Does Berlin need another inner-city autobahn? Do people in the city really want a turnaround in mobility? What other metropolises could be role models for Berlin when it comes to traffic? The present and future of mobility in this city is the focus of a series of guest contributions for which we have recruited scientists, association representatives and other stakeholders. We begin the series of articles in the Berliner Zeitung with the mobility researcher Andreas Knie. The political scientist heads the research group “Digital Mobility and Societal Differentiation” at the Berlin Science Center (WZB).
Andrew Knie: “In Berlin, the parties are arguing about the continued construction of the A100. But are highways in cities still up-to-date? Doesn’t Berlin finally have to think bigger than continuing small-scale projects from times long gone?
Hardly any other city wanted to sacrifice so many buildings for the city highway
The former Senator for Urban Development, Volker Hassemer (CDU), said: “Berlin has the license to do important things”. This referred to the city’s history at the interface between East and West. In the past, Berlin has repeatedly used this license in traffic. standards set in Berlin. Example with the first ‘car-only road’, the Avus, opened to traffic in 1921. Or with the merging of all tram, bus and subway operators into a single operation with the worldwide standard ticket for all types of public transport. The BVG, which came into being in 1929, was then one of the largest municipal transport companies in the world!
But Berlin is also making room for streets. That was modern back then. During the Second World War, people managed to consistently implement a functional separation of the city, parts of which were to be connected by a dense band of highways. There was probably no other city in the world that would have so consistently sacrificed the remaining old buildings to a city motorway network after the World War. At the same time, a decision was made in West Berlin in 1953 to abolish the tram, which, although it accounted for two-thirds of the traffic, simply no longer seemed up to date in the age of the reorganized city.
Berlin really wanted to become modern again and in 1957, with Interbau, it offered architects such as Oskar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier, Max Taut and Walter Gropius the design opportunity to realize their modernist design language with light, air and sun in a city quarter in the middle of the City-West. Berlin war ahead of the world. The city councilor for building Hans Scharoun, the West Berlin building senator Rolf Schwedler and the East Berlin chief architect Hermann Henselmann asked the West Berlin collective plan or the East Berlin general traffic plan to create space for roads in order to transform the city into a huge transit zone.
But Berlin wouldn’t be Berlin if resistance and counterforces hadn’t always formed against these gigantic plans. The West Berlin Autobahn plans were already the subject of heated debate in the early 1970s and were the starting point of a very special innovation: the squatter movement. The motorway junction planned for Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg aroused such strong resistance that this instance was not implemented. The legendary citizens’ initiative West Tangente defended itself against the planned demolition of half of Schöneberg – also successfully.
The struggle for the transport of the future and the question of how much space could be given to the transport systems was now the subject of the global zeitgeist, and Berlin was at the forefront. The images of squatting, street fighting and burning barricades went around the world, resistance was now fashionable. At the same time, car sharing was invented in Kreuzberg and offered for the first time worldwide by a professional company.
Then it got quiet
In the struggle for what constitutes modernity, Berlin has always been at the forefront of the world. The reunification experiment added a global component to the whole thing.
But what is modern today? What came next? In the depressive times of the 1990s, Berlin once again enriched the world with the techno and club scene, after which it became quiet.
Berlin has so much potential. In no city of comparable size do people live and work within the urban area. The number of commuters is very low in national and international comparison. The space is almost unlimited, Berlin was once designed for 4.6 million people, but there are still only 3.6 million – and there won’t be any more.
In Berlin you will find fewer normal biographies than in any other city. There are more single households, more single parents and almost half of all households do not have a car. You don’t just live in Berlin, Berlin is a commitment. By chance there is no one here anymore. This applies equally to West and East. Those who long for a standard life with their own little house in the country and a car in front of the door are still in the outskirts. But most of the people who think like this have already left the city.
The city of the “anti-Berliners”
The temporary ones, the creative ones, the international ones remained, at least the people whom the former Berlin Senator for the Interior Wilhelm Kewenig (CDU) described as “anti-Berliners”. In any case, people die a social experiment, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, live. Many Berliners are not only used to change, for them change is a daily routine. Berlin could thus once again take the lead in terms of transport policy and redefine modernity.
The strategic issue for the big metropolises is the struggle for space. How much space can the car probably take over? Berlin could set completely new standards here – and it could look like this: There are simply no more parking spaces within the Ringbahn! There are no bans on people who still want to own a car, they simply can no longer park it on public spaces in the city center. Car sharing cars are available for spontaneous and flexible use, but also for fixed bookings. Outside of downtown, taxis are waiting to take commuters and other transit users the last few miles home. Even if you have to go to the underground or S-Bahn station in the morning, you can simply call a taxi.
The city could breathe through, would have gained mobility and quality of stay and would again be a magnet for visitors. In a short time, only half of the more than 1.2 million cars currently registered in Berlin would be left.
Planned connection between Marzahn and Köpenick is obsolete
It then uses much more space for commercial traffic, which can move freely. Cafés and other restaurants could use the public spaces that have been freed up, and there is finally room for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Berlin does not need a federal law for this and, above all, it hardly needs any money. Traffic signs must be put up and the new rules must be monitored. Berlin can free itself and revitalize the districts and neighborhoods after the pandemic.
Above all, the further construction of motorways could be stopped immediately, as the federal government is doing with the 17th construction phase of the A100 to the Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg works. Tangential connections from the planning of the 1950s, such as the TVO between Marzahn and Köpenick, would finally be obsolete. In terms of transport policy, Berlin would no longer live in the past. Berlin would be modern again.”