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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Book Review: Architectural Guide Berlin

Architectural Guide Berlin by Dominik Schendel
DOM Publishers, 2016
Paperback, 192 pages

In November last year I traveled to Berlin to cover the World Architecture Festival (WAF) for World-Architects (some highlights are here). Previously I'd visited Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart, but this was my first trip to Germany's capital, Berlin – a much overdue visit. To plan for what to see in what little time I had outside of WAF, beforehand I bought a used book covering projects completed in the 1990s. With so much construction taking place this century, that dated guidebook was missing plenty of what I wanted to see, even obvious projects like Libeskind's Jewish Museum. So I was pleased to learn that DOM was giving out a Berlin guide to WAF attendees. Compared to other DOM guidebooks (I've reviewed those on Venice, Pyonyang, Japan and Taiwan), this guide to Berlin is shorter, more selective, but also more thematically honed.

There are many consistencies with other DOM guidebooks: the simple cover, the paper size, the page layout and graphic design, the helpful maps and aerials, and the presence of QR codes linked to maps for easy smartphone navigation. But whereas the guides to modern and contemporary architecture in Brazil, Venice, and other countries and cities present hundreds of buildings, Dominik Schendel's guide to Berlin is structured as four tours and is therefore limited to buildings sited along their routes. Each walking, biking or driving tour tackles a theme, not just a geographical area: "The Former East: Unter den Linden," "The Former West: Kurfürstendamm," "On the Trail of the Berlin Wall," and "On the Trail of Plattenbau."

As might be obvious from the names of the tours, history is an important part of this guide, a bit more so than in other DOM guides: for one, the Berlin buildings highlighted are not limited to modern and contemporary projects. And perhaps more than the other DOM guides, Schendel provides a remarkably deep sense of understanding the city, not just buildings, through his tours. Given Berlin's obviously difficult and divided history, as well as its remarkable rebuilding since the Wall came down, it is certainly deserving of such a treatment. Speaking of the Wall, the most remarkable chapter is the third one, which is devoted to its absence. Those going on the tour (two hours by bicycle) trace the former dividing line between East and West, seeing in the process a small section of the Wall itself and a remarkable selection of the historical and contemporary architecture that graces this dynamic capital city.

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