The building collapsed, it simply gave up. It had been one of the rotten ones, with broken windows and graffiti, dark at night, its connections slowly loosening. It was the bad tooth, the failed brother. Here it is now in pieces.
Approaching the rubble, the smell of concrete and plaster reaches for me. It smells like hallways, which is a strange scent to enclose you when you are outside. The building has been turned inside out. It is horrible, it is fascinating. At one corner, a yellow earthmover picks at the pieces of concrete, eats them.
The empty buildings are a shock. The first I see is almost twenty stories high, with a huge banner hanging off it, zu verkaufen. Yes, I think I might be in the market for a huge, empty, run down Plattenbauten in Halle Neustadt. I stare at it from the tram: could it really be empty? All the windows are black, and the balconies are falling apart. All those walls and floors and ceilings, doing nothing but dividing up space.
The empty buildings keep appearing. Out of a row of four with the same design, the same textured panels on the façade, same size, same shape, the dead one is a shock. It has the doors bricked up, the windows spraypainted. It surprises me that seeing this makes me feel so much, sad and happy both at once. I can’t get to the root of it. Seeing these buildings actually makes me gasp.
Perhaps it is just the fulfilment of my expectations. I had read how Halle Neustadt was built in the 1960s to house the workers from the chemical industries, how once almost 100 000 people lived there, but now the buildings are slowly emptying, and there are plans for many of them to be demolished.
I stay on the tram until I can no longer stand to observe anymore. This is at the point where I see the demolished building. I feel like I’m standing in a graveyard as I breathe in the scent of the concrete. From here I walk back along the main road. One of the buildings has only recently been deserted. I walk over the damp grass towards it, trying to sense whether there were people living inside. At first I think there are, but then I see through the windows to the empty rooms inside. Up this close I can hear the sound of the wind creaking the loose panels on the balconies. It had the feeling like a room recently empty of people, where the breath and movement of bodies still remained. From where I was standing I could see no other people. I felt frightened, I felt free.
Some streets away, I spoke to the ladies of the Plattenbauten. They frolic on the empty, concrete fountain, as old men in parkas shuffle by. They tell me how it used to be, when they featured on postcards. They tell me that if I could open up one of the buildings like a cabinet, I would be surprised by the colours. They tell me how the empty cabinets give them nightmares, but it hurts every time one is demolished. They say: It wasn’t meant to turn out this way.



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