New Land

An excursion into an unknown area, where curious German (architectural) history is very tangible: Lusatia, the name given to a country region of south Brandenburg and north-east Saxony that extends over the River Neisse to Lower Silesia in Poland. In his travelogue, Wolfgang Bachmann speaks of the former GDR stage scenery, West German-influenced reappraisal of the GDR period and spruced-up Baroque splendour – all in the immediate vicinity of one another.

Sometimes one recognises where one is and what has been going on around one through incidental remarks. Here in LusatiaA, it’s the car registration plates, which almost all begin with three letters: SPN, FOR, SPB, GUB. This is not a reference to the existence of particularly small towns in this region, but a reflection of the distribution of the place name abbreviations after the collapse of East Germany in 1989 (euphemistically referred to as the turning point or Wende in German), given that many combinations of letters were already taken. Another indication are the yellow recycling bins for synthetics, plastics and metals. They are large, and sometimes there are even two of them outside the houses. They are indicative of how shopping is done. In the villages there are no longer any shops. People buy shrink-wrapped goods at the Discount Supermarket or have things delivered.

So far, things are done like in western Germany; yet the flat land in the East is unmistakeably different. Only in the more bustling towns and cities are things done differently. Visiting Erfurt, Weimar or Dresden, you would marvel each time at how much more Altstadt (old town) had been freshly built. Sand-blasted, newly plastered, glossed and gilded, here the building facades compete with each other for monument preservation awards. And it is not far for the much sought-after craftsmen from Poland. Western Germany cannot match all this splendour.

The peace of the country

But we are not in the city. If you come from southern Germany, you will experience Lusatia, with its flat meadows and pine forests, much as you did the north German lowlands; we always had to go through it when, as children, we were carted off to the Baltic Coast for holidays. But now everything seems to be working against tourism. The granite road paving in the villages features sharper edges than the basalt cobble stones at home. All these edges seem to be opposed to being driven over by cars and deep ruts at the sides of the road are a prompt to dodge the issue by driving onto the sandy strips. Then come the tarred paths, which are narrow and form undulating swells from the sun and use. Driving has something of navigation. This is the first time one wishes one had an SUV. How did “Trabbis”C get over these mounds in the road? The roads are so full of curves and, at times, sharp bends, as if they were built to protect private properties. The signposts to places with lots of consonants are, from time to time, complemented by names that are even harder to pronounce. This is not Polish, but SorbianB, the language of the ethnic minority in Lusatia. We pass by a spot that consists of fields flanked by high trees. Imposing barns mark the first bend in the road like city walls. The barns have been built with red bricks, and feature smooth surfaces, linear edges and ornamental ventilation openings. These now empty buildings have simply grown old but are not dilapidated or reverently touted as a traditional building style. In Berlin or Munich, they would have been turned into culture barns. A farmer shows his from the farm side. It is split in two by a deep crack, the serrated frieze is broken, and the smooth surfaces are covered in bullet holes. Even after a whole human lifetime has passed, the war is still legible here.

Yes, the war. Perhaps it has to do with the fear-driven situation of the attack on Ukraine that such pictures are currently more present. When, at the close of the day, one walks down to the banks of the Neisse and sees the remains of the concrete bridges reaching towards the river or the rusty lattice work of the railway viaducts, it becomes easy to imagine Russian tanks ploughing the fields. Such mental images don’t take place at Lake Tegernsee in Bavaria; one doesn’t even think of the Miesbach Farmer Uprising of 1705 there. However, this landscape hides further details that are negatively occupied. For example, one can identify three different types of streetlamps: concrete posts with what are called round disc lamps, which are found mostly in towns and cities; models with a fish-shaped aluminium housing; and, lastly, lamp apparatuses that look somewhat like storage trunks on thin cantilever arms. It would be euphemistic to speak of design. As high-pressure mercury vapour lamps they emit a blue-coloured light, and as sodium vapour lamps an orange-coloured light. Both are eerie. They are known from the inner-German border crossings on the transit routes and the former Berlin Wall. They come with a feeling of control and surveillance. This was, after all, the former GDR.

Inheritance of that period

The country houses rarely feature exposed brickwork. As if agreed in advance, they all have the same colour of plaster – a dirty grey-beige that reminds one of smokers’ fingers. Why was only that colour available in the GDR? One could almost consider it a prescribed disguise. In August, when it is hot, the houses merge into the dried-out fields. Only the garden fences are a peculiarity. Just as stakes attached by twisted wire have remained in Bavaria and the trellis fence belonged to the terraced house of the 1950s, the self-made metal mesh fence has imposed itself in Lusatia. A people of iron benders and welders! Whatever could be mounted was used for that specific purpose: flat iron bars, brackets, reinforced steel, water pipes, horseshoes. As there was too little of everything, one had to make up for a lack of material with decorative pieces. So, it is hard to find fences made of one kind of stake or regulated mesh, but there are lots of inventively thrown together meshes, which were painted with the (always high) gloss paints that were available. They have survived until today and are only now gradually disappearing. Those who were able to build after the Wende were also able to afford a new fence. Although not so much the western German standard of the double wire mesh fence with privacy-affording horizontal strips or upright Gabion fences; more likely it was something solid and sound from the builder’s market. So, there was a continuation of the old mesh fences, but now somewhat statelier and made entirely of the same material.

Making stuff with one’s own hands in the former Worker and Farmer State was a life-supporting activity. One could even have it protected as an intangible cultural asset. Whoever wasn’t good with their hands, relied on a knack for certain things. Sustainability was never an issue in the Five-Year Plans of the SED leadership.1 There were practical reasons to handle resources responsibly. That mentality has survived in the countryside. The small farms, often privately run as a secondary source of income, with their many barns, outhouses and garages, are veritable material stores. Behind our holiday accommodation is a wall to which brackets are attached, and on which metal bars, aluminium rods and pieces of PVC piping are neatly stored. Underneath a canopy structure between the garages, panes of glass and acrylic boards lean against the wall. In the higher barn square-shaped planks of wood and thick boards are ready for use. Stacks of pine logs are used in wood gas generator heating systems. When the doorway to a store is left open, one sees self-made work benches and equipment, of which there is usually more than one of each piece, obviously in diverse states of wear and tear. Nothing is ever thrown away. Four old lawn mowers can be used to build a new one. The garden at our accommodation also has a life story to tell. There is a kind of brick-built summer house there with bent plastic furniture; on the wall is a shaving mirror and a thermometer. A water tank that was lovingly built using dark bricks, and featuring a water tap, once served to water the plants. A five-armed lamp with broken ball lamps marks the middle of the grass area; it has been welded from hollow profiles and can be seen as a parody by workers of the art of the grand garden of the nobility.   

Little has been changed in the small grey houses. The matte synthetic windows could still be VEB manufactured.2 One has a feeling that those who can afford it prefer to build new houses, on the same plot of land. The new houses radiate in fresh pastel colours, well wrapped up in a thermal insulation system; they are no less garish than those in the west.

Groping one's way out of the the dark

It may be just my imagination, but on the way back from an excursion, the villages are dead. They look as if they are not lived in. Only the weeds thrive. This is not an experience that is well known, even in other harsh German regions. Whether it is the streets where one can stumble easily, the dilapidated outhouses, the large plots of land or the dark trees: walking around here is not a pleasant feeling. Sometimes a dog may bark loudly. Bets can be taken on whether one finds three, four or even five light sources on at the same time in the whole village. The popular term “nightfall” suddenly sounds like a threat. Are they all watching TV behind their shutters? There is no mobile phone reception either. Some houses still show signs of a former business use. An imposing building with white plaster features neon signs from the brewery Kulmbacher Brauerei on its façade. Someone must have tried their hand at gastronomy after the Wende. Now the signs are all that remains; there is no longer a pub here. The evidence trail is interesting if one wants to know what has unintentionally taken place here. The old village church in Preschen, a stone building from the 14th/15th century, would be of interest. But, as expected, it is closed. Inside there is a Baroque altar, frescoes, a lowered wooden beam ceiling and a modern tiled heating stove, according to the internet. During the 40 years of the GDR who looked after the churches? In material terms? Spiritually?

There is better luck at the large Christ Church in Döbern, an imposing building from 1908, with both Art Nouveau and Homeland Style influences. It is part of the extensive sacred building portfolio of the architect Georg Büttner. The church nave with its extravagant galleries and built over three different entrances was big enough when it was built to house all town dwellers. The town grew on the back of mining and glass factories. The only new building is the “professional practice-oriented primary and secondary school” building by SEHW architects, a monolithic angular block made of light-coloured solid coal-fired bricks which highlight a connection to the former coal mining region. Indentations on the ground floor disrupt the regular facades, providing space for an entrance and auditorium. A woman from a building opposite notices our interest. Here is an opportunity to get something off her chest. Whether or not the school building fits into the town, she does not want to express an opinion on that. But the two years of building were exhausting for nearby residents. And it hasn’t stopped there. Do you think, she asks, that mothers that pick up their brats, drive into the carpark built for that purpose? No, they double park, leaving their car engines running, directly outside the entrance. But at least young families are not leaving. The Berlin architects, who have offices in Munich, Stuttgart, Duisburg and Vienna see the school as a form of counteracting the trend towards moving away, by providing a modern education offer, “with a school based on the latest pedagogic insight and built according to high architectural standards. We built such a school for LusatiaB: a primary education level in an inclusive school centre in Döbern. Three floors, two volumes for 360 pupils.”

On the trail of work and inactivity

Structural change is the problem; currently even more so, because lignite open-cast mining is on its last legs. Since 1989 Döbern has lost 35 per cent of its population. Things are no better in the district town of Forst. It was once regarded as the “the German Manchester” because of its textile factories. There were 290 businesses in the 19th century involved in the production of yarns and textiles. Even though 85 per cent of the town was destroyed by the end of the war, some of its large industrial buildings were left standing. After foundation of the GDR these companies, now banded together as VEB Tuchfabriken Forst, continued to manufacture. But that is all in the past now, and the red and yellow listed castle-like factories are left more or less to rot. Attractive uses would have been found for them a long time ago in a large and centrally located city. But how many start-ups does one want to have here, just a stone’s throw away from the Polish border. For night owls, an “Art Park East” (although the name would be quite fitting here), would only work in Munich.

In between the factory buildings are the villas of the former factory owners. The spectrum ranges from New Renaissance to New Objectivity. In Hamburg’s Blankenese or Dahlem in Berlin, one would be prepared to pay several million euros for them. But in Forst, many villas await new owners, though sometimes a new roof finally protects the crumbling walls. Of a population of 26,000 in 1989, 17,500 now remain. Around the church of St. Nikolai, which has been the object of frequent changes and conversions resulting from regular destruction since the 15th century, voids in the centre of the town, which was destroyed in the war, were closed with prefabricated concrete slab buildings. They since became empty and later demolished. In the travel guides, the windy square is now called “Grüne Mitte” (Green Centre), but old photos show a major city square with a victory column.

The town’s actual recreation area is what is known as the Rose Garden on the banks of the Neisse, the layout out of which was begun in 1913 to mark the 25th anniversary of Kaiser Wilhelm II on the throne. Fitted out with sculptures, pergolas and water fountains it combines flowerbeds and an English landscape park. Since the 1950s a music pavilion has also been located here, marking Lusatia’s cautious connection to the western kidney-shaped table period. In 2009 an independent jury named this monument “Germany’s most beautiful park”.

More well-known is Branitz Park in Cottbus, laid out by Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau in the mid-19th century. He had actually laid out the park on both banks of the Neisse around his palatial castle in Muskau, but then had to give up these plans because of financial problems. Whoever, after the Wende, took a quick look at the renovated part on the German side of the border, will not remember seeing a fabled palace. Black ruins were all that remained of it, as Pückler’s palace was destroyed by fire, as it was in the very heart of the defence lines against the Red Army. Today a restored neo-Renaissance building, of the kind one has never seen before, stands here in a show-off manner. This ornamental building with its ridge turrets and pinnacles above the eaves that are reminiscent of stalagmites is a challenge to the nomenklatura used by art historians. An impressive staircase designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel connects the building to the park. Inside, the rooms, still being renovated, serve as a museum, library and café. When one walks through (if not to say, wanders through) the extensive landscaped park, one finds oneself asking how this art of the garden, which, in this case, goes dates back to an extravagant and noble bon vivant from the 19th century (with a preference for minor girls), was explained to the workers in the GDR. Is such feudal luxury only possible in capitalism, because it is meant for the few and comes at the cost of assetless workers and farmers? And must socialist society take on such an achievement, one it could never repeat, simply as inherited staging? The commune promenades through the princely garden?

Obligated piety

One has similar thoughts in the Cistercian Monastery in Neuzelle, to the south of Eisenhüttenstadt. This is a complex that was extended in the 17th and 18th centuries into a representative Baroque complex. It includes a monastic garden, which for the last 25 years is being newly laid out by the Berlin landscape architects hochCC accordance with an historic model but minus the richness of the Baroque; the design takes a modern approach and features architecture-based follies. The position on a slope gives the carefully circled French art of the garden far-reaching views into the landscape of the River Oder, as if the profane world between the two Baroque churches was part of a contemplative balance.

One can only be amazed at finding a well-preserved gem from the High Baroque period here in the most remote corner of the former GDR. Neuzelle? Had never heard of it before. Particularly the larger of the two churches, dedicated to St. Marien (St. Mary), and sumptuously converted from a Gothic hall church that was built following a rectangular ground plan, one would imagine in Bavaria instead of close to the Polish border. The altars, with their countless angels, figures of saints, lions and hundreds of frolicking cherubs, form an impressive reserve of folksy hermeneutics. One can imagine that with one clap of the hands, all the preaching, praying and celebrating beings will come alive and one is once again in the Garden of Eden, with Hosanna being sung. But one simply does not want to go there.

Indeed, the tourist attractions, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, are not very different to our trusted South German home. Except that everything looks so new and perfect, making it all the stranger in these difficult surroundings. A real estate agent from Düsseldorf presciently opened up an office in Görlitz just after the reunion of both countries. He was targeting well-off pensioners, he says, people from the Rhineland who used to be on the lookout for a place to spend winter in Mallorca. He now offers them apartments and houses from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicist, German industrial revolution and Art Nouveau periods, all meticulously renovated by Polish craftsmen; here, everything is new. But old buildings are less popular with the local residents. They preferred to buy new houses on the outskirts. Perhaps there are just too many real experiences attached to the stones.

We tourists go back to the west. Perhaps no one really noticed us. After all, we have a registration plate that also begins with three letters.

New Land

1/18/2023

Wolfgang Bachmann, Translation: Liam Burke

An excursion into an unknown area, where curious German (architectural) history is very tangible: Lusatia, the name given to a country region of south Brandenburg and north-east Saxony that extends over the River Neisse to Lower Silesia in Poland. In his travelogue, Wolfgang Bachmann speaks of the former GDR stage scenery, West German-influenced reappraisal of the GDR period and spruced-up Baroque splendour – all in the immediate vicinity of one another.

Sometimes one recognises where one is and what has been going on around one through incidental remarks. Here in Lusatia, it’s the car registration plates, which almost all begin with three letters: SPN, FOR, SPB, GUB. This is not a reference to the existence of particularly small towns in this region, but a reflection of the distribution of the place name abbreviations after the collapse of East Germany in 1989 (euphemistically referred to as the turning point or Wende in German), given that many combinations of letters were already taken. Another indication are the yellow recycling bins for synthetics, plastics and metals. They are large, and sometimes there are even two of them outside the houses. They are indicative of how shopping is done. In the villages there are no longer any shops. People buy shrink-wrapped goods at the Discount Supermarket or have things delivered.

So far, things are done like in western Germany; yet the flat land in the East is unmistakeably different. Only in the more bustling towns and cities are things done differently. Visiting Erfurt, Weimar or Dresden, you would marvel each time at how much more Altstadt (old town) had been freshly built. Sand-blasted, newly plastered, glossed and gilded, here the building facades compete with each other for monument preservation awards. And it is not far for the much sought-after craftsmen from Poland. Western Germany cannot match all this splendour.

The peace of the country

But we are not in the city. If you come from southern Germany, you will experience Lusatia, with its flat meadows and pine forests, much as you did the north German lowlands; we always had to go through it when, as children, we were carted off to the Baltic Coast for holidays. But now everything seems to be working against tourism. The granite road paving in the villages features sharper edges than the basalt cobble stones at home. All these edges seem to be opposed to being driven over by cars and deep ruts at the sides of the road are a prompt to dodge the issue by driving onto the sandy strips. Then come the tarred paths, which are narrow and form undulating swells from the sun and use. Driving has something of navigation. This is the first time one wishes one had an SUV. How did “Trabbis” get over these mounds in the road? The roads are so full of curves and, at times, sharp bends, as if they were built to protect private properties. The signposts to places with lots of consonants are, from time to time, complemented by names that are even harder to pronounce. This is not Polish, but Sorbian, the language of the ethnic minority in Lusatia. We pass by a spot that consists of fields flanked by high trees. Imposing barns mark the first bend in the road like city walls. The barns have been built with red bricks, and feature smooth surfaces, linear edges and ornamental ventilation openings. These now empty buildings have simply grown old but are not dilapidated or reverently touted as a traditional building style. In Berlin or Munich, they would have been turned into culture barns. A farmer shows his from the farm side. It is split in two by a deep crack, the serrated frieze is broken, and the smooth surfaces are covered in bullet holes. Even after a whole human lifetime has passed, the war is still legible here.

Yes, the war. Perhaps it has to do with the fear-driven situation of the attack on Ukraine that such pictures are currently more present. When, at the close of the day, one walks down to the banks of the Neisse and sees the remains of the concrete bridges reaching towards the river or the rusty lattice work of the railway viaducts, it becomes easy to imagine Russian tanks ploughing the fields. Such mental images don’t take place at Lake Tegernsee in Bavaria; one doesn’t even think of the Miesbach Farmer Uprising of 1705 there. However, this landscape hides further details that are negatively occupied. For example, one can identify three different types of streetlamps: concrete posts with what are called round disc lamps, which are found mostly in towns and cities; models with a fish-shaped aluminium housing; and, lastly, lamp apparatuses that look somewhat like storage trunks on thin cantilever arms. It would be euphemistic to speak of design. As high-pressure mercury vapour lamps they emit a blue-coloured light, and as sodium vapour lamps an orange-coloured light. Both are eerie. They are known from the inner-German border crossings on the transit routes and the former Berlin Wall. They come with a feeling of control and surveillance. This was, after all, the former GDR.

Inheritance of that period

The country houses rarely feature exposed brickwork. As if agreed in advance, they all have the same colour of plaster – a dirty grey-beige that reminds one of smokers’ fingers. Why was only that colour available in the GDR? One could almost consider it a prescribed disguise. In August, when it is hot, the houses merge into the dried-out fields. Only the garden fences are a peculiarity. Just as stakes attached by twisted wire have remained in Bavaria and the trellis fence belonged to the terraced house of the 1950s, the self-made metal mesh fence has imposed itself in Lusatia. A people of iron benders and welders! Whatever could be mounted was used for that specific purpose: flat iron bars, brackets, reinforced steel, water pipes, horseshoes. As there was too little of everything, one had to make up for a lack of material with decorative pieces. So, it is hard to find fences made of one kind of stake or regulated mesh, but there are lots of inventively thrown together meshes, which were painted with the (always high) gloss paints that were available. They have survived until today and are only now gradually disappearing. Those who were able to build after the Wende were also able to afford a new fence. Although not so much the western German standard of the double wire mesh fence with privacy-affording horizontal strips or upright Gabion fences; more likely it was something solid and sound from the builder’s market. So, there was a continuation of the old mesh fences, but now somewhat statelier and made entirely of the same material.

© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
© Daniele Ansidei
01 | 13
© Daniele Ansidei

1 SED – "Sozialistische Einheitspartie Deutschlands". In the Soviet Russian Occupied Zone after WWII the party was founded in 1946 thanks to the forced unison of the SPD with the communists of the KPD. In 1949 it established itself as the leading state party in the GDR.

2 VEB – "Volkseigener Betrieb" (publicly-owned business). Following the expropriation and nationalisation of privately-owned firms, the VEB became the valid legal form for firms in the State-controlled economy.

"Living Lusatia"

hochC

Making stuff with one’s own hands in the former Worker and Farmer State was a life-supporting activity. One could even have it protected as an intangible cultural asset. Whoever wasn’t good with their hands, relied on a knack for certain things. Sustainability was never an issue in the Five-Year Plans of the SED leadership.1 There were practical reasons to handle resources responsibly. That mentality has survived in the countryside. The small farms, often privately run as a secondary source of income, with their many barns, outhouses and garages, are veritable material stores. Behind our holiday accommodation is a wall to which brackets are attached, and on which metal bars, aluminium rods and pieces of PVC piping are neatly stored. Underneath a canopy structure between the garages, panes of glass and acrylic boards lean against the wall. In the higher barn square-shaped planks of wood and thick boards are ready for use. Stacks of pine logs are used in wood gas generator heating systems. When the doorway to a store is left open, one sees self-made work benches and equipment, of which there is usually more than one of each piece, obviously in diverse states of wear and tear. Nothing is ever thrown away. Four old lawn mowers can be used to build a new one. The garden at our accommodation also has a life story to tell. There is a kind of brick-built summer house there with bent plastic furniture; on the wall is a shaving mirror and a thermometer. A water tank that was lovingly built using dark bricks, and featuring a water tap, once served to water the plants. A five-armed lamp with broken ball lamps marks the middle of the grass area; it has been welded from hollow profiles and can be seen as a parody by workers of the art of the grand garden of the nobility.   

Little has been changed in the small grey houses. The matte synthetic windows could still be VEB manufactured.2 One has a feeling that those who can afford it prefer to build new houses, on the same plot of land. The new houses radiate in fresh pastel colours, well wrapped up in a thermal insulation system; they are no less garish than those in the west.

Groping one's way out of the the dark

It may be just my imagination, but on the way back from an excursion, the villages are dead. They look as if they are not lived in. Only the weeds thrive. This is not an experience that is well known, even in other harsh German regions. Whether it is the streets where one can stumble easily, the dilapidated outhouses, the large plots of land or the dark trees: walking around here is not a pleasant feeling. Sometimes a dog may bark loudly. Bets can be taken on whether one finds three, four or even five light sources on at the same time in the whole village. The popular term “nightfall” suddenly sounds like a threat. Are they all watching TV behind their shutters? There is no mobile phone reception either. Some houses still show signs of a former business use. An imposing building with white plaster features neon signs from the brewery Kulmbacher Brauerei on its façade. Someone must have tried their hand at gastronomy after the Wende. Now the signs are all that remains; there is no longer a pub here. The evidence trail is interesting if one wants to know what has unintentionally taken place here. The old village church in Preschen, a stone building from the 14th/15th century, would be of interest. But, as expected, it is closed. Inside there is a Baroque altar, frescoes, a lowered wooden beam ceiling and a modern tiled heating stove, according to the internet. During the 40 years of the GDR who looked after the churches? In material terms? Spiritually?

There is better luck at the large Christ Church in Döbern, an imposing building from 1908, with both Art Nouveau and Homeland Style influences. It is part of the extensive sacred building portfolio of the architect Georg Büttner. The church nave with its extravagant galleries and built over three different entrances was big enough when it was built to house all town dwellers. The town grew on the back of mining and glass factories. The only new building is the “professional practice-oriented primary and secondary school” building by SEHW architects, a monolithic angular block made of light-coloured solid coal-fired bricks which highlight a connection to the former coal mining region. Indentations on the ground floor disrupt the regular facades, providing space for an entrance and auditorium. A woman from a building opposite notices our interest. Here is an opportunity to get something off her chest. Whether or not the school building fits into the town, she does not want to express an opinion on that. But the two years of building were exhausting for nearby residents. And it hasn’t stopped there. Do you think, she asks, that mothers that pick up their brats, drive into the carpark built for that purpose? No, they double park, leaving their car engines running, directly outside the entrance. But at least young families are not leaving. The Berlin architects, who have offices in Munich, Stuttgart, Duisburg and Vienna see the school as a form of counteracting the trend towards moving away, by providing a modern education offer, “with a school based on the latest pedagogic insight and built according to high architectural standards. We built such a school for Lusatia: a primary education level in an inclusive school centre in Döbern. Three floors, two volumes for 360 pupils.”

On the trail of work and inactivity

Structural change is the problem; currently even more so, because lignite open-cast mining is on its last legs. Since 1989 Döbern has lost 35 per cent of its population. Things are no better in the district town of Forst. It was once regarded as the “the German Manchester” because of its textile factories. There were 290 businesses in the 19th century involved in the production of yarns and textiles. Even though 85 per cent of the town was destroyed by the end of the war, some of its large industrial buildings were left standing. After foundation of the GDR these companies, now banded together as VEB Tuchfabriken Forst, continued to manufacture. But that is all in the past now, and the red and yellow listed castle-like factories are left more or less to rot. Attractive uses would have been found for them a long time ago in a large and centrally located city. But how many start-ups does one want to have here, just a stone’s throw away from the Polish border. For night owls, an “Art Park East” (although the name would be quite fitting here), would only work in Munich.

In between the factory buildings are the villas of the former factory owners. The spectrum ranges from New Renaissance to New Objectivity. In Hamburg’s Blankenese or Dahlem in Berlin, one would be prepared to pay several million euros for them. But in Forst, many villas await new owners, though sometimes a new roof finally protects the crumbling walls. Of a population of 26,000 in 1989, 17,500 now remain. Around the church of St. Nikolai, which has been the object of frequent changes and conversions resulting from regular destruction since the 15th century, voids in the centre of the town, which was destroyed in the war, were closed with prefabricated concrete slab buildings. They since became empty and later demolished. In the travel guides, the windy square is now called “Grüne Mitte” (Green Centre), but old photos show a major city square with a victory column.

The town’s actual recreation area is what is known as the Rose Garden on the banks of the Neisse, the layout out of which was begun in 1913 to mark the 25th anniversary of Kaiser Wilhelm II on the throne. Fitted out with sculptures, pergolas and water fountains it combines flowerbeds and an English landscape park. Since the 1950s a music pavilion has also been located here, marking Lusatia’s cautious connection to the western kidney-shaped table period. In 2009 an independent jury named this monument “Germany’s most beautiful park”.

More well-known is Branitz Park in Cottbus, laid out by Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau in the mid-19th century. He had actually laid out the park on both banks of the Neisse around his palatial castle in Muskau, but then had to give up these plans because of financial problems. Whoever, after the Wende, took a quick look at the renovated part on the German side of the border, will not remember seeing a fabled palace. Black ruins were all that remained of it, as Pückler’s palace was destroyed by fire, as it was in the very heart of the defence lines against the Red Army. Today a restored neo-Renaissance building, of the kind one has never seen before, stands here in a show-off manner. This ornamental building with its ridge turrets and pinnacles above the eaves that are reminiscent of stalagmites is a challenge to the nomenklatura used by art historians. An impressive staircase designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel connects the building to the park. Inside, the rooms, still being renovated, serve as a museum, library and café. When one walks through (if not to say, wanders through) the extensive landscaped park, one finds oneself asking how this art of the garden, which, in this case, goes dates back to an extravagant and noble bon vivant from the 19th century (with a preference for minor girls), was explained to the workers in the GDR. Is such feudal luxury only possible in capitalism, because it is meant for the few and comes at the cost of assetless workers and farmers? And must socialist society take on such an achievement, one it could never repeat, simply as inherited staging? The commune promenades through the princely garden?

Obligated piety

One has similar thoughts in the Cistercian Monastery in Neuzelle, to the south of Eisenhüttenstadt. This is a complex that was extended in the 17th and 18th centuries into a representative Baroque complex. It includes a monastic garden, which for the last 25 years is being newly laid out by the Berlin landscape architects hochC accordance with an historic model but minus the richness of the Baroque; the design takes a modern approach and features architecture-based follies. The position on a slope gives the carefully circled French art of the garden far-reaching views into the landscape of the River Oder, as if the profane world between the two Baroque churches was part of a contemplative balance.

One can only be amazed at finding a well-preserved gem from the High Baroque period here in the most remote corner of the former GDR. Neuzelle? Had never heard of it before. Particularly the larger of the two churches, dedicated to St. Marien (St. Mary), and sumptuously converted from a Gothic hall church that was built following a rectangular ground plan, one would imagine in Bavaria instead of close to the Polish border. The altars, with their countless angels, figures of saints, lions and hundreds of frolicking cherubs, form an impressive reserve of folksy hermeneutics. One can imagine that with one clap of the hands, all the preaching, praying and celebrating beings will come alive and one is once again in the Garden of Eden, with Hosanna being sung. But one simply does not want to go there.

Indeed, the tourist attractions, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, are not very different to our trusted South German home. Except that everything looks so new and perfect, making it all the stranger in these difficult surroundings. A real estate agent from Düsseldorf presciently opened up an office in Görlitz just after the reunion of both countries. He was targeting well-off pensioners, he says, people from the Rhineland who used to be on the lookout for a place to spend winter in Mallorca. He now offers them apartments and houses from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicist, German industrial revolution and Art Nouveau periods, all meticulously renovated by Polish craftsmen; here, everything is new. But old buildings are less popular with the local residents. They preferred to buy new houses on the outskirts. Perhaps there are just too many real experiences attached to the stones.

We tourists go back to the west. Perhaps no one really noticed us. After all, we have a registration plate that also begins with three letters.

Daidalos thanks:
Become a Sponsor
Article 24/02
2/23/2024Dieter Geissbühler

Predictable Decline

Behind the façade of the Mall of Switzerland, Dieter Geissbühler glimpses the aesthetics of the ruin. However, this is suffocated by the designs irrelevance. read
24/02
Predictable Decline
Article 24/01
1/18/2024Ana Catarina Silva

Housing. Not flats

Architect Philipp Esch spoke to Ana Catarina Silva about undetermined spaces, architecture as a process and beauty as the most enduring measure of sustainability. read
24/01
Housing. Not flats
Article 23/11
12/14/2023Jorge Melguizo

Medellín

Once the most dangerous city in the world, Medellín became a model for urban change. Its architecture is the image of what is even more important. read
23/11
Medellín
Article 23/10
10/27/2023Salvatore Dellaria

The Southgate Myth

Built and demolished within less than thirty years, Stirling's Southgate Estate stands for what it was planned for and against which it had to fail: Britain's neoliberalism. read
23/10
The Southgate Myth
Article 23/09
9/26/2023Randa A. Mahmoud

Lost in Gourna

Hassan Fathy was brilliant and visionary, but an early project was strongly rejected by its residents. Randa A. Mahmoud studied Gourna to get behind the paradox of Egypt's Great Architect. read
23/09
Lost in Gourna
Article 23/08
8/29/2023Grisi Ganzer

Pandora's Boxes

Grisi Ganzer’s report on the collaboration on the German Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale features his impressions and experiences building a bar counter for the Pandora Culture Centre. read
23/08
Pandora's Boxes
Article 23/07
7/27/2023Bart Lootsma

Diffusions

Text-based AI generates realistic images of diffuse origin. Imperfect and open-ended, they irritate our aesthetic sensibilities and change the entire visual culture. read
23/07
Diffusions
Article 23/06
6/28/2023Denis Andernach

Andernach's Houses

Free of constraints, Denis Andernach draws his houses as pure architectures in abandoned landscapes. He unites elementary forms with imagined purposes. read
23/06
Andernach's Houses
Article 23/05
5/24/2023Pedro Gadanho

Learning from Hippie Modernism

An environmental avant-garde grew out of the resistance against the post-war society of the late 1960s. While their efforts were derided as esoteric, time has come to learn from their approaches. read
23/05
Hippie Modernism
Article 23/04
4/27/2023Giacomo Pala

Pineapple Modernity

The intersection of globalization and modernity: the pineapple and the emergence of a new architectural paradigm since the 18th century. read
23/04
Pineapple Modernity
Article 23/03
3/29/2023Claudia Kromrei

Case come noi

An island, three writers and three houses in which they lived, loved and worked. In Capri's idyll, the buildings unfold the personality of their builders and stage their self-absorption. read
23/03
Case come noi
Article 23/02
2/23/2023Bahar Avanoğlu

[Un]built

Separating "unbuilt" architecture from the one "not built", Raimund Abraham's oeuvre is a vital reminder of architecture as a work of memory and desire and as an independent art of building the [Un]built. read
23/02
[Un]built
Article 23/01
1/18/2023Wolfgang Bachmann

New Land

An excursion into an unknown area: In his travelogue about Lusatia, Wolfgang Bachmann speaks of official GDR stage scenery,, West German-influenced reappraisal – and Baroque splendour. read
23/01
New Land
Article 22/07
11/23/2022Bettina Köhler

Liebe du Arsch!*

Can one discard buildings? Can one overcome ignorance and greed? Does love help? Bettina Köhler’s answer to these questions is “yes” in her investigation of beauty as the custodian of durability. read
22/07
Liebe du Arsch!*
Article 22/06
10/19/2022Fala

Fala meets Siza

Fala and Álvaro Siza are bound by origins but separated by age. In a personal encounter, the 89-year-old Pritzker Prize winner talks about that which is still reflected in Fala's own work today. read
22/06
Fala meets Siza
Article 22/05
9/22/2022Anna Beeke

Trailer Treasures

Within mobile home parks, Anna Beeke encounters a clear desire for individualized place. In her photographs she shows how prefabricated units are the same, but different. read
22/05
Trailer Treasures
Article 22/04
8/20/2022Mario Rinke

Open Meta-landscapes

Mario Rinke pleads for supporting structures that are not conceived for a use, but out of the place. In these meta-landscapes, architectures can occur episodically. read
22/04
Open Meta-landscapes
Article 22/03
7/1/2022Virginia de Diego
caption

Reductio ad absurdum

Through deliberate destruction a former bunker can be preserved. Its relevance is created out ouf its absurdity. read
22/03
Reductio ad absurdum
Article 22/02
7/1/2022Jerome BeckerMatthias Moroder

The balance of chaos and structure

In conversation with Jerome Becker and Matthias Moroder, Marc Leschelier emphasises his aversion to functionalism and stresses the importance of architecture as a form of expression. read
22/02
Chaos and Structure
Article 22/01
7/1/2022Gerrit Confurius
Teatro di Marcello, Rom, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), ca. 1757

Permanence as a principle

Gerrit Confurius recalls the end of the printed edition of Daidalos and recommends the principle of permanence as a strategy for the future tasks of architecture as well. read
22/01
Permanence as a principle
Don't miss any articles thanks to our newsletter.
#