Museum Island is a centre of contention in contemporary Berlin; new proposals for a structure on this prominent site have angered many citizens, particularly those who have lived through and witnessed a socio-political ‘takeover’ of East Berlin by the West. The poetic life and death of Germany’s most commanding communist symbol, the Palast der Republik, was for many the culling of the final memory of their ideology. Did the theatrical deconstruction demonstrate not only the fall of an ideology, but also signify the beginnings of a cultural erasure, a mark of repression?
Berlin is a multifaceted, complex and layered city, where the failed legacies of empires have left a telling trace within the urban fabric. An abundance of bullet holed facades inescapably emphasise the violent and disquieting history of a nation that has experienced a journey through restoration and repair, destruction and rebirth. The Wall that culminated as the centre stage of world politics created a scar through the cityscape and physically divided neighbourhoods of the besieged city. The damage to Berlin was not just a physical tear, the impairment ruptured into an issue of social instability; Berlin as the epicentre of the detachments and tensions of a convoluted cold war. The East pitched itself up against the West, the West undermined the East. This collision sparked a rivalry in a once unified people.
The vast complexities of Berlin and its contested urban fabric make it implausible for an immediate, all-encompassing unification and restoration. The damage of the past is inherent in the very fabric of the city, and there is not a solution that can quickly determine a positive outcome for all the many backgrounds and factors involved. The selective remembrance of certain histories is undoubtedly evident in a city where so many significant events have happened within such a short period of time.
Currently there are plans for the reconstruction of the former Schloss which stood on the exact site of the Palast before the Second World War. The idea of removing a Socialist civic centre for it to be replaced with a Imperialist palace seems bizarre, historicist even?
Conversely, the current planning policies seem to be missing the point of what the contemporary draw to Berlin is, and why the city has become a hub for the young, the alternative, the artistic and the vibrant, a mecca for creation. The architecture of the GDR adds to the atmosphere and the intrigue of the city, the fascination of the east. People who once saw the shimmering TV tower as an alien world, a forbidden place, can now access the spectacle. It is the fact that Berlin was the centre of the world, politically; the layers of conflict and controversy that gives the unified city its distinctive intrigue and magnetism.
It would be to the detriment of the city if the culling of socialist architecture penetrated the full extent of Berlin’s recent history. The rebirth of the city is not exemplified by the renaissance of an arbitrary relic. Its whole is created by two entities that collide but culturally have the expression that is unique in the western world.
Letzter Tag der Republik film directed by Reynold Reynolds.