Wohin des Weges?

Invigorate the City

by YU Cheng, February 2019

One week ago, I was driving in a car with two friends on Karl-Marx-Allee. When we passed by a tall empty building and waited for the traffic light to turn green, we started to talk.

“Guys, check out this building.”
“What happened to it? It is decaying.”
“How come it has been abandoned in such a central location of Berlin?”
“Cool, is it the one with the “NO WAR” sign on it?”
“Probably it has a property problem.”
“I have heard that there are many buildings like this in Berlin.”
“Ironically, many citizens have difficulties to rent an apartment here.”

The discussion ended when the light turned green, and our curiosity faded away. Not in the least were we aware that we were not only talking about an empty building but about a social phenomenon with its related social problems.

On the same day, I received the Berlin-Beijing Learning Cities Map by CONSTELLATIONS International / CITYMAKERS China – Germany. I immediately recognized the building on the map. It is called “Haus der Statistik”. My curiosity was aroused again, and I decided to pay the place a visit.

It was an early morning, and chilly clouds floated around the TV tower at Alexanderplatz. It was busy and lively, full of cars heading to work. Because its width and the historical background of Karl-Marx-Allee, we call it Berlin’s “Chang’an Avenue” (editor's note: Chang'an Avenue was built as part of the Imperial City in Beijing). When I approached the other side and the empty ten-story building, I found it surrounded by fences so I could not get any closer. Instead, there is a house named “Werkstatt” with big windows and informative posters attached to them. I opened the door and stepped inside. A lady welcomed me and introduced me to what has happened here.

“Haus der Statistik” is an urban planning project which is beyond my imagination. It is not only about one building but a three-hectare site between Otto-Braun-Straße, Karl-Marx-Allee and Mollstraße. In the near future this area will be filled with the spirit of new life. Different stakeholders including Berliner Immobilienmanagement GmbH (BIM), Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Wohnen, Bezirk Mitte, ZUsammenKUNFT Berlin eG (ZKB eG) and Wohnungsbaugesellschaft Berlin-Mitte mbH (WBM) are involved. At the same time, it brings citizens, owners, designers, urban planners, architects and politicians together at the same table. Even people like you and me can join the workshops and express our opinions and suggestions.

It is quite hard for me to imagine that one day I might be able to express my opinion about the renovation of an old building on Chang’an Avenue. But it is still possible to adopt the new model of protecting and invigorating historically significant landscapes like “Hutong” in Beijing. I am glad that the government has started to realize their value and tries to conserve them. Beijing has gotten used to tearing things down and rebuilding everything new. Maybe it is the time to try some other ways.

The second place I chose to visit from the Berlin-Beijing Learning Cities Map is “Park am Gleisdreieck”, which is located in a former railway area around a traffic junction. I still remember the first time I went there a year ago: I got out the subway and followed the narrow path into the park. Unlike most of the parks in Beijing, where you go through a gate with the name of the park on it, I entered Gleisdreieck without even noticing. The trampolines were the first things that jumped into my sight, and if they were not occupied by children, I would love to play for a while myself. Not only trampolines can make people happy – a relaxing walking or cycling can bring a lot of fun, too. For my second visit, I chose another routine and tried to explore as much of the park as I could. It was a sunny but windy day and a family was flying a kite on a large lawn. I stepped on the humid and soft grass and walked towards them. I asked them whether they visit the park often and the mother told me that if the weather was good, they would take their children here for multiple activities like enjoying the playground, cycling, skating and so on. Kite flying had been a spontaneous decision because of the strong wind. In summer, there are more activities to do in the park like picknicking and ball games in the wide open space. I asked whether they knew the history of this park. The question arose the father's interest. He told me that the place had been a wasteland for quite a long time after the Second World War. He had heard that drug dealers used to gather here since it was empty and inaccessible. It was like a desert in the city until a citizens’ group proposed a renovation plan. Many proposals and criticisms by residents were integrated into the process, which makes it notable for public involvement. The whole plan was realized and completed in 2013. Some original signals and railway tracks are still present in the park, which reminds me of a park that I visited quite often in Beijing. The name is “Jiangfu Park” 将府公园游乐场. It is located in Chaoyang district with the Bahe river 坝河 flowing through it. A long railway trail has also been preserved in the park and has become a unique feature. On weekends, families and friends will bring camping tents with them and play with their children on the lawn. Parks as an inevitable part of a city play a really important role in balancing people’s life between concrete and nature, work and leisure.

Thanks to the Berlin-Beijing Learning Cities Map it helps to explore some interesting spots that can be easily overlooked. As a Beijinger living in Berlin, the map also allows me to recall some memories and form a link that gives me the feeling of being at home in both cities.

YU Cheng (于澄) is an independent consultant and project manager with a focus on social impact investment, entrepreneurship, and philanthropic topics. In Berlin since 2016, she came with a German Chancellor Fellowship and a research project hosted by the Social Impact Lab. YU grew up in Beijing, studied law at Beijing University of Technology, and later worked in Beijing with Chinese foundations such as YouChange Foundation China.