Thursday, January 12, 2006

for and against monuments

I love this -- nothing to be added -- except perhaps to say that it was taken on the Kreuzberg, a man-made hill with man-made waterfalls in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin that I always stay in---so close to my old apartment in Neukoelln (of David Bowie fame)--
--and it appears to be painted on a monument in praise of Germany's conquest of France in the 1880s when the Germans occupied Paris in 1870-1871, right after the Paris Commune revolt. It was winter, and a very brutal time (according to my Martial sketches); 71,000 French died during the siege, 47,000 of whom were civilians defending their city. 12,000 of the attacking Prussians died. The victory cemented the newly established Germany, which had only recently become a nation...empire-grasping will do that.
You get some pretty good bird's-eye-perspective-visual-domination of the surrounding city from the Kreuzberg. Napoleon would have liked it. This is Mehringdammstrasse you're looking down, with the Fernsehturm half-hidden on the left.
Potsdamerplatz! Can't you just look at this and see how cold it is?


Another anti-monument of sorts. The Palast der Republik 's story is so contested and well-known that I will only retell it briefly. The Palast was built on the ashes of the Berliner Schloß, a Wilhelmine palace that had been greatly damaged by Allied bombing in 1944 and 1945 but nonetheless had at least one wing still standing and could have been repaired. Instead, the DDR government bombed the foundations as a remnant of uncommunist monarchist nostalgia (and let's be fair, the old palace was pretty blah). The ruins were next to Alexanderplatz, a very central part of East Berlin, but the DDR was strapped for cash for much of its existence, so twenty years went by until the government felt they could properly build a modernist, futuristic building that would overshadow all the cutting-edge avant-garde buildings being put up in capitalist parts of the world at that time -- because the bright future of the communist utopia was here, dammit. Built in 1973-1976, the Palast really was quite beautiful in its coppery way, and it had some parliamentary spaces as well as restaurants, theaters, and music venues that were for regular people to use, instead of an aristocratic or financial elite.

Some people say that East Germans nicknamed it Ballast der Republik ("Ballast of the Republic"), Erichs Lampenladen ("Erich's Lamp Shop", referring to Erich Honecker and the 1,001 lamps hanging in the foyer, made by the "class enemy" in West Germany), or Palazzo Prozzo -- but I can't vouch for any of that.After German reunification in 1990, it was found to be dangerously contaminated with asbestos and scheduled to be demolished. You can imagine the many metaphors people have seen in that. One idea was to create a green space near Alexanderplatz with its turf; a plan that has been gaining increasing momentum is to rebuild the Schloss on its spot, erasing history (because Disneyifying life is so meaningful).
When I lived in Berlin, a canvas cloth with the Schloss facade painted on it was hung over the Palast and we expected its demolition at any moment. Differently-nostalgic Ossis would like the building to remain forever. It seems unclear what the future of the building will actually be, although it's clear that the solution will be uninventive, unoriginal, and unable to look to the future, whatever it is.
Meanwhile, the Palast is pretty cute. A group called the Temporary Palace Use group (Zwischenpalaztnutzung) has built a cloth mountain inside that looks rather like a geodesic dome reproducing, and occasionally they throw parties inside in the best Berliner squatter tradition (of 16 years standing now). That's the Rotes Rathaus you see reflected in it -- and really, it's quite appropriate that it's a building that reflects its surroundings (that's probably why it's survived so long) because of all the dreary fights going on around it about what to remember, when, and what the ethical and cultural issues at stake are in the physical encrustation of memory it fixedly -- or not so fixedly -- embodies.

5 Comments:

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4:56 AM  
Anonymous Berlinerin said...

Eine Kleinigkeit: ich glaube, das am Palast reflektierte Gebäude ist das Rote Rathaus, und keine Kirche!

(Du weißt doch wer ich bin, oder? Ich bin hier durch bitchphd gelandet, dank Deines unverkennbaren 'what's in my purse' Kommentars!)

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Blogger mmf! said...

hallo! Ha. Du hast mein Geheimnis erwischt! Danke fuer die Hinweis...

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Anonymous Berlinerin said...

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