Excursion to Athens and Thessaloniki

In the middle of September – from the 08.09. until 13.09.2018 – a group of 15 students from the Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Sciences at the Leibniz University of Hanover took part in an excursion to Athens, Greece. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) supported the organisation of the field trip as one of the main components of the research project ‘HeKris: Resilience as Challenge in European cities’, which is based on a cooperation of the Leibniz University of Hanover (Faculty of Architecture and Landscape Sciences) and the National Technical University of Athens (School of Architecture). The excursion was supervised by the Prof. Dr. Rainer Danielzyk and Filip Śnieg (LUH) and focused thematically on Resilient European Cities.

After welcoming words of the supervisor on Sunday afternoon, the day of our arrival in Athens, we were listening to prepared student presentations concerning the topic of the organisation of spatial planning and the administrative structure in Greece, the economic crisis and social consequences as well as environmental challenges in Athens agglomeration. Later that afternoon, we climbed the Lycabettus, the city mountain of Athens. From there you have an excellent view of the greater Athens area.

Group on top of Mount Lycabettus (© Filip Śnieg)

Our second day of excursion started with a visit of the National Technical University of Athens. We were listening to two exciting presentations. Firstly, Prof. Penny Koutrolikou’s talk focused on Migration and Urban Spaces in Athens: Contested Narratives for the City-Centre that outlined the challenges of urban development. Secondly, the presentation The new landscape of regional inequalities in the EU held by Prof. Ionnais Psycharis explained new emerging disparities in the European Union caused by the financial crisis with special consideration of the role of the metropolitan regions in the member states, which we then discussed with a focus on Greece and the role of the metropolitan regions of Athens and Thessaloniki. Numerous students used the lunch break to discover the Acropolis before Prof. Riva Lava invited us to a guided tour through Athens. From our destination point in the old town, we learned about the history and development of the city and, from an urban development perspective, were explained about exceptional buildings and architectural details around the city.

Monastiraki square in Athens (© Filip Śnieg)

On Tuesday, we were invited to a presentation dealing with the Greek planning system, urban planning and the environment at the Ministry of the Environment and Energy of Greece. The head of the Urban Planning Department S. Pyhogios and his collegue G. Spiliopoulou offered us highly interesting information on Greece’s planning culture. The Greek planning system, problems of this very centralistic and somewhat cumbersome system and planning instruments to promote investment by property developers were explained in detail. Moreover, differences and similarities of the Greek system to the German spatial planning system were discussed and critically regarded in the aftermath. The day ended with a beautiful landscape, remarkably fast and punctual (!) train ride across Greece to our next excursion destination: Thessaloniki

We spend our first morning in Thessaloniki at the famous Archaeological Museum. Antique exhibits of excavations found in the Macedonia region and Thessaloniki and thus got a first impression of the, if you like, 3000 year old city history. In the afternoon, we experienced a guided Tour through Thessaloniki. We visited outstanding architectural features in the city centre and old town, and went to historic monuments originating from the byzantine, such as the town wall.

Guided Tour in Thessaloniki (© Filip Śnieg)

On Thursday morning we continued with further student presentations. At first, environmental challenges in Thessaloniki agglomeration were outlined that comprise issues concerning climate change, an insufficient public transport system as well as urban sprawl. A comparative analysis concerning the importance of both Athens and Thessaloniki agglomerations for the Greek economy followed. We learned that Athens plays a major economic role in the country which also results from its international harbour. Then, we visited the Aristotle University Athens and listened to an interesting presentation on Thessaloniki’s historic and contemporary urban development measures by Prof. Dr. Athina Vitopoulou who is a member of the university’s department of urban planning,

Based on the information from all presentations, we could apply our new-won knowledge in the afternoon. We worked in three workshops on the topic of the Greek spatial planning system, the analysis and evaluation of urban development in Thessaloniki and last challenges and solutions for Athens’ quarter Exarchia. We presented and reflected our findings with the group in short oral presentations. Possible solutions stated include a possible decentralisation of the Greek spatial planning structure, an enhanced public transport system for Thessaloniki to decrease negative environmental pollution, and the inclusion of the local population and intermediary bodies such as the university of Athens into urban development and governance processes in Exarchia. We closed the day with a joint dinner at the beautiful promenade of Thessaloniki, where we could also welcome the director of the Institute of Architecture and Spatial Planning of Aristotle University, Prof. Dr. Alkmini Paka.

On our last day on Friday, we visited the Resilient Thessaloniki Office. We were warmly welcomed by a deputy mayor of the city, who led us in the meeting room of the council, where we heard an informative lecture of S. Psarropoulou about the Thessaloniki’s resilience strategy. The strategy has been developed in 2015 by the initiative 100 Resilient Cities by the Rockfeller Foundation. The presentation introduced us in valuable ways concerning the implementation of the resilient strategy with its stakeholders as well as its ongoing monitoring of the strategy’s outcomes. Once again, the challenge of local, regional and national governance structures to control spatial development in Thessaloniki and Greece was also addressed. It became clear how little decision-making authority the city of Thessaloniki has in many local matters in the central planning system of Greece. The educational and very successful excursion was concluded with a short guided tour through the city hall of Thessaloniki.

Excursion to Leipzig, Dresden and Dessau

From the 16th to the 21st of September 2019, a group of 24 undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Athens School of Architecture, accompanied by Prof. Konstantinos Serraos and Prof. Evangelos Asprogerakas, visited Leipzig, Dresden and Dessau, all cities in the eastern part of Germany. The excursion was part of project “HeKriS: Challenges of resilience in European cities”, a cooperation between the Institute of Environmental Planning of the Leibniz University of Hannover (LUH) and the Urban Planning Research Lab of NTUA, founded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The topic of this third season’s excursion was urban resilience from the aspect of governance arrangements, communal participation practices and institutional structures. The cities of the former east of Germany, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), reveal suitable case studies due to their social, economic and environmental resilience strategies and practices that followed the reunification of the German east and west part in 1990. Before the departure to Germany, a groundwork research booklet for the visiting areas was prepared by the group.

After the arrival in Leipzig on Monday afternoon, a first orientation walk around the city center took place. The arcades of the historic urban core were pleasant stops due to the rainy weather of that afternoon. The day ended with a visit to the Propsteikirche St. Trinitatis, a newly built church (2015), designed by the local architects “Schulz and Schulz”. The modern architectural design, although award-winning, is a point of contention between the citizens of Leipzig, reflecting the peculiarities of religious architecture.

On Tuesday, they visited the public library of Leipzig where Kai Braun gave an extensive presentation on the city and the urban development strategies of the municipality. Focus was put on the rapid population increase of the last years, the resulting housing challenges and the peripheral industrial zones. Based on a large city model located on the top floor of the city hall, he introduced us to the city center and its main sightseeing / historic points which we then visited together. Given the context of resilience policies, the most significant and controversial examples of Leipzig center seem to be “Höfe am Brühl” and “Paulinum”. The first is a department store facing Leipzig Central Station built in 2010 on the place of “Blechbüchse”, a degraded and lately partly-demolished block of high-rise residential buildings of the 1960s. Paulinum, also recently built (2007), is a university building with its church, Paulinerkirche, placed on the site of the first Paulinerkirche, bombed in 1968.

Overlooking Leipzig center’s model with Mr. Kai Braun (© Konstantinos Serraos)

The third day included a small excursion to the southwestern outskirts of Leipzig. The first stop was the Kulkwitzer See that is an artificial lake from a previous coal mine. During the 1960s the mine closed, the area was flooded and a recreational place was opened to the public in 1973. We walked along the east side of the lake, next to the camping sites and the boat rentals, and then visited our next stop “Grünau-Mitte”. This is a social housing project with 36,000 residences built in the GDR. A walk in between the high modern blocks to the department store “Allee-Center” gave us the impression of an underpopulated neighbourhood, as the research groundwork had shown beforehand. The last stop was “Baumwollspinerrei”, the revitalised cotton-spinning mill of Leipzig that shut down as a factory in 1993. Today it is a cultural hotspot in the suburban area of the city. Galleries, performance stages and handcraft shops are some of the facilities we visited as we walked around the former industrial neighbourhood. All three sites, Kulkwitzer See, Grünau and Spinerrei depict representative examples of different crisis experiences and the way they did or did not develop resilience capacities.

On the way to Kulkwitzer See (© Konstantinos Serraos)

The high residential blocks in Grünau (© Konstantinos Serraos)

On Thursday, we visited Dresden, a city which was completely destroyed due to bombings during World War II, and is still trying to rebuild its urban core. Our first visit was the “Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development”. Hendrikje Wehnert welcomed the group to the institute and spoke about their wide objectives. Pia Thiele gave us a useful input into the subjective of planners in Germany in regard to the issue of sustainability. Additionally, Katharina Sartison hold a more specialized presentation about urban gardening in Germany and the social impacts of allotments’ edible production. After a small break in the city centre, we visited the town planning office where Dr. Jan Glatter presented us critical situations the city faces. The residential forces in the centre constitute the main challenge for Dresden due to the increasing population after an immigration period, while the urban tissue has still vacant sites after the huge destructions of WWII. Dr. Glatter walked with us around the city for exploring examples of urban transformation such as the “Staatsoperette” of Dresden. It was founded recently (2016) on a former industrial site whereas an expensive housing area was built at the former royal orangery.

Next to the Staatsoperette Dresden with Dr. Jan Glatter (© Konstantinos Serraos)

On Friday, the excursion issue dealt with the historic Bauhaus buildings (the school and the master residencies) and the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau. Professor Ariadni Vozani from the Athens School of Architecture hold an oral presentation on the Bauhaus movement, the architecture of the historic buildings and the consequence of the new museum and its developments 100 years after the foundation of the school. The central building is a monument itself which is currently open to visitors. At the same time, the chance to rent the former student dorms is offered. The master houses indicate a restoration paradigm, since the parts that were bombed in WW2 have been lately rebuilt as model spaces and are being used for regular exhibitions. The new museum designed by Spanish firm “Addenda Architects” after a world-wide architectural competition, could give a new boost to the city of Dessau that is closely related to the Bauhaus movement.

The Bauhaus main building in Dessau (© Konstantinos Serraos)

The sixth and last day of the excursion was “schedule-free” so that the students had the chance to explore other sites and areas that had been included in the groundwork research by themselves. The “Museum der Bildenden Künste”, the “Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig” and peripheral neighborhoods of Leipzig city center, like Connewitz, were some of these places.