Kaleidoscope: Children of the Cold War

Playing in concrete jungles

The Second World War left countless people homeless. In Europe, destroyed residential districts needed to be rebuilt. Huge areas of prefabricated apartment blocks helped to alleviate housing shortages. Concrete suburbs symbolised modern society, and apartments served as homes for the ‘new nuclear families’.

Most courtyards were designed to incorporate green spaces with benches and playgrounds, but since many sites remained under construction well into the 1970s, the greenery never had time to grow. Children were left to play amid rug beaters, bushes, and construction waste.

From a youthful age, children could play outside with one another if their parents could see them from their windows. Older children were expected to look after younger ones. After school, children played in the courtyards of their apartment buildings or visited one another’s homes. They also created their own subcultures by making creative use of space: under-stair cavities, for example, could serve as a disco or a place to listen to banned radio stations.

In Northern and Western Europe in particular, concrete suburbs turned into disreputable neighbourhoods populated by ethnic minorities and the deprived. In childhood memories, however, they appear as fascinating environments full of endless possibilities. In Eastern Europe, these suburbs have maintained their popularity. The apartments in them are affordable, and an abundance of parks and good public transport links add to their appeal.

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