Do you remember? There was once a time when boys would happily play for hours on end, engrossed in a game, without an iPod or an iPhone in sight, no need for plug sockets, electricity or monitors. An example? A game of cards. Those days are over, I hear you say? Not quite. For it is not only those who once swapped three Bobby Moores for a Bobby Charlton, or won a bright red fire engine in exchange for a Porsche or Ferrari who can still, quite seriously, indulge in such entertaining comparisons today. What’s more: Card games require you to use your brain. It might be a case of beating your opponent and collecting as many cards as possible but you learn a great deal in the process – just take a closer look at the cards.

There were two packs of cards in particular that caught our eye here. And certainly not only because they come across as being so anachronistic; but rather because they have a whole lot of illustrative material and historical knowledge to offer anyone with an interest in architecture or urban lighting. Such that holding and looking through the cards, even those non-architects among us will feel a kind of ghostly shiver run down their spine.

The first is quite simply called “Plattenbauten” (referring to those ghastly prefab apartment blocks dating from the Communist era) with the solid subtitle “Berliner Betonbauten” (“Berlin’s concrete blocks”). This pack of cards was in fact created over a decade ago by Berlin architect Cornelius Mangold (photos: Stefan Wolf Lucks, text: Jochen Schmidt). At the time, they on the one hand sought to honor the oh-so-scorned “Ostplatte” and on the other to make a contribution to discussions on the treatment of East Germany’s architectural heritage. And as of this year it is back on the market again.

The cards document important details of untouched façade elements, cinder blocks (true wonders of socialism) as well as connectors and gables made of concrete and ceramic found throughout the city, in districts such as Lichtenberg, Mitte, Hellersdorf, Marzahn and Hohenschönhausen. These strict East-German grids and industrial concrete reliefs are complimented by key information on the specimens such as the number of stories, date of completion, the width and height of the elements, and number of units. On more than one occasion, you find yourself asking whether these buildings are still standing and suddenly feel the urge to run straight to Leipziger Strasse 46 in the Mitte district to see these splendid, wave-like cinder blocks or to Pankow to the ceramic façade panels. Today’s investor-driven architecture is certainly different but is it really superior in terms of aesthetics? In any case, our treatment of buildings from another era is not just a topic up for discussion every other year at the Venice Architecture Biennale. I wonder if Le Corbusier would have liked the game?

The second stack, also the brainchild of Cornelius Mangold (photos: Florian Braun, text: Claudia Basrawi) and now back on the shelves, focuses on a rather exotic subject matter, “Stadtbeleuchtung” (“urban lighting”) in East and West Berlin. It presents so-called functional lighting in use since 1945, electrically powered and with bundles of character. A piece of everyday culture, from city square lighting to “high-mast, main-street lighting” to “low-mast, side-street lighting”. Photographs of these “lighting elements” (not to be confused with those elements left in the shade) are complimented by information on the ignition time, mounting height, number of lamps, energy consumption and installation year. It is not on rare occasion that the images arouse memories of the former border control points, those of the “high-masts” in particular, even if they are located on the western side of the border. But then you also have the BEGA’s spherical, pole-top luminaires at Berlin’s Tegel airport, reminding us of that 1970s swagger.

So whether attempting to shed light on the world of socialist design or to encourage a comparison between the respective political systems as regards urban lighting, here we see that such endeavors do not always have to take the form of a photo book. Card games can be a source of enlightenment too.

Cornelius Mangold (concept)
Stefan Wolf Lucks (photos)
Jochen Schmidt (copy)
Plattenbauten, Berliner Betonerzeugnisse.
Ein Quartettspiel
(Plattenbau, Berlin’s concrete blocks: A card game)
33 cards, 28 picture cards, 4 text cards, 1 instruction insert,
English with information about industrial-scale construction
of residential buildings in former East Germany,
DOM publishers, Berlin
9.95 Euros

Cornelius Mangold (concept)
Florian Braun (photos)
Claudia Basrawi (copy)
Stadtbeleuchtung. Berliner Lichtelemente.
Ein Quartettspiel
41 cards, 36 picture cards, 4 text cards, 1 instruction insert,
with information about the street lighting in Berlin,
DOM publishers, Berlin
9.95 Euros

“Plattenbauten. Berliner Betonerzeugnisse” gives useful information about “Berlin’s concrete blogs“ in former East Germany, photo © Tatjana Prenzel, Stylepark
Cinder blocks and low-mast street lighting
by Thomas Wagner
Dec 14, 2012
Berlin-based “DOM publishers” present two card games on the topics of architecture and urban lighting in Berlin, photo © Tatjana Prenzel, Stylepark
The game “Stadtbeleuchtung. Berliner Lichtelemente” is concerned with urban lighting in Berlin from 1945, photo © Tatjana Prenzel, Stylepark
Fakten wie „Lichtpunkthöhe“ oder „Aufstellungsjahr“ entscheiden über Gewinn oder Verlust einer Spielkarte, Foto © Tatjana Prenzel, Stylepark
Berliner Alltagskultur als Gesellschaftsspiel, Foto © Tatjana Prenzel, Stylepark