Transnationalism and the German City

Part of the series Studies in European Culture and History pp 105-124

Was There an Ideal Socialist City? Socialist New Towns as Modern Dreamscapes

  • Rosemary Wakeman


The post-Second World War period was a golden age of New Towns. Throughout Europe and the United States and beyond, in the Middle East, Australia, and Asia, New Towns were a campaign to construct—literally—a completely new world.1 All these projects shared a utopian rhetoric and conception, the imagery of the marvelous. In Eastern Europe, this utopian archetype was imagined as the Socialist City. The ideal Socialist City, built from scratch, was the experimental arena for a new society, one in which harmony and happiness would reign.2 Some 60 “New Towns” appeared in the Eastern Bloc countries along with hundreds in the Soviet Union. For the most part, they have been written off by scholars as worker dormitories at steel plants and oil refinery sites. And indeed the New Towns were the flagships of the Five-Year Plans. They were linked to the development of heavy industry. However their ideological and symbolic content was enormous. As political ciphers, they became almost as important as the Red Flag. They were conceived as complete, coherent urban places and imagined as “splendid living environments, economically and culturally, that would promote the collective life of mankind.”3 This “concern for mankind” was transmitted in the housing, schools, parks and recreation facilities, and houses of culture. Here were all the prerequisites of the new socialist man. In response to this rhetoric, discussions about these ideal Socialist cities during the Cold War years also focused on their distinct characteristics. What made them “socialist” was an analytical device for delineating the ideological differences between the two Blocs, especially the assertion that city planning was “based on the philosophical tenets of Marxism-Leninism.”4