Aerodynamic Park on the Adlershof Campus.
- Between Abram-Joffe-Str. and Newtonstr., Adlershof
Considered an outstanding example of socialist architecture, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Berlin certainly has a futuristic glamour to it. The impressive structure was built in the style of Socialist Modernism in the mid-1970s by the architect couple Věra and Vladimír Machonin. While the Embassy technically can’t be directly assigned to Brutalism, its austere appearance and strict design motifs certainly fit the bill.
- Wilhelmstr. 44, Mitte
Garden of Exile
You’ll find the striking ‘Garden of Exile’ in the courtyard of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Architect Daniel Libeskind designed the monument, which consists of 49 concrete pillars. A canopy of olive trees act as a symbol of hope and peace Set on an inclined plane, the site is meant to convey the disorientation and uncertainty experienced by Jewish émigrés forced out of Germany.
- Lindenstr. 9-14, Kreuzberg
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Since 2005 this arresting memorial, designed by US architect Peter Eisenman, has been one of Berlin’s most-visited sites. The memorial consists of 2711 cuboid concrete steles of varying heights built across a plane of almost 20,000 square metres. The quiet intensity of the design allows each individual visitor to privately contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust.
- Cora-Berliner-Str. 1, Mitte
If one building could sum up the sinister history (and often elitist present) of Berlin, it would be the Bunker Reinhardtstraße. Built by the Nazis in 1943 by thousands of forced labourers, the Bunker Reinhardtstraße was originally intended to protect railway passengers in case of an emergency. After the war, the Soviets used the bunker as a prison and it later served as a textile warehouse and even a storage space for tropical fruits (which is why East Berliners called it the “banana bunker”).
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the space was taken over by the techno scene and until its closure in 1996, ‘The Bunker’ was one of the most important clubs in the city. In 2003, advertising agency founder and art collector Christian Boros purchased the site, which he converted into a private museum and penthouse. Today the Boros Collection can be visited by appointment only.
- Reinhardtstr. 20, Mitte
Directly translating to ‘Heavy Load Body’, it doesn’t get more Brutalist than this. The Nazis had this massive concrete cylinder built around 1941 to test the ground’s solidity in preparation for the construction of an enormous triumphal arch.
The project was connected to Hitler’s plans for post-Nazi victory Berlin, which was to be called Welthauptstadt Germania (World Capital City Germania). Today, the 12,650-tonne structure stands protected as a monument between Schöneberg and Tempelhof, causing amazement and frowns from anyone who discovers it.
- General-Pape-Str. 34A, Tempelhof
In 1951, the Berlin Senate built the Airlift Memorial on the newly named Platz der Luftbrücke. Designed by architect Eduard Ludwig, the concrete sculpture rising into the sky commemorates the Berlin Airlift and the pilots who died. The structure memorialises the period between 24 June 1948 and 12 May 1949, when West Berlin was blockaded by the Soviet military administration and Western allies supplied aid by air.
- Platz der Luftbrücke 2, Tempelhof
‘Beton-Cadillacs’ (Concrete Cadillacs)
It wasn’t just architects who shared a love affair with concrete. The Berlin Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell also frequently used the material in his sculptural work. In 1987, Vostell’s ‘Concrete Cadillacs’ was installed in the middle of Rathenauplatz in the Charlottenburg district of Grunewald. Modelled on Francisco Goya’s painting “Naked Maja”, the sculpture reflects the transience of car culture. However, the irony of this sculpture’s location in the centre of a busy traffic circle cannot be ignored.
- Rathenauplatz, Grunewald
St. Agnes Church
From Gothic-style cathedrals to humble village chapels, Berlin is home to quite a few churches, but very few are built entirely of concrete. St. Agnes Church in Kreuzberg is one such exception. Built between 1964 and 1967 by architect Werner Düttmann, it served as a Catholic place of worship until 2004, when an Evangelical ‘Freikirche’ moved in. Since 2015, St. Agnes has been home to the contemporary art of the König Gallery.
- Alexandrinenst. 118-121, Kreuzberg
Hidden away in an industrial courtyard in Wedding you’ll find the production site of the defunct printing press manufacturer Rotaprint. An outstanding example of bold industrial architecture that took its cue from Brutalism, the structure was designed by architect Klaus Kirsten in the late 1950s. Once one of the largest employers in Wedding, Rotaprint dissolved in 1989. The building is now managed by ‘Liegenschaftsfonds’ (the Real Estate Fund), ExRotaprint functions as an open workspace for artists, startups and social groups.
- Gottschedstr. 4, Wedding
Perhaps pushing the definition of Brutalist architecture a bit, the Berlin Wall is probably the most famous concrete structure ever to have existed in this city. At 3.60 metres high and 160 kilometres long, it served as a dividing wall between East and West Berlin – colourfully painted on one side, strictly guarded on the other. It’s a concrete monstrosity that has been almost completely demolished since 1989.
- Parts of the Berlin Wall can be visited at East Side Gallery, Friedrichshain and at various memorials across the city, like at Niederkirchnerstr. 1, Kreuzberg and Bernauer Str. 111, Mitte.