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After two decades of surprisingly successful reconstruction, the Federal Republic of Germany experienced an economic, political, and cultural crisis in the years 1966-7 that was manifested in the rise of the student protest movements. Critics also cited the poor conditions in big cities, which had spread to outlying areas as a consequence of unbridled growth in the 1950s.
While a multitude of impressive individual buildings had brought modern German architecture worldwide recognition, construction in urban areas had become somewhat chaotic, thereby discrediting reconstruction that followed the principles of modern city planning. In 1969, the news weekly Der Spiegel ran a series of articles under the title “Mit dem Latein am Ende” that scrutinized the “crisis and future” of German higher education in the wake of recent student protests. Turning to architecture, the series offered up a dramatic contrast between the latest examples of stellar individual buildings - such as Egon Eiermann's embassy in Washington and Sep Ruf's Chancellery Pavilion - and the dilapidated condition of inner cities and monotony of large suburban housing projects.
The Spiegel report gave vivid expression to the already widespread dissatisfaction with urban living conditions. With growing prosperity and the pervasive commercialization of downtown areas, an increasing number of retail and service businesses had cropped up; ever wider sections of the local population in urban areas were subjected to the pressure of the expanding “tertiary sector” and chose to leave the city for houses in surrounding areas.
The world war unleashed by Germany turned back on the country in the middle of Europe with devasting, destructive force. Merciless bombing raids, fierce fighting by retreating German troops, and the Allies' advance transformed towns and cities into a landscape of ruins. In summer 1945, approximately five million of the nearly twenty million dwellings in Germany had either been destroyed or severely damaged. Air raids had killed more than 400,000 people and left approximately thirteen million homeless.
In light of this daunting situation, many architects viewed rapid reconstruction as not only technically and economically unfeasible, but “morally impossible” as well. Many of them expected that plans to dismantle industrial facilities would result in long-term impoverishment of the country. Consequently, beginning in spring 1945, they called for the agricultural resources and equipment necessary for future survival and for “reconstruction from the ground up.” Evacuees and refugees were urged to settle in rural areas, while people who managed to maneuver around the restrictions on urban residency constructed makeshift dwellings in the cellars and ruins of German cities.
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