Context 162 - November 2019

12 C O N T E X T 1 6 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 9 MICHAEL ASSELMEYER Post-war new towns in Germany The arrival of millions of displaced people on the territory of present-day Germany during and after the second world war prompted the building of the first generation of post-war new towns. It is not widely known in the UK that approxi- mately 12 million displaced people arrived on the territory of present-day Germany between 1944 and 1948. They were Germans who had fled or been expelled from East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia when they were annexed by the Soviet Union and Poland; from Sudetenland in the western half of Czechoslovakia; and from the Baltic and the Balkans. Their instant need of housing posed a gar- gantuan logistic challenge as the cities lay in ruins and could hardly provide shelter for the existing population. Many ammunition factories and barracks built to house forced labourers during the second world war (over six million in 1944) were turned into refugee camps and became the nuclei for the first generation of post-war new towns in Germany, the so-called Vertriebenenstädte und -gemeinden (‘towns and communes for the expelled’). One of the new towns for expellees is Espelkamp in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), formerly in the British Zone. Initially called Espelkamp-Mittwald (the latter meaning ‘in the middle of the woods’), its first name reflected the well-camouflaged, forestry location of ammuni- tion factories where most habitations for expel- lees were built, a leafy new town with its own greenbelt that Ebenezer Howard would have approved of. An initial conflict between NRW and the Protestant Church about the concept and character of Espelkamp (free market town vs charitable model village) was resolved in 1949 in favour of a secular new town with commercial buildings and social housing. In 1959 it was for- mally raised to the status of a town. Like other post-war new towns, Espelkamp was laid out in the spirit of modernism, thus reconnecting to housing estates of theWeimar Republic. The master plan shows an irregular grid of curved roads and trapezoids with two- to three-storey buildings, centred around a hub (Breslauer Strasse) between the town hall (Rathaus, 1960) in the west and the Protestant church (Thomaskirche, 1963) in the east. St Thomas, which has been at the heart of the local community of expellees for 56 years, con- tains a stained-glass window commemorating the exodus. The church was listed in 2016 and is undergoing repair after a fire in 2018. When I visited Espelkamp as an adolescent while undertaking genealogical research at ancestral farms in the periphery, the new town seemed like a place without history. Perhaps that is what appealed to those generations whose memories were too painful. A different type of new town, but of similar age, is manifest in the cities planned to serve indus- trial plants. Wolfsburg, home of the Volkswagen and arguably the most famous, successful, and largest 20th-century new town in Germany, had been founded in 1938 under Nazi rule, but it still deserves its place among post-war new towns.The factory had to be largely rebuilt after the bombing and of the originally planned town (for a population of up to 90,000), no more than 3,000 homes had been built by the end of the war. The original plan by Peter Koller had been based on garden-city and modernist principles, albeit with concessions to Nazi monumentalism; it was abandoned in favour of the 1948 plan by Hans Bernhard Reichow, who later became known for his publication Die Autogerechte Stadt (Automotive City, 1959). Thomaskirche, Espelkamp (1960– 1963) by Gerhard Langmaack (Photo: Salfahli, Wikimedia)

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