A Commentary: Karl Scheffler, The Tenement Block (1911)

Scheffler, “The Tenement Block”, in Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby (eds.), Metropolis Berlin 1880-1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 158-163.

The four decades after the unification of Germany in 1871 witnessed a construction rush- particularly the construction of tenement buildings. With no centralised planning authority, speculative developers and land-owners ruled building in Berlin. Scheffler in his 1911 piece, articulates his view that the developer becoming king of all building is a detriment to the people and the city of Berlin.

Scheffler’s major point is that the failing of the city council to invest in public land when it was indeed public and to create imaginative building regulations has led to sporadic building practices within Berlin, which only aid developers and land owners rather than the city and its people. Scheffler’s critique of the council is a critique linked to the contemporary condemnations of the conservative art policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II, featured in periodicals championing the avant-garde including Pan (1895-1900) and Kunst und Kunstler (1903-1933), edited by Scheffler from 1906 onwards.[1]

Scheffler enters the contemporary discourse on the issue of over-crowding and poor housing quality in Europe and particularly within the city of Berlin.[2] Writers such as Werner Sombart writing in 1906, cited the common European tenement apartment block as making ‘civilised family life impossible’, through its over-crowding caused by the actual design of the building and the economic strains on tenants.[3] Scheffler mirrors his sentiment, although on a more practical level- citing the modern tenement apartment within Berlin as being ‘so cramped that man and wife simply cannot allow themselves a family of any size’, thus the contemporary tenement apartment is a physical barrier to the creation of family and the growth of a community.[4] In 1893  a study was published focusing on 803 apartments located in the Sorauer Strasse, which housed 3.383 people, it established that in 30 percent of the apartments, tenants were taking in night lodgers and as a direct consequence, each person had less than twenty cubic metres of air.[5] Scheffler continues the contemporary critique of tenement blocks, theorising a solution for the problems and horrifying results of such studies, rooted in building regulation and the championing of public rather than private interest.

Scheffler believes the colloquial term Mietskaserne, translated as tenement barracks, represents an innate longing for one’s own space.[6] A contemporary, Rudolf Eberstadt, states that the composition of the Mietskaserne is characterised by the entire plot being taken up by the house, ‘the individual apartment disappears’, the individual is therefore lost within mass architecture and profit is created for the few.[7] [8] Scheffler advocates that the modern tenement block must be built in conditions that take into account ‘real public needs’- not the profit of the developers.[9] Throughout his piece, Scheffler references the speculative nature of building in Berlin, which he believes follows a capitalist methodology; ‘the population is set to decline because housing policy is capitalist in nature’.[10] He presents Capitalists as the antagonists- so appears to be writing for the educated, politically aware, who believe in Socialist principles- at least within the realm of architecture.

Contrary to presenting an architectural alternative to the tenement block, Scheffler as his solution, advocates a complete revision of the conditions that create over-crowding and poor quality of life within the current tenement blocks. Conditions he lists as including; speculative landowners pushing up land prices through building method, building regulations set by the local government focused on bureaucratic public health rules and lack of a communal goal and focus in building.  

[1] Carl Georg Heise and Johannes Langner, “Karl Scheffler” in Metzler art historian Lexicon: two hundred portraits of German-speaking authors from four centuries (Stuggart: Metzler, 1999), pp. 343-6.

[2] Writers such as Walter Sombart, “Domesticity” (1906), Theodor Goecke, “The Working-Class Tenement Block in Berlin” (1890) and Max Jacob, “From Apartment House to Mass Apartment House” (1912) all commented on the modern development of the tenement block, both within a European and Berlin-centric sphere.

[3] Werner Sombart, “Domesticity” (1906) in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, ed. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 151.

[4] Karl Scheffler, “The Tenement Block” (1911) in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, ed. Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 160.

[5] Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby, “The Proletarian City”, in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), p. 136.

[6] Ibid p. 159.

[7] Whyte and Frisby, “The Proletarian City”, in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, p. 135.

[8] Rudolf Eberstadt, Abwehr der gegen die systematische Wohnungersreform gerichteten Angriffe (1907), quoted in Johann Freidrich Geist and Klaus Kurvers, Das Berliner Mietshaus, 1862-1945. (Munich: Prestel, 1984), p. 219.

[9]Scheffler, “The Tenement Block” (1911) in Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940, p. 163

[10] Ibid p. 160

 

Bibliography

Books

Boyd Whyte, Iain and Frisby, David. “The Proletarian City.” In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 134-137.

Goecke, Theodor. “The Working-Class Tenement Block in Berlin” (1890). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 137-143.

Heise, Carl Georg and Langner, Johannes. “Karl Scheffler.” In Metzler art historian Lexicon: two hundred portraits of German-speaking authors from four centuries. Stuggart: Metzler, 1999.

Jacob, Max. “From Apartment House to Mass Apartment House” (1912). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 164-167.

Scheffler, Karl. “The Tenement Block,” (1911). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 158-163.

Sombart, Werner. “Domesticity,” (1906). In Metropolis Berlin: 1880-1940. Edited by Iain Boyd Whyte and David Frisby. (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 150-153.

 

 

 

 

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