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Otto Steinicke, "A Visit to a New Apartment" (1929)

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A Visit to a New Apartment

The building in which Mrs. Müller lives is a gigantic new housing block divided into 160 separate rental units. The foundation walls are made of polished yellow sandstone. On top rise four storeys of red brick. The apartment block has a flat roof. Airplanes could land on it. The brick façades are covered with a coat of cement roughly textured with pebbles.

To visit Mrs. Müller one has to go through one of the imposing arched gates. Passing by the stairs to the apartments facing the street, one enters the expansive central courtyard. Air and light flood in through the rectangular opening at the top, brightening up every corner of the courtyard. In eight different places there are disposal facilities for kitchen refuse, built in the shape of tall hexagons and lined up straight as an arrow with small spaces between them, like Prussian soldiers on the parade ground. Plots of grass and playgrounds for the children have been marked off neatly and cleanly. The back wings here have nothing of the sad and shabby significance of the old rental blocks. No more stuffy air, no more semidark hallways and stink. Every bit of waste water flows away immediately in an underground drainage system; even the rain disappears into the ground through a gutter, leaving no puddles anywhere on the ground, no mud.

For hygienic reasons, the inhabitants of this new residential block are prohibited from hanging their wash out the windows to dry; nor are they allowed to shake dust out the windows. Those who want to clean make their way, after having settled an appointment with the porter, to a specific area of the courtyard. There, for three hours before noon, one can get rid of dust and beat rugs as much as one likes. There are large communal laundry rooms. They are available to all the renters on days specified for each unit. The entrances and stairways in the rear wings are in no way different from those in the front. Each of the staircases have been outfitted with carpet runners all the way up to the fifth floor.

Mrs. Müller’s apartment is located through entrance five on the fourth floor in the back. I rang. A ten-year-old child opened the door: his mother is not yet home, but, being an acquaintance, I am let in. I immediately take a look around the new apartment.

For Mrs. Müller and her husband, a railroad worker, it was the luck of winning a lottery that landed them here. Five years the family waited, all the while listed at the housing office for an apartment in a new building. They were repeatedly put off. Finally their name was taken from the usual list and added to the other Müllers on the one marked “urgent”; then, two years later, to the “especially urgent” list. After another two years, this one Müller out of thousands had the pleasure of receiving a two-and-a-half-room apartment. And it is truly marvelous. Not at all comparable to the miserable holes for rent in the center, north, and east of the city. The main room, flooded with daylight, is seventy-five square feet. The walls are dry, if not thick enough to keep out noise. Only the old, poor-quality furniture does not go with the room. It was brought from the old apartment: a chaise lounge, an extension table, six chairs, and a buffet. The petit-bourgeois unculture, the so-called knick-knacks, are no longer visible. On the table is a large crystal vase with flowers. The wallpaper is brightly colored and covered over with elaborate decorative flourishes.

The bedroom measures sixty square feet, with a double bed and two children’s beds, and a brand-new linen cabinet bought on credit from a warehouse. This room gets sunlight in the mornings. Then there is a bathroom with a built-in tub, hot and cold running water—very narrow so that only one person can move around in it at a time. The toilet is in the bathroom.

The kitchen looks nearly luxurious, with built-in furnishings attached to the walls. The stove is half electrified, with the other half working with gas. An electric iron is there for Mrs. Müller to use on the wash. The entire apartment is centrally heated with radiators. Otherwise, the apartment has a narrow hallway, about forty square feet, and a tiny so-called children’s room.

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