F. Brinkmann, Berlin, Germany

Municipal Engineering 31 (October 1910)

In the years before the First World War Americans learned a great deal about German city planning from articles in professional journals and magazines of more general scope. Indeed, Germany led the world in their municipal regulations that combined the fixing of street lines and controls of how land could be used. Frederick Howe and Sylvester Baxter in America and Thomas Coglan Horsfall in Britain--among other--wrote and lectured about the merits of German urban planning and design. Brinkmann was doubtless German, but his background remains unknown. There is a striking similarity in content and even in some phrases with the article written a the same time by F. Bottge in Cassier's Magazine that also appeared in October, 1910. Of the two, only Brinkmann, however, noted that the plan of open space for Greater Berlin called for green wedges "located at intervals around the order to facilitate traffic and general development of the city."
In every cultured country there is a remarkable interest in the art of city building, a movement which was started in Germany and where it is still stronger than elsewhere. It was therefore not surprising that in 1903 when the first exhibition of city building was held Dresden was chosen as its location, and a second one was held this summer in the German capital. In future years it is expected that other nations will follow this commendable practice. For centuries German cities have been powerful and influential in the commonwealth. Especially when with the foundation of the empire after the Franco-Prussian war, industry and trade developed in an unprecedented manner and people flocked in large numbers to the cities, which grew with surprising rapidity. And unlike France and Great Britain, where Paris and London are much more the capitals and centers of business, art, science, politics, etc., this growth of prosperity and of the population is noticeable throughout the empire and not alone in the industrial districts. We find very large communities in the North and South, in the West and East, some of them having risen to a population of about half a million. Hamburg, Munich, Dresden, Leipzig and Breslau can be compared only with the largest American cities. The rush from the open country was often so great and sudden that new problems were presented to municipalities. Now a particular science has developed during the last 12 years, that is the art of municipal architecture, which is now taught in all technical colleges

The difficult problem is how we can accommodate the sudden increase in population within the old city limits and how land can be provided and utilized in a systematic and practical manner. Efforts were made to find such new territory but to preserve the old appearance and characteristic of the various towns. Building plans must not be designed according to geometrical rules, but in accordance with the exigencies of traffic and artistic considerations. In the two exhibitions a large number of models, plans and maps were placed on view demonstrating how the cities strive to combine old systems with new ones and to deal with the artistic, technical, social, sanitary and economical side of city building, and with the problem of transportation.

The building up of our communities chiefly on the Continent in Europe is the result of a conception that a ring encircles a town. The development follows a scheme which we may call the concentric plan. In other words a town grows by placing around the borders new rings or belts. This method has been our model for centuries and has found a firm place in our minds. The ring of the fortress the walls and ditches, the tax belt where the citizens coming from the country had to pay an inland tax, the circular street and railway, they all have put a stamp upon the way of enlarging a city.

This has a harmful effect upon the economical political and traffic development of a community. Its place must be taken by a radial system, we must have rays instead of rings. This applies especially to the free spots still to be built up. These are the grave problems for any big city and Germany took the lead in realizing such projects by providing for a competition, called the "Wettbewerb fuer Gross Berlin." The foremost artists, city engineers, architects and social reformers have done their best to produce maps, sketches and models for a future Berlin. All these were placed on exhibition and were the center of attraction at the Berlin show. However, we are wrong if we think that these projects concern only the people of Berlin and German citizens alone, for the lessons taken from that prize contest are very valuable for every large community abroad. We were therefore not surprised that numerous requests came from other German and foreign towns who wanted the exhibits loaned for a show of their own. They had to be refused except three, Dusseldorf, Antwerpen and London.

As we have seen before, a principal factor is the division of a large city into wedgelike portions, the main thoroughfares being straight, long and wide, emanating from the center as rays. These all shall have one or more kinds of railways. In nearly every town we observe that the largest returns come from such radial lines and that circular railways are operated with little or no profit. From the standpoint of a traffic expert as well as with respect to monumental structures, the entire city must form a unit with distinctive features in the case of Berlin, the capital.

All towns of the old world show an abundance of curved streets, which are a great hindrance to rapid transit. But even in the recently built outer districts or suburbs we constantly meet curved streets, for the reason that they produce a wonderful picturesque effect. Germany is especially rich with such quaint old crooked roads, the delight of the German citizen and of the cultured foreigner who comes every year to view our old historic spots. It is now the question how can we maintain the picturesque artistic character of the streets and yet comply with the requirements of sanitation and transportation. The practical Yankee, having no sense for beauty and art but rather for money, would say: "Pull down old sections and build the roads straight." This is indeed the simplest way, but the effect would be an ugly town, of which America has more than enough. The modern methods are best executed in Germany and I found excellent examples in the above expositions. The system of curved streets is now being replaced by that of straight thoroughfares, but to avoid a monotonous appearance, so common in the residential sections of London and American cities, the long row of houses must be interrupted by monumental buildings, statues, artistic lamp-posts, small parks and recreation grounds, and different treatment of the street crossings. Thus in viewing along such a modern road our eye does not get tired, for the scene changes constantly.

Another notable lesson can be learned from the German city builder in the matter of the width of thoroughfares. In Great Britain and most other countries they purchase ground just so much as at present is needed for traffic in the particular section. When the latter develops after 5 or 10 years they are forced to widen a road and purchase ground which has risen enormously in value. Besides, numerous buildings have to be pulled down to make room for the sideway, involving enormous costs. In Germany the town administration buys property for a street of such a large width as would be required after 20 to 50 years. Consequently when these districts are built up in the course of years and traffic has developed, the street is wide enough for its accommodation. People would say it is a waste to purchase superfluous ground in advance, but this is not the case, for that portion at present not used for a street or sidewalk is rented to the house owner to be used as front gardens. They are compelled to do this by law or they do not receive the concession to build their houses. Thus in most new sections of the German towns we see long alleys with pretty front gardens. When necessity arises all these or only a strip of them are removed and used for the new sidewalk, the old one having been turned into the widened street.

Much attention is given to a belt of forests and meadows for excursions, picnics, etc. A notable example is the Austrian capital with its wonderful natural surroundings, as we had a chance to see by maps, drawings and an immense model in the Berlin exhibition. Yet in Germany the Vienna example will not be entirely adopted, as those forests and parks make a perfectly closed geometrical ring, forming a drawback to transportation and to the extension of the city. We intend to have these green areas located at intervals around the community; intersecting the latter like a wedge in order to facilitate traffic and general development of the city. Berlin owns considerable areas of forests and large playing fields close to the city borders. The love of the German citizens for nature, especially for the forest, is well known, and in nearly every province exist so-called forest-protection leagues with thousands of members who arouse public interest to preserve their very precious forests. Much valuable work has been achieved by them and hundreds of acres of forest area has been saved. Railways and fine smooth country roads are laid through these surroundings, insuring good transportation and pleasant drives. Inside the towns the numerous parks and promenades receive full attention and compare well with the noted American parks, which in the Berlin show occupied a whole room. We were impressed by the pictures and sketches showing the play grounds, swimming and rowing ponds, reading rooms, drive ways and wading pools of the American system. The latter were adopted by the Berlin county council immediately after the close of the exhibition. We also had a chance to see the foremost universities of the United States with their beautiful surroundings, and we envied them for the immense space available to allow such a system of laying out the college buildings and campus park. In the old world space is scarce and the houses have to be built narrower and closer together with small areas for parks.

In the same way as the park system is most up-to-date in America, so the garden cities of Great Britain, which occupied a room in the last exposition, are most nearly ideal. Port Sunlight, Letchworth and others are too well known to need description. In the German empire the garden city idea has made its appearance in the last five years and Berlin can boast of having some wonderful suburbs of this kind. Dresden and the famous workmen colonies of the cannon king, Krupp in Essen, are other notable examples.

In the matter of transportation in all cultured countries very remarkable improvements have been made hand in hand with the development of traffic. Here Germany is again far in advance of any nation in the matter of safety and protection for passengers and employees. The signal system, guarding of road crossings, sanitary conditions of compartments, stations, workshops, old age and accident insurance are yet unsurpassed and stand most in contrast with the United States, where railways are operated only for money. Berlin owns a special railway museum, recently opened, where every one interested will find excellent material from which a lesson can be taken. From the various diagrams and statistics placed on view we noticed that underground local lines are only yielding a profit within the city limits. In the suburbs only street cars, elevated or level railways can be profitably worked. 

    Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: