Gespenst der Republik (Spook of the Republic)

I’m back from Berlin, with a bad cold in hand (as well as several new books I couldn’t get in the US on the Palast der Republik and Plattenbau). The trip was very fruitful … we were lucky enough to go inside the Palast der Republik, and for those of you who read German, you can read an article by the journalist, Klemens Polatschek, whose visit coincided with our group’s. Small talk with him during the visit yielded a typical Molly small world moment: it turns out I knew him– we had met over brunch with Sabine Fischer in 2000. Our group got a brief mention in the article, too (“eine Gruppe von Architekturstudenten der Yale University”).
At any rate, as the pictures show, the Palast is stunning and sad, a huge standout in the middle of a very ordentliche Berlin. I don’t understand why there’s a move to building a long dead Prussian symbol on the site of the Palast der Republik, but I find it alarming and strange. Since WWII, when Germany hasn’t known where to turn for its architecture, it starts over with its modernists. West Germany veered back to the Bauhaus; the German Democratic Republic, post-fascism, went back to the Bauhaus and its denizens– at least the ones that didn’t leave — for its design and architectural direction, when the direction wasn’t otherwise provided by the Soviets.
Now, Germans don’t talk of destruction of the Palast der Republik, they use words like “Rückbau” — which means deconstruction or revitalization, not destruction (with Zerstörung or the what-it-sounds-like Kaputtmachen as some alternatives). The use of language is peculiar, and doesn’t talk of what’s really happening with the destruction of the Palast or some of the other landmarks of East Germany. It’s more like an erasure. I have doubts that euphemism or Prussian symbols will take away the post-reunification problems in Germany. The one hope for people who don’t want to see the imperial castle rebuilt is that the city of Berlin is bankrupt, and can’t afford to rebuild the Schloss. As several people I spoke to said, perhaps the space will lie empty for 10 years, and when the city has money again, maybe they’ll want to build something different. One can hope.
I had breakfast the day I left with my old friend Jörg, whose fault it is that I’m very interested in East Germany (we met in 1994, he gave me an East German’s perspective on Berlin), as well as his lovely girlfriend and a rather multifaceted friend of theirs, and their two dogs. Also got a chance to have dinner with Vicky, meet up with Felix and the Plazes contingent, and go out with Steven from Ivrea.
Overall, I looked at Berlin more closely on this trip, especially in terms of its buildings and sites and plan, than I have on any of the last 17 or so visits of paid the city since 1990. Having spent the three months previous immersed in GDR design and architecture culture, I was prepared to see more. Other surprising things: Motorola projections on Alexanderplatz (and its horrid, gaping hole that will house more Potsdamer Platz development); the wonderful proQM bookstore, whatever the street was where I went out with Steven … but above all, that visit to the made an unshakable impression.

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