Halle Photos

And now, as promised, photos of my recent trip to Halle on Saale Lots of beautiful old buildings and some not so beautiful examples of Communist era architecture. Some of the photos were taken while snow was falling and thus look a little grey and grim.

On YouTube I found this home video showing Halle in the spring of 1990, i.e. a few months after the fall of the Wall. And here is another home movie of Halle, shot in 1981. The city here looks very much like I remember it. Here is another home movie that’s even older, filmed by an American searching his roots in Halle in 1969. You can even see Halle Neustadt under construction. The videos show some of the same locations I photographed 23 to 44 years later, so it’s interesting to compare and contrast.

Halle market square

The market square with the Market Church and the so-called Red Tower, which together make for a striking skyline. Between church and tower, you can see the Händel monument. The market square is full of people and market stands because of the annual Easter fair.

Halle Marktkirche

The front of the late gothic Market Church. Georg Friedrich Händel was baptized here and learned to play the organ. The church has been newly restored. Back in the 1980s, when I first saw it, it was pretty much black. Also note the sausage stand in front of the church, part of the annual Easter fair with its unique slogan “Don’t Worry, Be Curry”, a reference to the popular German fastfood specialty Currywurst.

Halle Red Tower

A close-up view of the Red Tower, a 15th century bell tower. It still looks pretty grim due to the overcast weather and snowfall, but this is nothing compared to the 1980s, when the tower was black with soot.

Halle Roland

A statue of Roland, that hero of medieval legend, on the facade of the Red Tower. Medieval Roland statues may be found in towns and cities all over Germany. Bremen has one of the biggest and most famous Roland statues.

A photo of Bremen’s Roland may be found here BTW.

Halle Händel monument

This statue on the market square of Halle is devoted to Georg Friedrich Händel, the most famous son of the city. Apparently, Händel has borrowed the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, since it was really bloody cold when I was there. The grey building in the background was a department store even in Communist times and now belongs to the Galeria Kaufhof chain.

Halle Stadthaus

The so-called Stadthaus, a 19th century building on the Halle market square. It housed part of the city administration until WWII. The actual townhall is a grey postwar building, since the medieval townhall was destroyed in WWII.

Halle Halloren Cafe

This historical house on Halle’s market square houses the Halloren Café, a coffee and chocolate shop operated by the Halloren chocolate company, purveyor of fine chocolates, including the famous Hallorenkugeln, since 1804.

Halle Llama

A random Llama displayed as part of a petting zoo on Halle’s market square during the Easter fair.

Halle dragon fountain

A striking fountain with dragons and a golden ball on the Hallmarkt square.

Halle Hallmarkt

A fountain on the snow-covered Hallmarkt and striking graffitti alluding to Halle’s musical history overlooking a building site.

Halle Alter Markt

The so-called donkey fountain on the Old Market. The fountain retells the local legend of a donkey and its owner who came into the city just as the city was awaiting a visit from Emperor Otto I. The Emperor was delayed and so the donkey and its owner got to walk on roses.

Halle Ulrichstraße

Two striking and beautifully restored Victorian buildings at the entrance to the Große Ulrichstraße, the main shopping area. The cables crisscrossing this and other photos are the contact wires for the tram network.

Halle Ulrichstraße

Another beautiful turn of the century building on Große Ulrichstraße. Note the contact wires.

Halle 19th century building

Detail of a beautiful 19th century building on Große Ulrichstraße. In West Germany, a lot of 19th century buildings that had survived WWII were torn down in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for “modern” buildings. East Germany, perpetually short of money and accomodation for its citizens, preferred to keep crumbling 19th buildings around as long as halfway feasible and build new housing estates (we’ll see one of them later) on the periphery of towns. As a result, the centres of East German usually have more surviving pre-WWII architecture than comparable West German cities.

Halle Große Ulrichstraße

Another beautifully restored 19th century building on Große Ulrichstraße, which nowadays houses the bar of the Thalia Theatre next door.

Halle Label scar

This label scar above a door in a courtyard of a building now occupied by the University of Halle advertises a print shop specializing in posters and advertising materials. I suspect that this label scar dates back to before WWII.

Here is an explanation of the background of this particular sign.

Halle HO label scar

The lingering shadow of Communist East Germany is still visible in modern day Halle in this sign advertising a HO meat product store. HO was a state-owned chain of restaurants, bars and grocery stores in Communist East Germany.

Wikipedia has some more background information on the HO stores in East Germany.

And now for the architectural legacy of Communist East Germany, the so-called Plattenbauten, large scale council estates built from pre-fabricated components. Halle has one of the earliest Plattenbau neighbourhoods in East Germany, Halle-Neustadt (Halle Newtown), Ha-Neu for short in a play of words on Hanoi, which was planned in the 1960s to provide homes for the workers in the chemical factories of nearby Schkopau and Leuna. Halle has been a centre of the chemical industry since the Third Reich. In addition to Leuna and Schkopau, whose plastics factory had the world’s worst advertising slogan “Plaste und Elaste aus Schkopau” (because if your chemical factory is in a town with the ugly and hard to pronounce name Schkopau, you should absolutely advertise that fact to random passers-by via a giant highway sign. Honestly, those people needed Don Draper), there’s also Bitterfeld and Wolfen, former home to the Agfa, later Orwo, film factory. Here’s a promotional film about Halle-Neustadt from the 1970s, which shows the ideal. And here comes the reality.

Halle Neustädter Passage

The heart of Halle Neustadt, the outdoor shopping mall Neustädter Passage. It all looks rather post-apocalyptic.

Halle Neustädter Passage

The view from my hotel room window across the Neustädter Passage. Le Corbusier’s dream turned into Halle’s nightmare here.

Halle Neustadt Haus der Dienste

The former “Haus der Dienste” or House of Services in Halle Neustadt. This building once contained offices of all sorts of administrative services, post officer, bank and the like. Now it houses a 23-hour open gambling hall (they close for one hour a day to clean the place and empty the slot machines) whose noisy signs drown out the subdued Communist era neon sign on top of the building. It’s probably telling that services for the 50000 people (down from 90000 at its peak) of Halle Neustadt have been replaced by a gambling hall which preys on the poor.

Halle Neustadt

A typical apartment block in Halle-Neustadt. Some of the blocks have been restored and upgraded, this one looks largely unchanged since Communist times. Hard to imagine that flats in these blocks were once sought after.

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8 Responses to Halle Photos

  1. Thanks once again for sharing images of another interesting town, Cora. Really appreciate it.

  2. Sherwood Smith says:

    Wow, fascinating. The 1990 film was especially grim. It looked like parts of the town had been closed off entirely. Some of those old buildings would be beautiful if restored–maybe are now?

    Those grim apartment blocks weren’t just eastern. I remember staying in one just like it in Paris in 1972.

    Anyway, great pix, as always. (And a real bonus, the explanation for Akzidenzsetzer, which was new to me.)

    • Cora says:

      The GDR was pretty much bankrupt by the time the Wall fell in 1989 and had stopped all but the most essential expenses, so buildings, roads, etc… hadn’t been repaired in years, sometimes decades. Plus, Halle was never a priority for spending money on restoration, unlike East Berlin or Leipzig or Dresden which got more visitors from the West. Even back in Communist times, the contrast between Halle and Leipzig, which is only 50 kilometers away, was striking. My great-aunt who lived in Schkeuditz, a town near Halle, always said that up to late 1960s/early 1970s the situation in East Germany got steadily better, then it stagnated and started declining all the way to 1989. By the late 1980s, East German fashion, furniture, toys, etc… looked like approx. 1973, while many of the buildings looked more like 1953.

      Plus, over the summer of 1989 and in the months since the fall of the Wall, East Germans had left the country in droves, leaving many flats and houses abandoned and even more open to decay. Because even in East Germany, where buildings were left to crumble into oblivion, people generally complained if they didn’t have windows. Actually, the 1990 video illustrates that limbo year after the fall of the Wall, but before unification very well. There already are some private shops and a truck selling flowers (wouldn’t have happened pre-1989) and some of the buildings are either being restored or torn down. But most are still crumbling, because no one knows who actually owns those buildings (the Soviets and later the East German Communists expropriated most of those buildings, often more than once, so figuring out who is the owner took time) and thus no one is willing to pay for repairs. Most of the buildings have been restored by now, but there still are crumbling buildings in side streets (the HO Fleischwaren shop is one example) and outside the immediate city centre, probably because even 23 years after the fall of the Wall, no one knows who owns those buildings. Never mind that the relevant authorities were not exactly quick or eager to return buildings to their rightful owners and came up with all sorts of excuses, e.g. if you wanted property returned that had belonged to your family once, none of your ancestors could have been a committed Nazi or Communist (good luck trying to find one family which didn’t have at least one of either). And if the East German authorities “persuaded” you to allow them to take your property of your hands, you won’t get it back either – after all, you gave it away willingly. They pulled the latter stunt on my great-aunt and the former on my grandmother.

      The 1990 clip also coincidentally shows the extreme air pollution in and around Halle due to the chemical factories and the fact that many houses were heated via ovens using lignite coal, which leaves a lot of soot. The air pollution was really so bad that there was visible smog. I always got sick when we visited. Plus, you get to see the rumbling old Czech-built trams, some of which – amazingly – are still in service. As a kid, I was always terrified of those trams, because they looked unsafe. Never would have thought I’d ever voluntarily get into a Halle tram.

      The apartment blocks were indeed a universal European phenomenon. Every bigger city has at least one or two neighbourhoods like this. The ones in East Germany tend to be worse than elsewhere (though there are some really horrible ones in Western Europe, too, e.g. Thamesmead in London looks just as bad as Halle-Neustadt), because building standards were lower (the walls in those flats are paper thin) and since all of those blocks were state-owned, only a handful have been properly restored by their new post-privatisation owners. You could see this very well in Halle-Neustadt. Some blocks had been renovated, while others were crumbling towards oblivion. One of the very tall blocks actually had a huge “For sale” banner hanging from its side, which just made me wonder how stupid you’d have to be to buy it, because it was very much a ruin.

      BTW, I didn’t know what an Akzidenzsetzer was, either.

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