Italeri 1/72 Berlin House

KIT #: 6086
PRICE: $50.00 AUD MSRP
DECALS: None
REVIEWER: Peter Hobbins
NOTES: Model includes additional floor (kit 6089), purchased separately

HISTORY

Thereís not a lot to say here Ė Berlin is a city and is contains a lot of houses! Not being architecturally trained, I canít comment on how accurate this building is, but to the amateur eye it seems to represent the apartment-style buildings common to many major European cities from the late 19th century onward. It may also be suitable for some of the grander north American cities of the pre-skyscraper era, or even Ė at a stretch Ė colonial buildings as found in the Middle East or French Indo-China, for example. Because it has been moulded with a degree of battle damage in the walls, however, the model is probably best suited to use in combat or post-war dioramas.

 Wherever your ĎBerlin houseí is set,  I would suggest that it was rare for such solid buildings to comprise only two storeys as supplied in the kit. This makes it almost obligatory to purchase at least one further extension floor, a separate release from Italeri which tends to cost approximately half as much again as the base kit.

THE KIT

 

In essence this is quite a simple kit, but the thickness of the plastic makes for a very heavy box. Keep that in mind if ordering yours for airmail delivery! The base kit comprises 51 pieces, including three flat floor bases (which dictate the size of the box), two identical sprues for the ground floor walls (including internal walls and staircases), and another two sprues for the next floor up (again with internal walls and staircases). Thereís a further pair of sprues to provide the rooftop balcony and the hut that sits atop the central stairwell. All are moulded in very thick grey plastic which thankfully cuts quite well. The extension kit contains simply a floor piece and the two sprues appropriate for one of the upper storeys Ė in theory you could add as many of these as you wish, although structurally stone-walled buildings tend not to exceed five or six storeys.

The kit is accompanied by an 8-page fold-out instruction booklet that is noticeably taller than A4 or foolscap size. The construction steps are clearly laid out, but apart from the box-top illustration there is no painting guide. No decals are supplied: this might seem obvious, but it would have been nice if even a small sheet was included with a selection of house numbers, street signs or even optional propaganda posters or late-war graffiti slogans to decorate the lower walls. Matchbox managed this with the mini-dioramas that accompanied their armour kits over three decades ago!

CONSTRUCTION

Although large, the relatively small parts count and generally straightforward construction make the kit itself fairly simple to put together. Each storey consists of a floor (etched with a square tile pattern); a central box and staircase comprising the stairwell; four internal walls; and four exterior walls. True to Italeriís usual engineering standards, these fit together fine but require a bit of fiddling and patience. If you intend to use this kit for wargaming Ė that is, to leave each storey sitting loosely on top of the one below rather than gluing them in place Ė then you need to pay extra attention to keeping everything square. This applies not only to the storey that you are building, but also making sure that the floor above sits flush after clicking into the alignment slots provided by Italeri. Getting the stairwells to fit is probably the hardest part; as I was making my building with the roof securely glued on, I left out the staircases except for those leading to the top storey, which are visible once the building is completed. Itís quite a large model when assembled, with a floor footprint of approximately 21 x 23 cm (8ľ  x 9 inches) and a height (including the extra storey and rooftop hut) of about 21 cm (8ľ inches).

The above are the bald facts of construction, and if you are a wargamer seeking a simple, sturdy city building to add to your table, this kit is probably the business. If, however, you are a scale modeller considering the Berlin house as part of a diorama, then your work has only just begun.

 Letís begin with basic construction. Each of the corners of the building, for each storey, fits pretty loosely, leaving a tedious filling and sanding job to make your kit look like a solid stone dwelling. Italeri have skimped on the roof panel: itís identical to the floor panels for each storey, which means that it comes both with an inlaid tile pattern and with deep grooves that are intended to hold interior walls in place. In addition to its questionable accuracy, this decision necessitates filling in the grooves and then rescribing them to match the tile pattern: a tedious process at best. I ended up choosing to add some pipework to cover two of these grooves, but quite simply Italeri have created an avoidable chore. Likewise, the rear of the four balcony edges is exposed, meaning that the internal framing is visible on the assembled model, rather than appearing like a solid wall Ė just checkout the box-top picture. There is no point trying to fill such large expanses, so the best solution is to back them with considerable amounts of plastic card, with attendant filling and sanding. Iím really surprised that Italeri didnít address both of these issues at the mastering stage.

 Letís continue with what the kit doesnít contain. There are no window frames and no entry doors. The latter in particular should at least have been supplied as separate parts to fill the void in the two ground-floor entranceways. I managed to find a pair of model railroad doorways that could be shimmed in, but I resented the need to do so. Next came the windows. As supplied in the kit, the open windows are completely bare. This is probably a boon for wargamers who can easily add the odd sniper (or bathing nude!) for easy play. If using the house in a diorama, however, itís an enormous problem Ė there are 64 such openings in the basic building, which grew to 98 when I added the optional extra storey. An obvious solution would have been for Italeri to include clear pieces with window framing moulded on. Failing that, delivering the window frames as optional inserts would at least have allowed the modeller to make their own decision as to whether or not to include them. In the end, I had to visit my local hardware store. What I found were little white plastic crosses that are sold in bags of 100 and used as spacers when laying a full-sized tiled floor. I cut one to size for the building windows, then used it as a template for the other 97 (allowing for a few mistakes). My sprue cutters worked overtime trimming each of these inserts both to size, then further shaping them to vaguely represent the characteristic overhang that you find on sliding window frames. Naturally, all 98 had to be inserted and glued in squarely place with superglue, then coated with Gunze Mr Surfacer so that they would take paint. Another avoidable chore.

My other concern during construction was the very simplistic hut that sits on top of the building. At best is could be described as four concrete slabs with a terracotta tile roof. I think itís just a lazy afterthought by Italeri Ė there is little to suggest that this box represents any genuine architectural feature. I ditched the walls and replaced them with brick structures sourced from the second-hand buildings bin at my local model railway shop. These were trimmed so that I could still use the much more convincing terracotta roof, albeit at a steeper angle. For interest I added a little wooden lean-to on the side and some guttering to the roof Ė there is also no plumbing included anywhere in the kit. I think these steps made for a much more convincing addition to the very visible top of my Berlin house; you could alternatively add a trapdoor arrangement or some other means of rooftop access. At the other end of my building I sourced some paved footpath sections Ė again, model railway fixtures Ė and assembled them to match the dimensions of the house. These were glued to the bottom of the structure to raise the house off street level, but I wonít berate Italeri for not including this feature.

COLORS & MARKINGS

One can of course paint this building in almost any scheme. I had to spray the interior walls and floors before gluing each storey on top of the one below. For this I chose a neutral tan colour but you could go mad with different shades for each room, or even scale wallpaper. After assembly, a lot can be seen inside if you look, but there is also a lot of shadow so donít bother with too much subtlety for the interior scheme. In the end I also didnít bother masking the window cavities, as any overspray simply didnít show up.

 For the exterior, I chose a dark greyish stone colour for the lower floor, drybrushed with lighter grey. The upper stories were cued to the tan prevalent on many European buildings, but as the wall appears to be rendered you could use any of a wide range of shades. The roof was completed in a concrete colour, the roof-top shack in brick, and the roof tiles in a terracotta hue. I then had to go back and pick out all of the window surrounds and frames, plus some of the other external features, in dirty white. That alone represented several eveningsí work in front of the television. For a splash of colour I painted the entrance doors a deep red, while the pavement was a mid-grey. After painting, the entire building was pinwashed with thinned raw umber oil paint, which I used to deliberately make stains and scuffs on both the rooftop and footpath. This also helped pick out much of the moulded-in detail and battle damage.

It was only after painting was complete that I added some extra items to the rooftop, including various boxes and scrap materials, as are often ditched out of sight in apartment blocks. I also included one figure for a sense of scale, then blended these elements in with a final oil wash. Once the house is incorporated into a larger diorama I will complete the process including a flat overspray and further weathering with pigments.

CONCLUSIONS

 My review of this building has been somewhat scathing, and to an extent this is unfair. Taken as a wargaming accessory, Italeriís Berlin house delivers the goods as a robust and relatively easy structure that would be a lot less fiddly to assemble than the countless model buildings available to our model railroad cousins. For detail-oriented modellers, however, it requires a considerable investment of money, time and extra materials to produce a half-way convincing apartment building. In particular, given the visibility of the roof in the assembled model, I think it was silly of Italeri not to have moulded a better representation of this area, including the insides of the balcony, the hut at the top of the stairwell and the actual roof layer itself. At the very least, some entrance doors would have been nice. Ultimately Iím relatively happy with my finished model, but the effort required at every stage of construction was far more than Iíd initially bargained on.

Peter Hobbins

February 2010

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