Sörgel’s dream

On 25 november 2016, in geschiedenis, internationaal, by Zef Hemel

Read in ‘Atlantropa’ (1998) of Wolfgang Voigt:

 

Three days before his death, Max van den Berg (1938-2016), a former city planner of Amsterdam, gave me a copy of ‘Atlantropa’, a book of the historian Wolfgang Voigt on the German architect Herman Sörgel. The book documents the mad history of a mad project dating from the early nineteen thirties. Sörgel, who worked at the office of Erich Mendelsohn, proposed the draining of the Mediterranean Sea by closing the Street of Gibraltar with a dam, by generating a huge amount of electricity with the help of this dam and another one in the Bosphorus, and by using this energy to irrigate the African desert. His drawings were exhibited in German, Italian and Spanish cities, and by letting them travel around Europe, Sörgel, who worked for many years on it, had hoped his project would bring peace and stimulate friendship between the nations. Architects and planners helped him designing the new cities on the new coastline that would be drained, amongst them the Dutch urbanist Cornelis van Eesteren. It was Van Eesteren who met Sörgel at the Weissenhof Siedling in 1927, learned about his project, and it was Van Eesteren who later teached Van den Berg, first as professor at the Technical Universityof Delft, later as a senior colleague and former head of the Amsterdam urban planning department.

Max did not know Van Eesteren had told me about Atlantropa when I studied Van Eesteren’s archives at his home in the early nineteen eighties. His gift reminded me of Sörgels dream and of the role Van Eesteren had played in it. So when I started reading Voigt last weekend, I learned that Sörgel wanted to make a boat trip with all the architects along the Mediterranean coast, but that this preparatory study tour never took place. So is it a coincidence that when in 1932 the architects of the International Congresses of Modern Architecture (CIAM), who planned their third congress on the functional city in Moscow, were not permitted to enter the Soviet Union, they decided to charter a boat in the harbour of Marseille, and make a boat trip to Athens and back again? I don’t think so. At that time Van Eesteren was president of CIAM and it was Van Eesteren who had travelled to Moscow in the winter of 1932 in an ultimate attempt to save the congress. The inspiration to find a ship and sail the Mediterranean when the Soviets refused, must have been his, or it was Sörgels idea he now eagerly adopted. Maybe even the idea to organize a travelling exhibition on the results of the congress was based on the Atlantropa-project. So when the Modernist architects embarked the Patris II in the summer of 1933, Van Eesteren must have imagined Sörgels dream of Atlantropa come true.

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