Gingerbread houses in the whispering pines

Zehlendorf, Waldsiedlung an der Krummen Lanke. Full screen
At the Krumme Lanke terminus of the U-Bahn, before leaving the city behind and descending in the pines to the huge Grunewald lake chain, at just a few minutes walk we find a jovial forest colony with tiny small-windowed, high-roofed traditional German village houses. The convenient approach is not accidental. The metro line was built up so far precisely for this colony. The exclusive little house group nestled in a picturesque setting, in a pine forest was originally built for homes of the SS officers and their family members.

In 1937, SS-Reichsführer Himmler addressed a letter to the Reich Ministry of Labor. As he wrote, it was his old wish to provide healthy and sufficiently spacious flats in an enclosed and separate colony for the officers working in the three SS centers in Berlin. With the help of the 1937 Act for the “elimination of unemployment”, the Ministry provided cheap labor for real estate development. The resulting colony is a good example of the other characteristic trend of the architecture of the National Socialist period along with the Speerian monumentalism. Supported by the propaganda of the National Socialist regime, the patriotic style was based on the Stuttgart School, which had a conservative approach, but rejected historicism, and which was a clear counterpoint of the New Architecture of the Weimar Republic.

The village-sized group of houses, which amply drew from the elements of folk architecture, favorized by the regime, was planned by Hans Gerlach in the studios of the building cooperative GAGFAH, applying the lessons of past residential building types, developed in the twenties and thirties. In contrast to the previous GAGFAH zoning plans, which included family houses surrounded by separate gardens, Gerlach differentiated the buildings by following the official hierarchy, treated the area as a park-like unit, and designed street lines fitting and following the terrain.

The current site layout (enlarge). By moving the mouse above the street names, you can read the former and modern names

The political ideology determined not just the facades and forms of the single buildings, but it also appears in the idealized village-like nature and in the large, mostly five or six-room homes, which had to support the ideal Nazi family model, the homemaker housewife and mother, and the education of the most possible Aryan children with a valuable and controlled genome.

This idyllic family-centered conception found a positive response in a wide range of citizens. According to opinion polls, when the majority of the current German population asserts that the National Socialist era also had positive traits, they just think about the family support system. But they tend to forget that the population and family policy with a focus on war and based on racism was offered as a united kit, whose purpose was to create a rapid numerical superiority. Besides the support of the Aryan large families, it also included the breeding homes created for Aryan unmarried mothers, the numerus clausus affecting women, the forced sterilization of women presumably carrying hereditary diseases, the killing of children born with such diseases, the death penalty for abortion and many other similar measures. Finally, it led straight to the fact that while it granted extremely favorable position to some groups, others could not even keep their mere lives.

In addition, the GAGFAH story also had its dark spots. The company used the forced labor of the Buchenwald prisoners, provided to them by the Reich Ministry of Labor. At least fifteen of the members of the company’s presidential body were middle and senior leaders of the Nazi Party. The system of interwoven responsibilities is still unclear, as GAGFAH has not made transparent their finances for the era up to the present day.

The original names of the fifteen streets of the colony offers a well thought-out setting of the ideology establishing it. The names were selected from the several thousand proposals which arrived for the competition announced in August 1938 by Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the SS. A group of them emphasizes the maintenance and enhancement of the pure race, at the same time pointing out the place of the woman in the family: Ancestors’ Avenue, Bride’s Way, Mothers’ Way, Abundant Offspring. Another group displays the major Nazi virtues: Loyalty, Service, Victory, Heavens’ Way, and also provides a role model for men: Air team’s Way. Finally, the four main longitudinal streets of the colony bear the names of four NSDAP or SS founders, and they run together in the Führerplatz standing at the entrance to the colony.

The realized development plan of the colony took account of the natural environment to the fullest extent possible. They preserved the existing forest character. The many preserved pine trees, which also hid the houses from the airview, can be also seen in the old photos, and over the past decades the vegetation has taken an even bigger role between the houses. The unit, containing more than three hundred flats, consists of four distinct categories, with equivalent flats within each category, allocated by taking the rank into account. The highest-level officers lived in the single-family houses in the middle of the colony, the middle officers in the twin-family and row houses, and on the edge of the colony, in the multi-storey condominiums along the Argentinische Allee which borders the area, the lower-level, still childless couples.

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The cottages had four rooms (two on the street level and two upstairs), pantry, kitchen, bathroom, porch, clothes storage room and attic. Each building had a cellar, a part of which was of course a reinforced shelter. The kitchen and bathroom were well-equipped with sanitary and other devices at the standard of the period. The houses also had a private garden.

The street facade (left) and garden facade (right) of a single-family house.
Ground and first floor layout

The twin houses and row houses, although in a more economical form, but followed the same principles.

Street facade (left) and garden facade (right) of a twin house.
Ground and first floor layout

Street facade (left) and garden facade (right) of a row house.
Ground and first floor layout

The high-angle, plain tiled pitched roofs, which allowed the good use of the high loft, the split windows and doors completed with folding shutters, the wood-paneled leaping-out attic windows or the flower boxes also reach back to the German folk architecture. The consistently applied colors also enhance the same tradition: reddish brown, dark green, dark blue elements divide the uniformly bright plaster.

No ostentation on the facades, the simple buildings suggest comfort and a solid well-being, the true luxury is offered by the spacious apartments and the natural environment, the nearby lake and the climate of the pine forest. The simple design of the facade was influenced by the fact that, due to the planned low rents, the construction had to be realized sparingly.

According to the plans, the residential buildings should have been complemented with public buildings in the form of a more independent urban unit. Although some shops and service units were realized, the public buildings planned on the northern side of the colony, to the north of the current Zwingerberger Weg, the two hundred-seat kindergarten, SS community center, educational, cultural and sports center were never built. Despite these deficiencies, considered temporary at that time, the colony was a great success. The planned exemplary community life, however, could not be achieved, because with the progress of the war many of the renters died or disappeared, and the colony was mostly inhabited by women and children. By 1945, as the remaining inhabitants fled, the majority of the houses were empty, and the abandoned buildings were occupied by refugees.

Under the provisions of the Allied forces, in 1945 the flats were assigned to the former Nazi victims in the framework of restitution. At first glance, this decision seems quite ambivalent: from the concentration camp, or the Gestapo cellar to the exemplary colony of the beneficiaries of the regime – but at a second thought, it seems a pretty logical choice. The recently established buildings represented an outstanding architectural quality, and were in good condition. In the penury of flats of the destroyed city their use was just natural. It was then that the colony received the name of Krumme Lanke Forest Settlement after the nearby lake. The street names referring to the Nazi past were also replaced, from the original ones only Himmelsteig and Im Kinderland were preserved.

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Although it still evokes controversial feelings because of its history, nevertheless its architectural quality and historical significance is unquestionable, so the former SS-Kameradschaftssiedlung has been under monumental protection since 1992. Today the houses are all privately owned, and the owners are also supported in the conscious preservation of the architectural values by the information brochure of the GAGFAH. The buildings are in uniformly good condition, the spaces between them are well cared for, seem to be elaborated in every detail, one can feel the appreciation for the built environment. After the establishment of the architectural protection it was suggested that some public monument should call attention to the history of the colony, but the reception is controversial, as many fear that it could thus become a Nazi place of pilgrimage. Thus, however, we can find no sign recalling the founding story.

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An interesting comparison could be the modernist housing project by Bruno Taut, just one stop away, which was built only a few years earlier, but is completely different in its formal language and its approach. But this will be the subject of another post.

The Krumme Lanke

Iron curtain

While we were touring Maramureș and Bukovina, from where our reporting was suspended due to a computer error – but we will make up for this soon –, Arkadiusz Bernaś, the former director of the Polish Institute in Budapest and the present one of the same Institute in Stockholm, to whom we thank for our travel to Drohobycz, hurried with a good material to the help of Río Wang:

“I have seen an Imogen Cunningham photo exhibition here in Stockholm:

The photographer’s passport was also exhibited, I took a quick photo of it. How long may they have stamped this into American passports?”

The internet only knows about three passports into which a stamp with this text was sealed.

One of them is presented by Gail Ingram in the travel blog Equator. The photo represents her and her twin sister in 1958. She attributes the stamp to the suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956.

The other, issued on May 18, 1959, belonged to Ella Fitzgerald.

The third one belonged to nobody else but President Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. This was issued on September 10, 1959.

However, according to the article of an amateur researcher of the Kennedy assassionation, this kind of stamp was not at all common in the era, despite the fact that American-Hungarian relations really sunk to their deepest point after 1956. In 1998, the author officially asked about the reason at the American State Department, who after so long time could not give any information any more.

And you, dear readers, can you?

On the roads, reading

Towards Odessa

Of course, I have always loved dogs.
And cats, too.
But perhaps more dogs, especially unknown dogs. I remember myself as a small girl, having found myself face to face with a dog (literally face to face, since I was really very small), and thinking “I’m not afraid of this dog, this dog does not scare me.” I needed a few decades and a stray dog on Moscow’s Leningradsky Prospekt, one of those dogs running in herds all over the city, hungry and despised, and its teeth chattering on my leg, to teach me to be afraid of dogs – at least of some dogs in some places.
Only travel teaches you to take measure of reality, of life, of what is sleeping and what keeps vigil, what is waiting and what haunts. That reality also bites, and what it eats.
The fact is that reality is so rare down here.

Before facing reality, one reads.
Reading is a different kind of reality, a reality beloved and familiar. A reality where the cat stretches along the whole bed on your side.
Reading in the night.
Reading in the metro.
Reading in the gardens.
Reading in the cafés, with the noise of Paris around you, the familiar voices, the couple at the next table whose conversation you follow (she comes from Shanghai to study film – he’s a filmmaker – she is bored – he is very courteous).
Listening and reading at the same time: you walk on an Armenian road with The Crossing Place : A Journey among the Armenians * by Philip Marsden. He traveled throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe and what was the Soviet Union then, in 1991. A few hours in Odessa looking for a nonexistent boat to Sochi, the train to Kerch, the memory of Isaac Babel, Osip Mandelstam. An earthquake in Poti, the ferry entering the port of Batumi. The civil war in Georgia. The civil war in Armenia. And Mandelstam again and again. I ask for some more tea.
The night falls, we have visited the poet, a priest has some fuel, he drives towards south, he has the beard and gray eyes of the fedayis, we listen to the gunfire in the distance from Gori or Tatev or Gharan or Zangezur, the villagers hide in the ditches, Karabagh is so close and yet so far, the taxis refuse to drive to south, the men drink like mad, the radio crackles, and then one turns the page “and I thought of how every one of these evenings had contained in them this — these men, these villages, and all that inherited fear of lost land”, and here’s the end. You get up and you return home in the warm night.

Reading to go to Odessa?
As a child, I read A white sail in the distance by Valentin Kataev. I guess you can still find it if you search long enough. Kataev, you said? No, in French it is unavailable.
Then go and search on the side of Ilf and Petrov (another Kataev, this Petrov), The twelve chairs and The golden calf. Yes, if Soviet literature is still read today in France, it cannot be the same any more. *
Ah, and Isaac Babel.
Babel was completely retranslated last year in French by Sophie Benech and published by the wonderful publisher Le Bruit du temps, together with Osip Mandelstam, Zbigniew Herbert, Léon Chestov, Julius Margolin or Peter Handke and D.H. Lawrence. *

Reading Red cavalry once in your life, and never wanting to re-read it. Nevertheless, reading it a little bit again and again. Reading the Stories of Odessa from time to time, or his first autobiographical stories. Reading them, then walking in Odessa and thinking hard about them.

Sometimes you get there a little bit. In the courtyard where Benia Krik grew up, the children still run after the cats. The cats eat fish, it makes them smarter.

When they go to the public baths and they drank a little, the old Odessites always confound themselves with the founder of the city, this Richelieu, whose statue in Roman tribunal clothes thrones on the top of the grand staircase leading down to the port.

There are young girls awaiting their fate. Motionless, lost in their thoughts, closed in on themselves, lacking to all that surrounds them, they listen to the music whistling from their mobile phone. Like a moment of desolation in the Moldavanka. One of the desolations of the Moldavanka, the dirtiest, the poorest, the most forgotten in all Odessa.


You drive. You follow rivers. You follow railways tracks. You follow mountains.
You try not to think about Red cavalry, but you cross too many horses not to think about it from time to time. Isaac Babel, a Jew from Odessa, myopic and clumsy, having never seen a horse in his life, joining a Cossack regiment.

The road passes through villages – villages, which were… Which were.
The Mirage café and its toilet in Halych, Галич, Halicz, Halici, Heylitsh (העליטש), Halics, Galic. Austro-Hungarians, Galicians, Romanians, Jews, Poles, Hungarians, I don’t know who more…
Villages, cities, countries whose names have changed so many times.
And whose inhabitants have changed, too.

Ukrainian villages, so peaceful, so idyllic with their flowering trees, with their light blue plastered houses.
The dirt roads, the shadoofs.
The torpor of the awaking springtime.

Everything is so green and peaceful, and the books are so terrible. Should you know everything about a country when you cross it?
Here, around Chernivtsi – in Romanian, Cernăuți, in German, Czernowitz, in Yiddish, טשערנאָוויץ (Tshernovits), in Polish, Czerniowce, in Hungarian, Csernovic, in Russian, Черновиц (Chernovits) – there was Romania sometimes.
Romania? And suddenly, as the sun falls, I think about this passage of Kaputt * where Curzio Malaparte, sometime around 1941 or 1942, spends the night in one of these villages, between Romania and Ukraina, Yes, reading Kaputt before traveling here.

Reading poems, too. Celan. Ausländer.
Reading this book published last fall in French: Ecrire c'était vivre, survivre : Chronique du ghetto de Czernowitz et le déportation en Transnistrie 1941-1944, * a set of texts collected and translated by François Mathieu for the Fario publisher. Poems, stories, memories, letters and diaries speaking about the time of the destruction – the bodies in the forest – the fools – the…
Paul Celan, Rose Ausländer, Alfred Gong, Alfred Kittner. Poems, above all.

Reading further.
Reading what is the most terrible, what one cannot see in this white of the blossoming cherries. Reading Le livre noir by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vassili Grossman. *
Since it is translated into French, reading Terres de sang by Timothy Snyder. * Since it is not translated into French, reading in English, if you can, The Reconstruction of Nations, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569 – 1999 * by the same author. Pogroms, wars, revolutions, Petliura, massacres, civil wars, Bandera, ethnic cleansing – independence, reconciliation, peace.
You hold back your breath.

Reading to walk in Bolechów and looking at each house and thinking about the cellars and traps, reading to walk in Bolechów and turning your back to the synagogue. Reading Les disparus by Daniel Mendelsohn. *
Reading to cross Galicia. Reading to stop there.

Reading well before or well after, reading to think, to survey these villages and these synagogues and these cemeteries and this vanished world, this big book which was with me for months, a dozen years ago, Témoins du futur : Philosophie et messianisme by Pierre Bouretz, * which was translated at least into Spanish, English and Italian, and which follows, links, meets and challenges Hermann Cohen and Emmanuel Lévinas, Ernst Bloch and Leo Strauss, Franz Rosenzweig and Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber and Hans Jonas. A book that opens doors and helps to cross the threshold.


And after so many books, the reality.

After so many dead cemeteries, after so many abandoned cemeteries, there were along the road other cemeteries, too, those of the living, aligning their iron crosses painted in blue among the cherry trees in blossom, the bouquets of nettles and utility poles – like the villages aligning their homes plastered in blue, and the roads their blue trucks.

We follow the road, all dust, holes and oblivion, a lost road enfiling the villages all dust, holes and oblivion, somewhere between Kaments-Podolsk and Bolechów.
Then, in one of these villages, everything stops: the truck in front of us, ourselves, the time. A procession is nearing, flowers, crosses, banners – people in the dust. A procession? I may have asked a question, I do not know, but I hear this word – Funerals.
Is this here a funeral? Men behind the banners, in front. One of these blue trucks, after them. On the platform, a coffin – a dark brown box, with a cover painted light beige. On the cover, a loaf of bread. Behind the truck, women. First a small group, with brown wax candles in the hand, heavy bodies stiffened by fatigue, faces fixed to the road, black clothes, scarves. At the center, a young woman, in brown dress, vaulted. Others following them, pushing the bikes with which they would depart, later, to other villages, all blue, all dusty.
I take the camera, I make two photos, without looking, without framing, without knowing what I’m doing or what I want to do. The first one has kept the traces of this hesitation: the camera focuses on the mud stains on the windshield.

Then, two or three more things. The absolute silence (or is it just my memory that erased any music)? In this silence, the voice of the truck driver, leaning on the door, shouting into his phone. In this silence, with this voice, the image of the bread on the coffin, still wrapped in the transparent cellophane of the grocery store – with the price tag. The reality compressed.

Closing your eyes.
Should not remain, cannot remain after the dead anything more but the photos? When no one remembers them any more? When there is nobody more to tell about them? When the photos themselves do not belong any longer to anyone, and they are sold for a few hryvnias in the Odessa flea market? When everything has been erased?

An endless road, that night – or another night, or another. Ukraine.

It goes without saying that this list of books is highly subjective, partial, incomplete and personal.