Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ghosts of Berlin Chapters 3 & 4

The one thing that stuck with me from these chapters was the various kinds of remembering/forgetting that is going on with the historical sites in Berlin. There is a constant want, Ladd seems to suggest, to move away from everything Nazi, and justifiably so, but there are serious questions being raised as to how much can you remove yourself or a city from something that inhabited the same buildings that people need to continue to use. How should they be remembered?

Ladd points out, I think in the introduction, that almost every building built before 1930 has some connection to Nazi Berlin. A good question to ask is if every site even needs to be remembered in some way. The other half of that question is whether any site can be forgotten. In the concept of what we consider a city is something that grown, modernizes, and moves on from it's past, so in this sense, it seems natural that, as Ladd claims, a city is not a museum. On the other hand, it is incredibly important to preserve history and to promote awareness like the kind done through even the most benign plaque or marker of historical significance. But what should plaques celebrate at former sites of Nazism?

The popular response to the terror of Berlin, Ladd writes is to "plant it with greenery or use it for parking, and here [the site of Hitler's bunker] we have both." As sardonic as this statement is, it has been shown throughout the years following WWII and in the unification after the Wall came down. The other way Germans have of forgetting, or moving forward, is a sort of retrospective modernity, where they look to former types of architecture, specifically the architecture of Berlin's modern age (1920s) as the ideal. This does not seem to be the case any more, but it certainly trended towards this in East Berlin immediately after the War. Today, Berlin seems unified with the rest of the world in terms of architectural endeavors, using concrete, steel, glass, etc., which itself is a way of departing from the Nazi ideal of the city and of looking at buildings in terms of their ruin value.

Historically, and justifiably, there has been a vilification of everything associated with the Nazi regime. Architecture, buildings, cityscapes are arguably the most visible, iconic, and unavoidable images of a city, so it is natural that in a departure from Nazi Berlin, the architecture of the city vastly departed as well.


This is one thing I'm really interested in studying once in Berlin; the ways of remembering and forgetting the past through architecture and public space. I'd like to look at historical preservation efforts of certain sites, whichever are most available or known, as well as sites that have been reapportioned for new use. I also hope to look at public monuments and memorials as they affect the cityscape and the process of remembering the "terrors" of a past Germany. I mean, an entire history is essentially vilified. How does that feel to live in the most central city to that history? I am more interested in efforts and in understanding the city on a historical and remembrance on the level of architecture, but I cannot neglect the individual either.

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