Unveiling the Housing Crisis in the GDR, 1945–1973. To What Extent Are There Distinct Communist Housing Management Practices?

Crisis Unconsidered, Manufactured Crisis
By Jay Rowell

In 1945, the housing shortage in the Soviet sector of Germany was catastrophic. However, the rate of reconstruction and the intensity of public discourse on the housing crisis were much lower in the GDR than in other European countries. The present article seeks to understand the discrepancy between the objective situation and public policy by looking to a number of elements. The housing problem was constructed in public discourse as the product of a capitalist and national-socialist past and its resolution took the form of a utopian narrative, which aimed at obscuring the present. This line was advocated by a group of architects who succeeded in monopolising expertise and institutional positions in the housing sector until the mid-1960s. Specialised in the elaboration of architectural and urban forms, they regarded housing as a qualitative and technical issue rather than a quantitative and social one. Finally, the article draws a comparison with the FRG and explores housing allocation practices to assess the pressures and contradictions inherent in managing this scarce resource. Evolutions in the former set the groundwork for the elevation of housing to a political priority in the early 1970s.

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