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Expressionist Architecture: Where Berlin Looks Like Gotham City

Elegant lines, intricate brick work and gothic splendour characterise Berlin's iconic expressionist architecture.

The Church on Hohenzollernplatz .Photo: IMAGO / Agefotostock / Ivan Dovin

Expressionist architecture reached a brief but intense peak in Berlin in the 1920s. While other styles of architecture were concerned with clean edges and freeing themselves from ornaments and decoration, ditching the kitsch in favour of the practical, expressionist buildings went all out.

They manage to look monumental and delicate at the same time. The churches, residential, industrial and office buildings in this style shaped film aesthetics from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Christpher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

Here are twelve iconic expressionist buildings in Berlin that still impress today.

Borsigturm

Photo: IMAGO / Ulli Winkler

The Berlin based Borsig company was a European locomotive manufacturing giant in the 19th century. In 1922 they built the 65 metre tall Borsig Tower, possibly the city’s first skyscraper. The lower floors are still functioning as office space today, but the spire hides a ballroom, where the architect (Eugen Schmohl) gave full rein to his expressionist vision.

  • Borsigturm Am Borsigturm 11, Reinickendorf, nearest U-Bahn Borsigwerke.

Ullsteinhaus

Photo: IMAGO / Agefotostock / Ivan Dovin

The publisher Ullstein dominated the newspaper business in Berlin, also entering the book business at the beginning of the 20th century. After his groundbreaking work on the Borsig Tower, Eugen Schmohl designed and built the Ullsteinhaus from 1925-1927. A clock tower with a copper roof looms above the gothic inspired masterpiece.

  • Ullsteinhaus, Ullsteinstr. 114-142, Tempelhof, nearest U-Bahn Ullsteinstr.

Zeppelinstraße

Photo: IMAGO / Sabine Gudath

While most of the examples of expressionist architecture in Berlin are from the German-Dutch influenced brick work school, the Zeppelinstraße cooperative housing estate in Spandau dispensed with the bricks altogether. None of the angles are quite as you expect them to be, with the windows orientated outwards rather than flat against the building. A jagged tiled tower tops of the strange ensemble.

  • Wohnanlage Zeppelinstraße, Spandau, nearest U-Bahn Rathaus Spandau.

Schwarzkopf Factory

Photo: Gerd Fahrenhorst / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1927 the chemist and entrepreneur Hans Schwarzkopf struck gold with his invention of liquid shampoo. In the two years that followed, he built a factory building in southern Schöneberg on Alboinstrasse.

A lavishly decorated facade faces the street, covering the building’s steel skeleton. It now houses offices, but you can still check out the beautiful exterior.

  • Schwarzkopf-Fabrik/Alboinkontor, Alboinstr. 42, Schöneberg, nearest S+U-Bahn Tempelhof.

Fernamt Schöneberg

Photo: Onkel Dittmeyer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

1923 saw the start of construction of Berlin’s most modern (and most expensive) post office. It was built on a cross shaped floor plan, where hundreds of telephone operators connected calls under the towering seven metre high ceilings.

The 90 metre wide facade facing the street today, now houses start-ups under the Telekom umbrella company. The hub:raum café in the building is open to the public on weekdays, so you can have a peek inside too.

  • Fernamt Schöneberg, Winterfeldtstr. 21-27, Schöneberg, nearest S+U-Bahn Bülowstraße.

Heilige Familie

Photo: IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner

This Catholic church was consecrated in 1930, and leans heavily towards the fire and brimstone end of the scale in its approach. It looks almost like a fortress, instilling a healthy fear of the almighty in its congregation. The basilica itself has a Romanesque flair, and you enter through an imposing set of double doors.

  • Heilige Familie, Wichertstr. 23, Prenzlauer Berg, nearest S+U-Bahn Schönhauser Allee.

Haus am Köllnischen Park

Decoration typical of the expressionist style. Photo: IMAGO / Enters

The facade of the Haus am Köllnischen Park is elaborately decorated with brick work detail and terracotta figures. Inside, the six-story steel frame building’s large foyers are decorated with tiles. Completed in 1933, the building initially housed the administration of a health insurance company.

Today, the building has been converted into fancy apartments which are advertised to have a great view of Berlin’s landmarks.

  • Haus am Köllnischen Park, Rungestr. 3-6, Mitte, nearest U-Bahn U Heinrich-Heine-Straße.

Reichspostzentralamt

Photo: Bodo Kubrak / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

This gorgeous building studded with blue and red bricks is particularly richly decorated. Construction was finished in 1928, when it housed the Reichsamt, which was responsible for the progress of communication technology. Inside the sun shines into the atrium, which is decorated with turquoise-blue ceramic tiles.

  • Dienstgebäude des Reichspostzentralamts, Ringbahnstr. 130, Tempelhof, nearest S+U-Bahn Tempelhof.

Abspannwerk Scharnhorst

Photo: IMAGO / Imagebroker / Lothar Steiner

Expressionist architecture was particularly dominant in industry. The triangular columns of the Scharnhorst substation (where transformers for electricity were housed) is a great example of the style. It was built in 1928 by Hans Heinrich Müller, one of the main architects of the Berlin Electricity Works Corporation. It now houses Vattenfall offices.

  • Abspannwerk Scharnhorst, Sellerstr., Wedding, nearest U-Bahn Schwartzkopffstr.

Haus des Rundfunks

Haus des Rundfunks, RBB, Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg, Masurenallee, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Deutschland *** Haus des Rundfunks, RBB, Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg, Masurenallee, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany

In 1931, the Haus des Rundfunks (broadcasting house) was the largest radio building in Europe. It was a project on an unprecedented scale. Inside, corridors lead from the striking atrium to all the broadcasting rooms, studios and office wings of the building. Cleverly, only the outer walls of the building are load-bearing, so the offices inside can be adapted as required.

The building still functions as a broadcasting house, and also contains an excellent concert hall as well as numerous studios.

  • Haus des Rundfunks, Masurenallee 8-14, Westend, nearest S-Bahn Messe Nord ICC.

Kreuzkirche Schmargendorf

Photo: IMAGO / Imagebroker / Helmut Meyer zur Capellen

In 1927 the architects Ernst and Günther Paulus began building the artists’ colony in Wilmersdorf. In neighboring Schmargendorf, the village church had long since become too small for the district, so the architects were commissioned with building a larger one.

The three-pointed tower is decorated with zigzag patterns, but the focal point is the unusual porch, based on the form of East Asian pagodas.

  • Kreuzkirche, Hohenzollerndamm 130, Schmargendorf, nearest S-Bahn Hohenzollerndamm.

Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz

Photo: IMAGO / Agefotostock / Ivan Dovin

This expressionist architectural gem, completed in 1934, looks like it has hopped straight off the screen of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The pillars of the gothic facade draw visitors’ eyes up towards the heavens, and the elegant pointed arches inside the church make it amazingly light and airy.

  • Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz, Nassauische Str. 66-67, Wilmersdorf, nearest U-Bahn Hohenzollernplatz.

More on architecture in Berlin

Interested in other notable bits of Berlin architecture? Check out what remains of Nazi architecture in Berlin, the oldest buildings in Mitte and how green architecture can help the city achieve its carbon neutral goals.

This article was adapted from the German by Poppy Smallwood.

04.09.2023 - 13:20 Uhr
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