Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Woman's Berlin: Building the Modern City

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Woman's Berlin: Building the Modern City

Article excerpt

Stratigakos, Despina. A Woman's Berlin: Building the Modern City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 239 pp. $24.95 paperback.

Stratigakos's study merits the attention of anyone interested in how populations outside the cultural mainstream map and construct environments to make room for themselves. Focusing on Wilhelminian Berlin, Stratigakos "retraces a largely forgotten city, a site of both dreams and real spaces," that is, "a women's Berlin" (ix). Specifically, a new social category of women, "single independent women - and public awareness of them as a new and needy urban constituency" provided "a critical driving force in many of the built projects" (xii). Architectural historians have not noted these women's Berlin because it was marked by the accommodation of social needs and desires more than by stylistic or technical innovation.

Stratigakos begins by examining a guidebook, Was die Frau von Berlin wissen muss. Published in 1913, this work "covered whole fields of activity that cut across city districts" (3) and so established the "cartography of female agency" (16) that informs the following chapters. Central to this cartography were professional women's clubs and, in particular, the Lyceum Club to which most of the guidebook's authors belonged. Stratigakos explores the club's architecture from its founding in 1905 as a branch of a London club. Each of its three successive buildings was more fully transformed by club members to emphasize German Sachlichkeit in opposition to the luxuriousness of the British model. The club thus represented itself as being as patriotic as it was modern.

Funding difficulties plagued the projects to house single women addressed in the next chapter. Two that were successful, a home for retired teachers (1913-14) and one for university students (1914-15), were designed by Emilie Winkelmann. In 1907, Winkelmann, a Lyceum member, had established "the first architectural firm owned by a woman in Germany" (xii). In both instances, Winkelmann used "pared-down classicism" (92) to underline the residents' professional aspirations and achievements, while in other respects appealing to traditional notions of domesticity. Like the Lyceum Club's assertions of patriotism, this appeal to tradition softened an inherent challenge to social convention.

An exhibition the Lyceum Club hosted in 1912, Die Frau in Haus und Beruf similarly turned conventional imagery to new purposes. …

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