Beautiful East German prefab apartment building shot with cross process film recipe (Fuji X100F)

I enjoy using the film recipes from fujixweekly. This one is supposed to mimick the cross process where one would use a different process (i.e. chemicals and baths) designed for other types of film. The results could vary dramatically and produce an often surreal image. The most common effect was a green tint like in this picture. Nowadays one can simulate this in software or directly in camera.

East German Prefab apartment block in Potsdam shot with simulated cross process
East German prefab apartment building in cross process (2019) FUJI X100F 23mm@F8 1/125 ISO 1600 (cross process film recipe)

Growing up in East Germany I acquired a fascination with prefab apartment buildings [here and here]. In fact I am fascinated with the socialist, brutalist architecture. I don’t like the buildings. I would not want to live in them but they are fascinating nonetheless.

They encapsulate the desire for cheap and modern apartments at a time when many people still used coal fired heating but they are also testament to a state that saw their citizens not as humans beings but as resource for it’s production capabilities and armies that needed to be housed, clothed and fed.

Despite the ostentatious “liberation” from being a wage slave in capitalist societies, people in communist countries were much more a calculated part of the general economic plan. The satisfaction of individual desires, needs and wants was always subordinate to the state’s needs. Deep down in this ideology people were means and not ends.

These apartment buildings reflect this reality. If built as a new district they added green spaces around them, a school, kindergarten, shops, doctors offices and the obligatory “cultural hall”. The latter a place for state sponsored gatherings and propaganda events and often the only kind of entertainment available were people could meet in groups and socialize.

But the buildings were all the same. There was little variety, the apartments were small and badly insulated. Some had windowless bathrooms, some even windowless kitchens with only a “window” to the living room, some had elevators that would only stop at every third level to save on costs.

Now compared to where the people lived before these were modern apartments with kitchens, showers, even bath tubs and central heating. There were waiting lists to get into such an apartment and they were often used as a reward for loyal citizens. But those were not places for individuality.

Creative people, artists, actors and intellectuals were often drawn to the old and dilapidated housing stock to carve out a small unique niche for themselves. It was in these places that the seeds of the peaceful revolution started to grow. They are now one of the most desirable and expensive places ironically often inhabited by West Germans or expatriates.

The prefab apartment buildings on the other hand have lost a lot of their allure. Despite refurbishment the apartments are still small and sometimes impractical for a modern lifestyle. But they are relatively cheap and so pretty much sought after not because of their quality but because of the low rent. In socialist times even the educated would live in such apartments, today it is the less affluent or the frugal.

Nevertheless this particular building is sited in the city center right next to a river and park with playgrounds and a café in walking distance. If you don’t mind the architectural shortcomings it is prime real estate.

2 Responses

  1. I think the prefab buildings were used in more countries because of the quick way it could be built. I remember back in Namibia when we just moved there, we lived in a prefab house, and I seem to remember that the walls were very thin? Which I know is not the same for apartment buildings of course. Love that image!
    ~ Marie

    • Yes they were not unique to East Germany but in non-communist countries they only built them in small units while here in especially in the Soviet Union whole cities or large districts were constructed like this. Also in West Germany such buildings quickly became troublespots were only the poor or migrants lived in East Germany they were (and to a degree still are) used by regular up to middle class people.

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