Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Weissenhof Estate Tour: modern architecture on show

So the Stuttgart 21 saga continues. I got a reply to my request for a tour and they said they can indeed offer one but they want €30. The other tours I have taken have cost at most €6 so this is five times the price of any normal tour. I wonder if that offers a clue to how they operate more generally.

I also noticed that the anti-S21 people have an information tent opposite the station. I have written to the official S21 people saying if they don't lower their price I'll ask the anti-S21 people for a tour instead. It's a cheeky email, I know, but I am not paying €30 just to hear their publicity so they will have to come down in price. I'll report back on what they say and how it goes with the anti-tour. 

I also noticed a couple of funny things about the train station and the redevelopment. The first is about the station. There seems a great effort made in stressing what a wonderfully designed station it is and yet, if it is such a gem, why did was it make as a station that the trains back in and out of and not one which trains can pass through in two directions? It's a pretty major drawback. Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course. What is more amusing about the S21 project is the company that came up with the initial plans for the redevelopment back in the 90s. They saw the opportunity of burying the train tracks to release a lot of land for prime site building. Their name? Trojan! I am not making this up, they are seriously called Trojan. Enough said.

This afternoon I took the U bahn to the Weissenhof Estate which offers guided tours daily. It is an architecturally significant set of buildings put up in 1927 that includes two Le Corbusier designed houses and several other very modern dwellings. Like at the Kunst Museum they usually give their tours in German but as I was the only person there my guide, Lilo, gave the tour in English. The tour was concentrated upon the architecture and we had a good look around the museum building which was one of the Le Corbusier designed houses. It was definitely done with great style and featured many attractive elements. At the same time I can also see how it required a bit of adapting to become comfortable: the photographs of previous tenants use of it showed it inhabited in unintended ways that modular man would not be proud of. 

We then took a tour of the estate and looked at some of the other buildings from the outside, as they were not open to the public but instead lived in by civil servants. The houses were diverse in design, some rather brutal and others more elegant and sought after. The commentary was interesting and invited many questions. I even got talking about the Tour of All Tours and so got to ask about guiding more generally. When we were just about finished we passed one of the buildings and saw the owner and a friend of Lilo's sitting out the front in the sun drinking coffee. The owner said hello and invited us inside to look around, which was very generous I thought. She was a lively older Dutch woman who clearly liked the unusual house and was happy to point out its features. This place looked like a real lived in home and it was not surprising to learn that she and her husband had been there 31 years.

I don't know if its the time of year and there are very few tourists or if it is commonly like this but I am getting to quite enjoy going on these guided tours as the sole visitor. You have a good opportunity to ask questions and lead the conversation in directions you're interested in yet at the same time there is enough of a script and schedule that there is no awkwardness.  

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