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GDR Prefabs Get New Lease on Life

DW staff (sms)October 1, 2005

Long seen as one of the most unattractive housing options available, a Russian group has shown interest in creating new homes from the precast concrete buildings that are spread all over eastern Germany.

A model home was built outside Berlin with prefabricated concreteImage: dpa

The plain, flat buildings that were ubiquitous in the former East Germany have a bad reputation they don't deserve, according to Germany's Minister for Building and Housing, Manfred Stolpe. The concrete slabs they are made from are high quality products that could serve for another 80 years, he said.

"There is a lot to be said for reusing the slabs," Stolpe told Die Welt newspaper. "They could come back in a completely new and modern form."

News house has more style

Dresdner Plattenbauten
These plain, old German apartments could become new, attractive Russian apartmentsImage: dpa

One such form could be new, hopefully more attractively designed, apartment buildings for Russians in St. Petersburg, which is currently suffering from a housing shortage.

"The individual slabs remain nearly undamaged after being taken down," engineer Frank Vogdt of the Technical University in Berlin told the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. "Afterwards no one would ever know they came from a prefabricated building."

To prove that the buildings that used to house hundreds of working-class East Germans could be used to make single family homes, the German government built a gabled-roof prototype home outside of Berlin from the used concrete. According to Stolpe, reusing the communist relics can save companies up to 30 percent in construction costs.

The house in Berlin, along with the cheaper manufacturing costs, piqued the interest of a Russian delegation representing companies that want to use the slabs in new housing projects.

"I run a private business and for me it's about the price," Russian businessman Igor Fjodorow told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Coastal buildings popular

Abriß von Plattenbauten
Tearing the buildings down is expensive for GermanyImage: AP

Researches calculated that the energy savings that result from not having to produce new concrete would be enough to heat a one-family house for nearly 10 years. The transportation costs for the massive pieces of concrete, however, can run high.

That's why Fjodorow and his countrymen are mostly interested in the multitude of prefabricated apartment buildings located near the Baltic Sea, where they can be loaded onto a boat and shipped to St. Petersburg, which currently needs about 100,000 apartments, Fjodorow estimated.

While the deal seems to be good both for the German government, which wants to get rid of the often unused and deteriorating building, and the Russian companies looking to make a profit building homes, Stolpe said the two groups haven't signed any deals yet.

The concrete is currently used in German road construction projects, for which it first must be broken into smaller, more manageable pieces. Finding a way to take advantage of the material while still whole would save money and help the environment, Stolpe said.

"By finding new, high-quality opportunities to reuse these materials we are showing that we care about the environment," he said.