When in 1958 the Central Committee of the SED decided to advance the GDR’s chemical industry, it became necessary to provide housing in the vicinity of the chemical plants at Buna, Schkopau and Leuna. On September 17, 1963, the Politbüro decided the construction of the "Chemical Workers' City," known as Halle-Neustadt, Neustadt, or, just short, Ha-Neu, on the western bank of the river Saale, near the villages of Zscherben and Nietleben. Planning under Richard Paulick, a former member of the SAPD, assistant to Walter Gropius, and a leading architect in the reconstruction of Berlin (1950s, Stalinallee Section C, blending Socialist Realism and Neoclassicism), Dresden and Hoyerswerda, began the same year.
Halle-Neustadt, like any other Plattenbau-estate in the GDR, was planned with CIAM’s Athens Charter in mind. The combination of standardized high-rise and mid-rise apartment blocks, separated by relatively large open spaces, provided a decent amount of exposure to sunlight for every flat and created public spaces shielded from the noise of nearby roads, while standardisation and modularisation allowed for quick and cheap building. Construction started in July 1964, and just a year later on August 9, 1965, the first tenants moved in. Twenty-five years later, it was home to 93.000 people. Unfortunately, much of the infrastructure needed for a self-contained and functional town was never completed. While some basic needs like primary and secondary education were provided for, others, like public transportation and (mass) culture, were neglected (a cinema wasn’t opened until 1983, being the last new cinema in the GDR and Halle-Neustadt’s only cultural institution), mostly due to cost restrictions and shifting attention to Berlin. Halle-Neustadt remained a dormitory town, a faith it shared with many other similarly sized housing projects of that era and that contributed to the decline that set in after the German reunification, when the town lost half of its population. Not even improved infrastructure like new tram lines and shopping centres could turn around the exodus that accompanied the decline of the chemical industry in the area.
Crossing the Saale river from the east, the first thing that pops into sight are high-rise tower blocks, standing tall above the Saale meadows separating Neustadt from Halle.
The centre of the town was the Neustädter Passage, a two level pedestrian precinct with department stores, specialty stores, a clinic, the Main Post Office and the House of Services. On the northern side of the Neustädter Passage are five 18-storey tower blocks called ‘Scheiben’ [slices], which originally included dormitories for students of the Martin-Luther-University Halle, as well as worker dormitories of the chemistry combines Buna and Leuna. These tower blocks, built in the early 1970s, formed the central element of the town centre, but are now empty except for one tower block housing a number offices and authorities. Although the four abandoned blocks are in an appalling condition – heavily weathered and cracked concrete, rust stains, broken windows and railing slabs falling down – and partial demolition became the standard procedure to cope with widespread vacancy in East German Plattenbau-estates, they were left untouched, but the reason for this is most likely to be found in ownership disputes.
Also in the centre is the town hall, which wasn’t built until 1989, and due to the reincorporation of Halle-Neustadt into Halle never served its original purpose. It now houses the State Department for Survey and Geoinformation.
On the southern edge of the centre is Block 10, a 380 metres long 11-storey tower block. Built in 1967 along the towns North-South axis, it was the longest apartment building ever built in the GDR and housed up to 3000 people in 856 flats, some of which were converted to a nursery and a nursing home. Due to its size, Block 10 visually dominates the surrounding area, but three pedestrian passages allowed free movement around the building.