East and West Berlin: Plattenbau / by William Bryan

The first time I traveled to Berlin five years ago there was something unique about the city that caught my eye. After the war both East and West Germany needed to rebuild their respective portions of Berlin — which had been flattened by bombing and fighting near the end of the war — and they needed to do it quickly. They turned to prefabricated buildings called Plattenbau to house the city’s recovering population. When I first noticed these buildings it was in the former East near the city center,where the most influential members of the communist community lived. However, despite these being the nicer buildings in the East I noticed them because they were so plain and honestly, ugly. So when I returned to Berlin this summer for a month to photograph I thought of the Plattenbau immediately.

Before I started the project I planned on showing the immense contrast between the architecture of East and West Berlin during the Cold War period when Berlin was split in two. But I quickly learned that the differences I expected to find didn’t exist, or at least weren’t as bold as I had anticipated. This took the project in another direction: finding the similarities in the buildings, specifically apartment buildings, built by two political and economic systems that were trying their hardest to be drastically different, and better, than the other. Although, despite their similarities, Berliners have found unique ways to make these cookie-cutter apartments their own in different ways; a colorful umbrella or a balcony covered in plants, you can see for yourself in the photos below.

It isn’t every day that you get the opportunity to spend a month in a foreign city, exploring and photographing. I was fortunate to pick a subject that took me all over the city and gave me a unique look into Berlin in a way that most visitors don’t get to experience. After two weeks my feet were covered in blisters and I had already walked five marathons all in the pursuit of this project, but the end result was worth the work and demolished feet.