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Specific intentions - general realities. On the relation between urban forms and political aspirations in Berlin during the 20th century

Sonne, W. (2004) Specific intentions - general realities. On the relation between urban forms and political aspirations in Berlin during the 20th century. Planning Perspectives, 19 (3). pp. 283-310. ISSN 0266-5433

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Abstract

Berlin as a capital city seems to be a very specific case: no other capital city experienced political changes as extreme as Berlin in the twentieth century. All the different political systems tried to impose their political aspirations on the urban fabric, planning large government complexes with specific urban images and highly political overtones. Therefore, the planning history of Berlin is often considered as unique - each phase of planning belonging closely to the political body that installed it - and each phase of planning being part of a special Berlin planning history. Within this article Berlin's planning history is interpreted in a different way. First, there are planning ideas, which are far more constant than the political systems and which cannot be attributed to only one system. Secondly, for each planning idea which had been developed for special political purposes in Berlin, some international examples can be found which root it in an international urban debate rather than in a regional tradition. The result is quite astonishing, since for nearly every plan international examples with often contradictory political ideas can be found. This means that one can no longer interpret Berlin's planning history as a special case, explainable mostly by local traditions and political intentions. In fact, urban design for government districts in Berlin is more closely connected to international trends and the discipline of urban design. Thus, in addition, the relationship between urban forms and political aspirations must be considered as being more arbitrary than conventionally seen.