Bonjour tristesse / Bitte lebn

Schlesische Strasse, Alvaro Siza (1982-1983)
Schlesisches Tor, Alvaro Siza (1982-1984)

This, at first rather plain, corner house was built as part of the International Building Exhibition IBA 1984 in Kreuzberg, Berlin. It was also the first building the internationally known architect Álvaro Siza Vieira realized outside his native Portugal. The thought of an infill block with regular facades, contextual sensitivity and shops on the ground floor was almost revolutionary after the anti-urban modernism of the 1970’s. Back then this house was close to the Berlin wall, practically at the edge of town, but now it stands in the middle of 24-hour-party-people Wrangelkiez.

I did not pay much attention to it, seeing it for the first time ten years ago – just noticing the strange graffiti at the gable of the house saying “bonjour tristesse”. Just recently it has acquired a new graffiti stating: “Bitte lebn” – please live. The original graffiti, french for “Hello sadness”, was added around 1985 and could refer either to the austerity of the architecture, the austerity of living in Berlin in the early eighties and/or to a french novel and Deborah Kerr movie by that title from 1958. The eye on the movie poster actually resembles the eye-shaped hole in the curving roofline of the building.

Movie Poster, © IMDB
Movie Poster, © IMDB

One critic called the building an architectural modulation of the neighboring 1950’s houses and argued how the graffiti and its message actually enhance and affirm the gestures of the building. Or at least lend it a feeling of soft irony. They blend together in such a recognisable and emotionally expressive way that people were very upset about the new boisterous graffiti and demanded that it must be removed and the “bonjour tristesse” restored to its former glory (with upside-down s and all).

So, seeing the house now, being back after ten years, my first feelings were tenderness and melancholy.

For plans and stuff, check ArchDaily classics, for the book, see here.




2 thoughts on “Bonjour tristesse / Bitte lebn

    1. Some of the taz-readers thought that the crassness of the new graffiti symbolizes the way life has changed in Kreuzberg.
      I have not seen the film myself but according to wikipedia it tells the story of 17-year-old Cécile and his playboy father who live an “empty and desultory life” on the French Riviera (sic).

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