Architecture plays a significant role in the shaping of political and national identities, thus the rebuilding of Berlin the capital of Germany gives considerable clues as to the state of the German nation after the fall of the wall and how they would like the city to be perceived in the future.
Berlin is a city famous for its museum collections, however unlike Rome, Paris and London it is less liable to turn into an urban museum space. Tourism to the city has been on a downfall since the 1990s. This lack of tourism could be due to the regeneration of the city that stated in the mid-1990s that resulted in intolerable mess, noise and traffic jams. It was hoped that once the regeneration is completed that Berlin would take it place as a European capital that is as glamorous as its competitors. But will it? Berlin is very different to other West European capitals due to its long history and its building substance. Therefore Berlin is a key place to study its architecture, because of how the regeneration of the city creates an emphasis on the city as a cultural sign that combined with Berlin’s role as a capital, and the huge pressures and strains of large-scale redevelopment, thus preventing creative alternatives and resulting in giving the city a false start in the twenty-first century.
Berlin is unique in the fact that no other city in the West bears the marks of the history of the twenty-first century so deeply as Berlin. The text of the city has been written, erased or rubbed out and then rewritten throughout the violent history of the twenty-first century. Berlin today finds itself in a whirlwind of future projections with its obsession to regenerate and redevelop. Its goal is to create a capital for the twenty-first century, but it is this vision that finds the past to be constantly haunting it development.
Berlin portrays its text through historical text, which is marked by as much its absences as it is by its visible presence of the past. For example prominent ruins can still be found such as bullet and shrapnel marks from World War II can be found on many buildings in Berlin.
It wasn’t till after the collapse of the East German State that the true understanding of the city that had been dead in the eye of the storm of twenty-first century politics became more acute. So much politics has played out in the city from the empire, war and revolution, democracy, fascism, Stalinism and the Cold War.
Huyssen argues that “Indelibly etched into our memory is the idea of Berlin as the capital site of a discontinuous, ruptured history, of the collapsed of four successive German states; Berlin as ground of literary expressionism and the revolt against the old order; Berlin as epicenter of the vibrant cultural avant-gardism of Weimar and its elimination by Nazism; Berlin as command center of world war and the Holocaust, and, finally, Berlin as symbolic space of the East-West confrontation of the nuclear age with America and Soviet tanks staring each other down at Checkpoint Charlie.” (Huyssen 2005:78)
After the fall of the Wall, Berlin seemed to be saturated with memories that resulted in politics decided to teach the lesson of willful forgetting. This was carried out with the renaming of streets in East Berlin, the dismantling of monuments that represent socialism, the debate about tearing down of the GDR’s palace for the Republic to make room for the rebuilding of the Hohenzollern palace and many more. This tinkering with the communist text was a strategy of power and humiliation that made the East German population deprived of its life history. Forgetting was also present in an official advert campaign in 1996 that was written all over the city that read: BERLIN WIRD (Berlin Becomes). But Berlin ‘becomes’ what and why? Nobody was sure what Berlin would become due to the chaos of public planning, backdoor scheming, and architectural developments up in the air due to feasibility and finance. But the subtext of the advert is positive unlike Karl Scheffler 1910 that stated Berlin is destined to be “forever to become and never to be” (Huyssen 2005:80). Berlin in the mid-1990s was a gigantic construction site that gave sufficient reasons as to the emphasis on the void stated by the likes of Scheffler instead of the celebration of the becoming.
When the Wall came down, another void was formed in Berlin, one that brought back the darkness of the past. For several years the very center of Berlin (the split between the East and West), was a 17-acre wasteland. Berliners nicknamed it their “wonderful city steppes”. Within the wasteland a slight elevation marked the remnants of the bunker of Hitler’s SS guards, once the wall came down it reopened, however city authorities then decided to seal it shut to prevent a site of neo-Nazi pilgrimage. In the summer of 1991 most of the Wall had been removed and had brought about a feeling and desire to leave the wasteland where the Wall once stood alone. Therefore leaving a memorial of emptiness in the center of the reunified city, thus adding a layer of significance. The wasteland area would represent the invisible ‘wall in the head’ that still separates West and East Germans. Huyssen states that Peter Schneider had already anticipated this idea long before the Wall had come down (Huyssen 2005:83). Since then the rebuilding of the center of Berlin has become a major focus point in the redevelopment of Berlin.
The most major concern when it comes to the redevelopment of Berlin seems to be image rather then usage. Huyssen states Berlin rebuild is focused on “The attractiveness for tourists and official visitors rather than heterogeneous living space for Berlin’s inhabitants, erasure of memory rather than its imaginative preservation” (Huyssen 2005:84). Therefore the new architecture can be seen as an enhancement of the desired image of Berlin as a capital and helps towards creating a twenty-first century metropolis.
By Rebecca Holland
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Dreamstime.com Divided Berlin [Online] Available from <http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-divided-berlin-image18070951> [29 October 2012]
Huyssen, A (2005) Future city
Oxon :Spon Press