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40 Years After, Germans Restore Architectural Past

April 29, 1985

LUEBECK, West Germany (AP) _ Left with mostly ruins after World War II, Germany paved over much of its architectural past, burying bad memories. Old neighborhoods and buildings shattered by bombings were deemed best forgotten.

But recently, West Germans have picked up hammers and chisels and devoted millions of dollars to bringing historic neighborhoods back to life.

From Baltic seaport towns like this one to villages in Bavaria, West Germans are restoring centuries-old houses that had stood in ruins or neglect since the surrender of Hitler’s Nazi war machine in May, 1945.

The restoration craze has been spurred by federal funding and a rebirth of interest in old architecture, according to building officials around the country.

″Through the 1960s, ultra-modernism was celebrated in every form,″ said Robert Scholl, a spokesman for the federal Building Ministry in Bonn. ″People moved out of the old city centers, saying there wasn’t enough light or space.

″This all started changing in the 1970s. Now the old buildings are admired. ... It’s become chic to live in the ‘Old Town’ again.″

Many German cities were founded more than a millennium ago, but countless architectural treasures were lost when 60 percent of the country’s urban housing was destroyed in World War II.

After the war, with 11 million homeless, West German builders found it easier to bulldoze ruins and construct new apartment blocks than to painstakingly restore the historical houses that remained, officials say.

″For a long time the main thing was just getting a roof over people’s heads. There was no thought given to making an old building more attractive,″ said Rudi Kujath, an official in West Berlin’s city renewal department.

For years, restoration was largely limited to cathedrals and other public monuments. It was not until 1972 that the national Parliament in Bonn passed a law that made federal money available to cities for neighborhood renovation.

Since then, federal, state and local governments have spent the equivalent in marks of about $300 million a year on city restoration and renewal, the Building Ministry said.

West Berlin, with 1.8 million residents West Germany’s largest city, has spent the most. The city currently pours more than $166 million annually into renewing old homes, most of which were built in the old German capital’s 19th- century heyday.

In Luebeck, which has a much smaller but much older ″Old Town,″ $33 million in local, state and federal funds have been spent on restoration in the last decade.

As the former ″queen″ of the Hanseatic League of cities, Luebeck, population 225,000, has more historical buildings from the period between the 13th and 15th centuries than all the other towns of northern Germany combined, city officials say.

In the town of Marburg in central Germany, about 120 old houses have been restored in the last 10 years, at a cost of nearly $26 million in public funds.

About $20 million in public money has been spent on restoration in Regensburg, the first capital of Bavaria, where some buildings still contain parts of ancient Roman structures. An additional $3 million has been spent to restore picturesque Bamberg.

Frankfurt spent about $11 million to reconstruct six medieval houses on a downtown square destroyed in Allied bombing raids. Hamburg has spent about $6.5 million to rebuild a 17th century residential district.

These figures do not include spending by private sources, which has been considerable. In Luebeck alone, city architect Uwe Hansen estimates private spending at the mark equivalent of $100 million to date.

The restoration has been so effective in Luebeck that a tourist lost on a cobblestoned sidestreet can easily slip into a time warp.

Gothic, baroque and classical facades crowd the narrow thoroughfares, and stepped gables, arched buttresses and narrow passageways are everywhere.

Families restoring private homes have discovered painted ceilings dating back to the Renaissance.

One-fifth of Luebeck’s oldest buildings were destroyed in World War II, and after the war some others were bulldozed.

″Mistakes were made, but it is unbelievable the way attitudes have changed in the last 15 years,″ Hansen said.

Luebeck now carefully monitors all construction. Local laws even stipulate what color the roofs must be (red or brown) and what type of signs can be hung on storefronts (no alternating lights are allowed).

Every effort is made to insure that modern uses do not damage old buildings, but this is not always easy.

After renovating 22 medieval houses to be joined as a music school, Luebeck’s city fathers discovered that the loudspeakers and synthesizers of today’s musicians rattled the aged windows and walls.

″To stand up to modern music, the buildings had to be reinforced, right down to their foundations,″ Hansen said.

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