Berlin: The Glass City

Change. Contrast. Progression. These three words are what are at the forefront of my mind as I adopt the role of a typical tourist strolling around Berlin’s city centre. As I visit the iconic sites of Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag and Tiergarten the remnants of soviet infrastructure are still visible but are becoming increasingly hard to see, and when I say this, I mean it literally. The glass towers and offices dominate Berlins skyline with their ‘blinding’ beauty and their reflective qualities forcing the attention of the public eye away from the ‘old Berlin’ infrastructure and towards this new future for Berlin embodied by the glass infrastructure. Despite the constant need for sunglasses on a sunny day, it is hard not to be impressed by the glass city of Berlin.

As seen in my ethnography extract, the omnipresence of glass infrastructure in Berlin is what attracted me to focus my blog post on this subject. From the contemporary dome that sits on top of the Reichstag to the futuristic Marie Elizabeth Lunder government building; the urban landscape of Berlin is a sharp contrast to Berlins post WWII and Cold War urban environment. Berlin’s glass spectacle made me think why use glass? Why out of every material would glass dominate Berlins infrastructure? This was when I started to think about the symbolism attached to glass and began to explore the architectural geographies of glass with Gruffudd (2003) explaining that materials can be used to symbolise meanings, cultural assumptions and histories of a place. Therefore, the glass buildings of berlin are afforded both meaning and value by the public due to their specific architectural design.

Figure 1- Examples of glass buildings that dominate Berlins infrastructure (Howard, 2019)

One characteristic which sets apart glass to any other material is its ability to see through it: its transparency. Reflecting on this through a geopolitical lens, the consistent use of glass in Berlin may be seen to be politically motivated as the transparency of glass could be used to challenge the feelings of espionage and secrecy that were rife within the Cold War era (Byford, 2013). Moreover, not only does it challenge the Cold War assumptions of espionage it symbolises the progression of Berlin as a city and essentially appropriates the past to fixate its place as thriving developed capital in contemporary times; so, the bridge seen in figure 2 really does symbolise a (glass) bridge over troubled water

What is particularly poignant about the Marie Elizabeth Lunder building is its proximity to the Reichstag, a building with strong connotations to Nazi regimes, as it sits directly opposite to the building. Once again, the themes of transparency and contrast are expressed through the infrastructure as the decision to locate the glass government building opposite to the opaque Reichstag acknowledges the progression and transparency of Berlins political ideologies. Kraftl (2010) supports this through his understanding that buildings can act as signs and symbols of political and social discourses and this is further emphasised in figure 3. The figure showcases the basic laws for the Federal Republic of Germany which have been transcribed onto a transparent piece of glass again illustrating how the political ideologies of trust and progression are inscribed into the everyday of Berlin through the infrastructure.

Figure 2- The Marie Elizabeth Lunder Building (Strange, 2019)
Figure 3 – Laws for Germany inscribed onto a transparent glass plane (Strange, 2019)

Throughout my trip I made sure that I took note of the uses of glass throughout Berlin whether it was used for an information post or an office block but the glass memorial for the Sinti and Roma of Europe was particularly thought-provoking (figure 4). The musty glass appearance accompanied by the opaque nature of the glass in figure 4 juxtaposes the clear emphasis on transparency in Berlins built environment. This becomes particularly significant due to its decision to be used at a memorial as to me it again embodies the political and social discourses which Germany’s government want to emit as the inability to look through the glass represents the progression of Germanys political ideology. I say this as the opaqueness of the memorial condemns the totalitarian Nazi regime and whilst it remembers the victims it is used as a public reminder that contemporary Berlin has surpassed its fascist history and has developed into a place where people are proud to be attached to. This idea is reinforced by the works of Kraftl and Adey (2008) who recognise that the materialities of buildings and infrastructure have the ability to engender particular connotations and political values onto a place.

Figure 4 – Memorial for the Sinti and Roma of Europe (Strange, 2019)

Alongside the ability of the glass infrastructure to embody political and social discourses, Lees (2001) recognises that buildings and materials should be about more than just representation highlighting the affective and ‘nonrepresentational’ import of architecture. From experiencing Berlin and the vast amount of glass buildings I feel that these buildings are more than just representations as to me they are used to engineer particular kinds of affective states and emotions (Thrift, 2004). To highlight this, there is no better example than the glass dome that sits on top of the Reichstag which you can see in figure 5. The transparent modern dome highlights the way the government look over the German people and keep them safe and this helps to engineer a sense of security and safety as the glass dome is easily visible from the area surrounding the Reichstag. Furthermore, the transparency of the dome which looks over the parliamentary building empowers the public as it positions them above the government and prioritises the public view over the governmental views.

Figure 5 – The transparency of the Reichstag Dome (Rowe, 2019)

To conclude this blog, I have constructed a poem which stresses how the glass architecture in Berlin provokes feelings of safety and visions of progression. Reflecting on my time in Berlin and my exploration of glass this blog hopefully highlights how the ‘Glass City of Berlin’ has used the every day scale to embody the country’s political ideologies and to transfer these ideologies into a sense of pride and hope for Berliners.

The flash of a camera makes Berliners freeze

Frantically staring away from the CCTV

Flashbacks of East Berlin flood their minds

Anxiety creeps back, a feeling they thought they’d felt behind


But then, the glass dome of the Reichstag catches their eyes

They tell themselves, this isn’t East Berlin, there are no more spies

The glass skyline reassures them, these are different times

The reputation of Berlin is on the climb

They are experiencing Berlin in its prime


HHHH

Figures

Howard, B. (2019). Figure 1.

Rowe, N. (2019). Figure 5.

Further Reading and References

Byford, J. (2013). The Spies Dilemma: A Cold War Case Study on East German Espionage. The Social Studies. 104 (4), p139-145.

Charney, I. (2007). The politics of design: architecture, tall buildings and the skyline of central London. Area. 39 (2), p195-205.

Diefendorf, J. (1989). Urban Reconstruction in Europe After World War II. Urban Studies, 26(1), p128-143.

Gruffudd, P. (2003). Building sites: cultural geographies of architecture and place-making. In: Blunt, A., Gruffudd, P., May, J., Ogborn, M. and Pinder, D., (eds.) Cultural geography in practice. London: Arnold, p238–254.

Kraftl, P and Adey, P. (2008). Architecture/Affect/Inhabitation: Geographies of Being-In Buildings. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 98 (1), p213-231.

Kraftl, P. (2010). Geographies of Architecture: The Multiple Lives of Building. Geography Compass. 4 (5), p402–415.

Lees, L. (2001). Towards a critical geography of architecture: the case of an ersatz Colosseum. Ecumene. 8 (1), p51-86.

Thrift, N. (2004). Intensities of feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect. Geografiska Annaler Series B, 86(1), p57–78.

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A multitude of emotions in Berlin – A city of remembrance

Before beginning our module on Berlin, my knowledge of the city was, in retrospect, quite limited. Predominantly, my imagination of the city included the Berlin Wall, the split between East and West, as well as the involvement of the city and nation state in the Second World War.

A particularly solemn outlook.

The first days of the fieldtrip completely fulfilled my pre-conceptions. Split into 3 groups, we visited, amongst others, various memorials for those killed during the Holocaust. It felt on these days as if everywhere we turned in the city was a memorial, that every corner held traces of sadness and remembrance, fitting with what some refer to as Germany’s “remembrance culture”. We were at the centre of the tourist trail, near the Brandenburg Gate, the epicentre of remembrance in Berlin.

This made our study of Berlin one of a multitude of emotions. However, although Berlin’s tourist areas for us brought feelings of sadness, I was surprised that this was not obviously reflected in the actions of other visitors. At both the Sinti and Roma and the Jewish holocaust memorial, I expected to see visitors taking a moment to reflect on the atrocious actions and consequences these places remembered. Instead, others seemed in a much lighter mood – of play and laughter and fun. Why then, is it that some experience memorials so differently to others? What is the right way to act at a memorial, and what is it that makes the actions of others seem so out of place?

Memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism

We first visited Berlin’s memorial to those who were persecuted and killed during the holocaust on the basis of their Sinti and Roma heritage. My thoughts when viewing this memorial were ones of sadness, horror but also peace. Ben Anderson argues an affective tone can shape life by creating a certain feel to places, and that atmospheres do not exist in isolation – they are continuously shaped and reshaped by people, places or situations, and this concept resonated with my experience of the memorial.

As the picture below illustrates, surrounding the well in the middle of the memorial were hundreds of fragmented pieces of stone, with many of these in-scripted with the names of Nazi concentration camps. Reading these names filled me with horror – horror at the amount of camps that existed, and their purpose. However, this horror was coupled with sadness at the lives lost, and the collective atmosphere of the group of people situated within this memorial was one of sadness and grief.

Figure 1- The names of the Nazi concentration camps at the Sinti and Roma holocaust memorial (Ashton 2019)

Nonetheless, the memorial did not exist in isolation – it was situated beside a busy pedestrianised route, full of tourists and students like us. Walking outside the memorial, the atmosphere transformed – I heard a man playing music, with a parrot precariously balancing on his shoulder that would occasionally chime in with its’ own musical accompaniment. Thus, the atmosphere changed – from one of sadness and horror, to one of joy and entertainment. Many commented how out of place the music sounded – we appeared to be the only ones to notice this. This illustrates just how differently people can feel around sites of memorialisation – some may be used to it from routine interaction, not thinking of the greater reasons for its presence, whilst others stand in horror. There are no written rules on how to act at a site of remembrance – just societal expectations.

The memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe

We also visited Berlin’s memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe under National Socialism. Figure 2 shows a view of the memorial from inside – large concrete pillars towered above as us as we walked through the site of remembrance, unexpectedly growing in size the further we ventured, until we felt enclosed by concrete on all sides. Having no central point to the memorial, it was easy to lose your bearings and feel lost, as the space around you grew darker and darker. The sheer scale of the memorial was a reminder of the scale of the genocide it represented. The silence created by the lives it took away.

Figure 2 – The memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe (Ashton 2019)

The structure of the memorial, the silence and darkness within the concrete pillars, had the affective quality of creating a space for contemplation. Many others in my group commented on how they felt at peace here.

However, Nigel Thrift argues that affect is also part of an encounter’s active outcome, and in a similar vein to Anderson, you can’t separate things from their relationship with the world. Towards the end of our time at the memorial, we were distracted by sounds of laughter and a group of teenagers jumping on the stones. Evidently, they had seen a place for fun and games, whilst we had seen a place for quiet and contemplation. The annoyance many of us felt at the actions of our fellow visitors had the affect of encouraging us to leave the memorial, the atmosphere of peace gone.

My experiences at the various memorials of Berlin thus show the subjective nature of emotions, and how vulnerable they and our resulting actions can be. Emotions are shaped by the built environment, the urban landscapes that we live in, but also by the people around us – emotions, places and people are interlinked, and this is no more obvious than in Berlin.

Suggestions for further reading

Anderson, B. (2014) Encountering affect: Capacities, apparatuses, conditions. Farnham: Ashgate publishing, Ltd

Niezen, R. (2018) Speaking for the dead: The memorial politics of genocide in Namibia and Germany. International journal of heritage studies. 24 (5): 547-567

Thrift, N. (2004) Intensities of feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect. Geografriska  Annaler: Series B. Human Geography – Special issue: The political challenge of relational space. 86 (1): 57-78

Berlin’s East Side Gallery: Expressing the Cold War

The Berlin Wall is one of the most iconic and historical features of Berlin, therefore visiting the last remnants of the wall was a must do when we had arrived in the city. In 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and at the beginning of German reunification, artists from over 20 countries painted more than 100 murals on a 1.3km stretch of the wall which is now known as the East Side Gallery (Marisol, 2015), most of which are still there today. The East Side Gallery is one of the few remaining parts of the wall and it is also the longest stretch which has survived since German reunification. The Berlin Wall infamously stood as a ‘political barrier’ (Briesse, 2011: 43) for 26 years, yet now it has taken on a new lease of life that is projecting the memories, feelings, and histories of the Cold War.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Freedom and escape was a theme that frequently occurred in most of the paintings on the wall, as German reunification was something that all Germans would have dreamed about during the Cold War and when the collapse of the wall finally happened the East Side Gallery was and still is depicted as an ‘international memorial of freedom’ (Marisol, 2015). The paintings above show the focus on freedom as something that was rarely achieved and seemingly impossible, with the occasional person who managed to make it over alive (Figure 3). The painting in Figure 2 has cracks on the wall which shows blue sky on the other side of the wall, whereas the East Berlin side of the wall is painted in red which could portray the violence and brutality often imposed by the GDR regime. Figure 1 looked like it has several meanings to it, one could be the East Germans flooding into West Berlin after the collapse of the Wall, or it could be the last attempt by Berliners to cross into West Berlin before the Wall is completely built – both interpretations show the escape from an oppressive state to reach a space of freedom. When I was looking at these paintings it was easy to forget that you were actually standing in front of the wall that these artists were painting about, as the Berlin Wall has now become a symbol of reunification and freedom, detaching itself from the barrier/divider it once was but at the same time still recognizing its history and relevance in today’s world (Butler, 2018).

‘The Kiss’ or ‘the Fraternal Kiss’ is one of the more iconic paintings on the East Side Gallery, it shows the Soviet leader Brezhnev and the East German president Honecker kissing rather passionately. This painting was based on an actual picture which Dmitri Vrubel (Soviet artist) used when the wall came down in 1989 (Peterson, 2012). Interestingly, the caption reads “God help me to survive this love affair”, which many East Germans did not survive the relationship these two leaders had. By painting this image comically, it demonstrates who had the last laugh in the end – reunified Germany.  

Figure 4

During our my time in Berlin, I noticed that the city (in particular East Berlin) had a very non-corporate and non-commercial feel to it, as shops, cafes, and bars were mostly by the looks of them independently owned, with Berliners that we spoke to throughout the week holding communal and progressive values for the city. In 2013, a section of the East Side Gallery was removed from the main stretch so that luxury apartments could be built (Butler, 2018). This caused tremendous outrage by Berliners, in order to stop any destruction or degradation of the wall in the future, the Berlin Wall Foundation was set up by the public to keep up maintenance and protection – the East Side Gallery is now act of retaliation against ‘blood-sucking investors and zombie politicians’ (Ex-Berliner, 2013; cited in Bach, 2016: 57) who care not for the artistic expressions of the historical, cultural and social significance of the wall.

Figure 5

The East Side Gallery is a ‘site of memory’ (Hoelscher and Alderman, 2014: 349). As I walked down the 1.3km stretch of wall each painting starts to build a picture in my mind of what it would have been like to live in Berlin during the Cold War, but also how artists have expressed their feelings in relation to the division of the city. Paintings have been a way to capture and express the memories of the Cold War and to establish a forever lasting identity within the city.

References and suggested further reading

Bach, J. (2016) The Berlin Wall after the Berlin Wall: site in sight. Memory Studies: 9(1), 48-62.

Briesse, O. (2011) The different aesthetics of the Berlin Wall. In: Silberman, M. (eds.) The German wall: fallout in Europe. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 37-58.

Butler, A. (2018) Berlin’s Famous East Side Gallery is here to stay. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/news/2018/11/27/berlin-east-side-gallery-protection/ (accessed 1st April 2019).

Hoelscher, S. and Alderman, D.H. (2004) Memory and place: geographies of a critical relationship. Social & Cultural Geography: 5(3), 347-355.

Marisol, P. L. (2015) The murals on Berlin Wall’s East Side Gallery. http://www.travelingsolemates.com/the-murals-on-berlin-walls-east-side-gallery/ (accessed 1st April 2019).

Peterson, D. (2012) The Kiss: why is Brezhnev kissing Honecker on the Berlin Wall? http://www.disappearingman.com/berlin-wall/the-kiss/ (accessed 1st April 2019).

Robert, N. (2012) Berlin street art: graffiti has “destroyed” a great German city. https://yomadic.com/berlin-street-art/ (accessed 1st April 2019). 

The Treptower Park Soviet War Memorial: Meanings and Landscapes of Power

During my trip to Berlin, I visited the Treptower Park Soviet War memorial. The memorial was a grandiose Soviet shrine commemorating the USSR’s victory against fascism in WW2 (Stangl, 2003). The sheer scale of the memorial was staggering, as I had to pass through enormous arches to see it.  The environment transformed and the space opened out; it really felt as though I had left Berlin and had been transported elsewhere. As Crimmins (2011, p.55) writes, I was “immersed in the effect of the memorial”.   


Figure 1: The enormous arches at the entrance to the memorial serve as a gateway to a new area of Berlin (Raven, 2019).

Meanings

The main point of focus in the memorial is an imposing statue of a Soviet soldier. He stands on top of a Soviet grave mound, protecting a small child and crushes the swastika beneath his boot. Looking up at the statue, I began to interpret its meanings. For me, the Soviet soldier represented the strength of the Soviet military, the rescued child represented the German people being saved from Nazism by the Soviet Union and the crushing of the swastika represented the destruction of fascism by the Soviets. However, whilst this is my reading of the memorial, Stangl (2003) argues that the symbols on the statue are purposefully ambiguous to allow for different points of view. Depending on your political perspective, Stangl (2003) argues that the swastika could represent solely the Nazis or the entire German population. The Soviets utilized the ambiguous nature of the memorial to suit their own political objectives, as they wanted Germans to adopt socialism, so they adapted their political message from expressing the evils of the German people to express the evils of the imperialist state more specifically (Stangl, 2003). For Stangl (2003), the memorial represents a conscious effort from the Soviets to focus on German liberation as opposed to demonizing them for the war.


Figure 2: The imposing statue of a Soviet soldier looms over the memorial (Raven, 2019).

Another feature of this memorial was a stone storyboard telling the tale of Soviet victory in WW2. From my memory, I recount that the stone panels tell the story of the peaceable Soviet people who were viciously attacked by the Nazis, raised an army and freed the peoples of Eastern Europe. Stangl (2003) argues that its overriding purpose was to portray a triumphal image of Soviet victory. However, many criticise the memorial for its propagandist element, as it focuses on the brilliance of the Red Army, the unity between all Soviet peoples and depicts the Soviets as liberators of Eastern Europe (Stangl, 2003). However, whilst that is one reading of the memorial, Stangl (2003) contests that this memorial actually has more nuanced meanings. Stangl (2003) argues that the memorial was representative of fostering a diplomatic relationship between Germans and Soviets, as by omitting the German people from the story and focusing on the atrocities of the Nazis, the Soviets were able to distance the Nazi’s actions from the German people. The success of the memorial was in its ambiguity as Germans could see themselves as liberated and non-communists could see its humanist message (Stangl, 2003). The memorial serves as a means of state building because it frames the German people in opposition to Western imperialism (Stangl, 2003). However, the memorial is also problematic, as it reduces the conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union down to a simple story of good vs evil (Stangl, 2003). Whilst it is undeniable that the Nazis were the aggressors, the memorial suggests that the Soviets were innocent of any wrongdoing, when in reality, the Soviet Union was responsible for heinous crimes such as the imprisonment of 19 million Soviet citizens during the Great Purge (Stangl, 2003). Therefore, the memorial’s claims that the Red Army was the liberator of Eastern Europe sit rather uncomfortably as it wilfully ignores Soviet atrocities such as the widespread rape of women in their newly claimed territories (Stangl, 2003). 


Figure 3: The stone storyboards are found on the left and right sides of the main lawn and recount the Soviet tale of victory in WW2 (Raven, 2019).

Landscapes of Power

The memorial shows how the meaning of a place can be adapted to represent political power, ideologies and social values (Stangl, 2003). It demonstrates how landscapes can “symbolize and sustain collective values over a long period of time” (Foote, 1997, p. 33). The memorial carries great symbolic meaning as rather than build their most prominent memorial to commemorate their war dead at home in Moscow, the Soviets decided to place it in Berlin (Stangl, 2003).  This was because they wanted to inscribe their tale of victory on the land that they had conquered (Stangl, 2003). Thus, this landscape has great power because it is a constant reminder to the German people that the Soviets were in charge and that Marxism-Leninism was the dominant ideology (Stangl, 2003; Jones et al. 2004). Furthermore, the scale of the memorial shows the power of the landscape as it was a place of high status, it was designed to send a statement to their rivals: the capitalist west (Jones et al. 2004). Finally, this is a landscape of power because it engendered loyalty to the Soviet Union through commemorative rituals (Jones et al. 2004; Stangl, 2003).

Overall, this memorial in Treptower Park is interesting because whilst it emphasised the victory for the Soviet Union in WW2, it also served another purpose of creating a diplomatic relationship between the Soviets and the Germans (Stangl, 2003). Because this memorial was so well thought out in its meanings, it came to be valued by an array of different groups: Germans saw it as a memorial to their liberation, Soviets saw it as a memorial celebrating their victory over fascism and non-communists saw its humanist element (Stangl, 2003). Its ambiguous nature was a key reason why it wasn’t vandalised following German reunification (Stangl, 2003). However, the memorial is also problematic because it portrays the Soviet Union as innocent (Stangl, 2003). This is distasteful because they committed many atrocities during the war, such as their soldiers assaulting women in newly occupied territories (Stangl, 2003). In summation, the memorial glorifies Soviet victory and cleverly tries to build unity between Germans and Soviets but its meanings are left purposefully ambiguous to allow people to create their own and that is the fascinating aspect about it (Stangl, 2003).

Word Count: 1081

References

Crimmins, C.G. (2011). Reinterpreting the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park after 1990. In: Clarke D., Wölfel U. (eds) Remembering the German Democratic Republic. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Foote, K.E. (1997). Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Jones, M. Jones, R. Woods, M. Whitehead, M. Dixon, D. Hannah, M. (2014). An Introduction to Political Geography: Space, Place and Politics. Routledge. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/leicester/detail.action?docID=1843477.

Stangl, P. (2003). The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow, Berlin. Geographical Review, Vol. 93, No. 2, pp. 213-236. American Geographical Society.

Memorial or Memento? Ruminations on The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

View of The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe from Cora-Berliner-Straße (Rowe, 2019)

Berlin; a modern city etched with the markings of 20thcentury history. Famously covered in monuments, memorials and bullet-hole buildings, the urban landscape is a museum in itself, a topography of historical memory. Memorials symbolise the attempts of Berlin to rebuild the city post-reunification through negotiating urban aesthetic and their obligation to honour those who suffered under the Nazi regime (Till, 2005). These sites of remembrance have been woven into the city’s urban fabric to create a historical text worth reading. 

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The memorial that stood out the most to me however, was that dedicated to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Situated on Cora-Berliner-Straße, 2,711 concrete stelae ascend above 19,000 square metres of sloping ground, a stone’s throw from Brandenburg Gate. Designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, the blocks vary from slightly jutting out the cold stone floor, to towering a mighty 4.8m above you, disrupting the daily life of Berliners by creating a confusing and unnerving atmosphere to provoke moments of reflection and consideration. Visit Berlin (2019) labels the memorial as “a place of contemplation, a place of remembrance and warning”, eluding to the importance that Gurler and Ozer (2013) identify in representing historical trauma in the public sphere to evoke constant reflection to avoid forgetting. However, with no engravings, photos or information (bar an underground information centre) it is evident that this is not your typical memorial. 

My Experience

Before visiting the memorial, I was aware of its aesthetic, but could never have anticipated the sheer scale and emotion it would elicit. Below is an extract from my field notes, detailing my embodied experience walking through the site. 

*These audio clips (1 and 2) will aid in illustrating my experience via soundscape*

“With each step I’m plunged even deeper into a silent sea of coffins, a maze of concrete giants I cannot escape. My claustrophobia kicks in. I feel trapped, uneasy, vulnerable. Surrounded in all directions I start to consider how it felt for the victims who were stripped of their comfort and propelled into distress and suffering to a far greater degree than this. The atmosphere is sombre. I am reminded of the photos I’ve seen from this dark time in history and the realities of such unjust violence, provoking questions of similar atrocities that occur today and how little we seem to learn from our past. As I approach an exit, the familiar sounds of urban life rush to my ears and I am returned back to normality.”

A Claustrophobic Nightmare (Rowe, 2019)

Countless cities around the world are scarred by histories of violence, loss and suffering. Memorials act as spaces in the landscape that trigger memories of such events through the senses (Tumarkin, 2005) as demonstrated in the extract through the sounds and feelings described. Visiting places with a melancholic history is termed by Stone (2013) as ‘Dark Tourism’, serving to promote consciousness of the realities of tragedy through the eliciting of emotion. This specific memorial is thus undoubtedly of central importance to the geopolitical landscape of Berlin, aiding in the daily reminder of historical events so as to not repeat past injustices. Yet, it is still treated by some as a playground…

A Stark Contrast

Prior to my visit, I had always seen people posing with the memorial on social media and questioned the appropriateness of their actions. Standing in amongst the memorial, observing as visitors climbed atop the grey slabs to snap a photo ‘for the gram’, I was all the more confused. How could they behave so carelessly? Did the feelings of sorrow and guilt not plague their minds as it did mine? It felt just as offensive as posing for a photo with a random tomb stone in a graveyard. Nonetheless, it seemed that to some, these concrete arrangements were simply forming part of an urban playground; the perfect location for millennial activities such as parkour and selfie-taking. 

In an attempt to make sense of this behaviour, I used the location search tool on Instagram to see if the photo captions paid tribute to the lives being remembered here, or described the reactions of the visitors – perhaps they wanted photo evidence to remember the emotions the memorial made them feel? I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity of scenic photographs with poignant captions appreciating the purpose of the memorial, but still troubled by the sheer lack of engagement and compassion shown by others. Visitors smiling as they bask in the German sun upon the pillars or strike a yoga pose with their friends, hashtagging ‘malemodel, ‘happydays’ and ‘outfitoftheday’. The dismay concerning these activities is visually explained in the thought-provoking project by Shahak Shapira, ‘Yolocaust’. Shapira juxtaposes images of the memorial with those from the Holocaust, imposing the subjects onto the latter image. The results are striking and clearly demonstrate obliviousness of the memorial as a symbol of justice to the Jewish victims of tragedy (Moore, 2009).

But how could people be so numb to such a traumatic world-changing event, especially in such a historically contested urban landscape? Brody (2012) proposes that vagueness of what the memorial represents – in the absence of engravings and a vague title – is due to the assumption that everyone already knows a sufficient amount, leading to the public forgetting the true purpose and history of such a significant tribute. The power politics at play in public commemoration may also account for the ignorance of this memorial’s narrative. Hoelscher and Alderman (2005) question the intentions of Berlin in creating a memorial for the Jewish victims without mentioning the Nazi regime, suggesting that the aim was to perhaps bring more tourists; creating a memento, not a memorial.

Concluding Thoughts

Memory landscapes are highly contested. Memorials are intended to bring peace and spark reflections to prevent future violence. It seems however that where social media is concerned, a disconnect from memory and emotion can occur, though this disconnect may also be a result of vagueness and power politics. The debates surrounding memorials demonstrate the difficulty in negotiating an urban aesthetic whilst maintaining Germany’s postunification politics of memory. I must note that the close relationship I hold with my Jewish neighbour, a survivor of the Holocaust, has positioned me as starkly against the aforementioned behaviours in the memorial grounds. It is, however, up to the individual as to how they interpret the site and engage with it, so long as it is not reduced to a mere memento of one’s visit to a captivating city. 

We must not forget the past in our present. 

References

Brody, R., 2012. The Inadequacy of Berlin’s “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”. The New Yorker, [online] Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-inadequacy-of-berlins-memorial-to-the-murdered-jews-of-europe [Accessed 21 April 2019]

Gurler, E. E. and Ozer, B., 2013. The Effects of Public Memorials on Social Memory and Urban Identity. Social and Behavioural Sciences, 82, pp.858-863.

Hoelscher, S. and Alderman, D. H., 2004. Memory and place: geographies of a critical relationship. Social & Cultural Geography, 5(3), pp.347-355.

Moore, L. M., 2009. (Re)covering the Past, Remembering Trauma: The Politics of Commemoration at Sites of Atrocity. Journal of Public and International Affairs, 20, pp.47-64.

Stone, P., 2013. Dark tourism scholarship: A critical review. International Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research, 7(3), pp.307-318.

Till, K. E., 2005.New Berlin: Memory, Politics, Place. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Tumarkin, M., 2005. Traumascapes: The Power and fate of places transformed by tragedy. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Visit Berlin, 2019. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. [online] Available at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en/memorial-murdered-jews-europe [Accessed 21 April 2019].

Suggested Readings

Finkelstein, N. G., 2000. The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. London: Verso.

Magin, M., 2015. Toward a globalised memory of the Holocaust: An exploration of the exhibition spaces and educational programmes at four sites of remembrance in post-unification Berlin. PhD. University of Manchester. 

Said, E., 2000. Invention, memory, and place. Critical Inquiry, 26(2), pp.175-192.

Out of The Cold: Karl-Marx-Allee to Alexanderplatz:

On a grey, windy, rainy Monday morning I ventured from my hotel near the East Side Gallery towards Karl-Marx-Allee. As soon as I turned onto Karl-Marx-Allee I no longer felt like I was in the year 2019; I felt as though I had travelled back in time 40 years to the height of communist rule in East Germany. This thoroughfare was once the national pride of the former East German state (O’Sullivan, 2016), and so I had been expecting big things. As I began my walk down the Allee, the time-warp I felt stuck in was framed by the uniformity and homogeneity of the digestive-biscuit coloured building blocks that were set back from the road in a neat straight line (see Figure 1 and 2). There were very few people walking along the street compared to the busy area outside our hotel and the street generally lacked life and soul. This place was cold.

Figure 1: Karl-Marx-Allee (Howe, 2019)
Figure 2: Karl-Marx-Allee (Howe, 2019)

When I first pictured Berlin, I imagined a city like other European capital cities; I pictured it to be full of modern attractions, high rise architecture, a buzzing central district, and contrasting places of cultural and historical interest. However, this was not what I saw when I arrived. I was aware of the geopolitical history of Berlin, yet I was surprised to see just how much the current urban landscape is still shaped by its geopolitical past. I had naively assumed that the city and its architecture would have moved on from the days of the Cold War considering the pace of regeneration in the 21st century. The city had taken a considerable battering during WW2, and large swathes were reduced to rubble. The rebuilding programme came under the control of The GDR from 1949 onwards and I had expected to see small homage areas of relics of communist architecture in protected areas of the city. Instead it appeared to me that large parts of the city’s living landscape particularly in the East side of the city were still stuck in and dominated by East Germany’s communist past.

I continued walking down Karl-Marx-Allee towards Alexanderplatz, and after my initial chilly observations, I felt I was beginning to gleam a sense of what it may have been like to live in East Germany during the Cold War. I felt uneasy, and the surrounding imposing, faceless buildings gave me the creepy feeling of being under surveillance. The monotonous buildings were unwelcoming; they were very tall, hard to see into, the entrances were decorated with communist symbols (see Figure 3) and I felt enclosed on all sides. Architects commonly use buildings as a way of influencing emotions and intimidating people and as tool for demonstrating power (Kraftl & Adey, 2008). The architects who designed Karl-Marx-Allee were clearly very successful in making sure that the buildings had an intimidating affect so that people kept in line. The buildings remain a clear and visual reminder of Berlin’s geopolitical history, and the imagination of the present-day tourist can gauge very well the control of the Soviet style regime from the time during the Cold War.

Figure 3: GDR symbols on the entrance to buildings (Howe, 2019)

As I neared Alexanderplatz my feelings of uneasiness and my sense of being watched began to subside; the physical and metaphorical legacy of the communist architecture were beginning to fade. The endless rows of former Soviet apartments began to let up and I started to see a new environment. More people were milling about, and I began to see trendy bars, a shopping centre and companies whose names I recognised from my home; my world. When entering Alexanderplatz, I felt as though I could have been anywhere in Europe; I had reassuringly walked back into the present day from the communist era of Karl-Marx-Allee.

Despite many of the buildings in Alexanderplatz clearly having been made the same time as those on Karl-Marx-Allee many of the buildings had been modernised with large open windows; making the whole area a lot more transparent and welcoming than the Allee (see Figure 4). The Alexanderplatz square to me seemed to be a recognition that Berlin is beginning to emerge from the past and is looking towards the future. Regeneration is evident here. The square was filled every night with tourists and bright lights. With a warm atmosphere.

Figure 4: The open glass fronts of buildings in Alexanderplatz (Howe, 2019)

In recent years there has been talk of giving Alexanderplatz an American style makeover (The Local, 2018). Alexanderplatz is not currently known as an ‘architectural gem’ (The Local, 2018) however the future looks a little brighter as it rises out of the shadows of Karl-Marx-Allee as there are plans to give it an American style skyline, further distancing itself from its communist past.

The legacy of the Cold War has cast a long-lasting shadow over Berlin’s landscape particularly in the East of the city, and it is only recently that that shadow has begun to fade. Nowhere was the emergence of a new Berlin from the Cold War communist shadows clearer to me than when I walked down Karl-Marx-Allee, once the pride of the GDR towards Alexanderplatz the new central hub of East Berlin and the focus of new development plans (The Local, 2018). There are other smaller parts of the city where the landscape is modernising, symbolising the country’s aspiration to be a “normal” European nation-state (Till, 2005).

It remains to be seen whether Alexanderplatz can truly emerge from the shadows of East Berlins past. I’ll be back in 10 years’ time and find out; hopefully I’ll be in for a warm welcome.

Suggestions for further reading:

Kraftl, P. & Adey, P., 2008. Architecture/ Affect/ Inhabitation: Geographies of Being-In Buildings. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98(1), pp. 213-231.

Lonely Planet, 2019. Karl-Marx-Allee. [Online]
Available at: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/germany/berlin/attractions/karl-marx-allee/a/poi-sig/1104344/359364
[Accessed 20-04-2019].

O’Sullivan, F., 2016. Berlin’s Best Street Is a Communist-Era Boulevard, Says a Leading Architect. [Online]
Available at: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2016/03/berlin-best-street-karl-marx-allee/476205/
[Accessed 20-04-2019].

The Local, 2018. Berlin to Push Ahead With Plan to Give Alexanderplatz an American Makeover. [Online]
Available at: https://www.thelocal.de/20180122/berlin-to-push-ahead-with-plan-to-give-alexanderplatz-an-american-makeover
[Accessed 20-04-2019].

The Paris Review, 2014. Berlin’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Part 1. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/11/06/berlins-boulevard-of-broken-dreams-part-1/
[Accessed 20-04-2019].

Till, K., 2005. The New Berlin: Memory, Politics, Place. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press.

Visit Berlin, 2019. Alexanderplatz. [Online]
Available at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en/alexanderplatz
[Accessed 20-04-2019].

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: Interpretive or Inadequate?

When visiting Berlin, you find yourself negotiating through the city’s past, through memorials, landmarks and commemorative trails. After just one day exploring the city, I was already taken aback by the number of memorial sites and statues that consume the city. My preconceptions of Berlin were centered around ideas of creativity, an image of an urban, forward-looking city that pushes for progress.

Regardless of progress made, Germany will never be able to remove itself from its haunting past. Even as Germany, and the world, moves forwards, it is critical that the tragedies of the Second World War and the German Nazi Regime are not forgotten. Constructing memorials has long been a significant way in which cities can remember their dead and honour their memory for future generations. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe does not quite fit the image of a traditional memorial; the Field of Stelae is striking against the backdrop of Berlin, but at first sight it just looks like a collection of blank concrete blocks.

Image: Smallwood (2019)

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was designed by Peter Eisenman, after a lengthy time period of constant debate over the site. His vision was for “an abstract monument” that avoided symbolism and forced interpretation (Chin et al., 2011). The Field of Stelae invites visitors to question the structure of the memorial and draw their own conclusions.

There is a lot of debate over whether this memorial does justice to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. There is no way to measure the ‘success’ of the memorial per se, but it has left a lot to be desired by many people; it seems that it hasn’t really fulfilled its purpose clearly. It is also clear that the memorial is for the German people, not for the Jewish community (Chin et al., 2011). Trying to claim one space and have it represent such a vast community and such an unimaginable atrocity is a huge task; having to represent so many feelings, emotions and ideas in one space often fails to come across effectively (Young, 2002).

Personally, I really appreciate how open to interpretation the memorial is. It allows individuals to process how they feel about the site and the history behind it. For some people, the pillars echo a cemetery (Young, 2002); I overheard other people commenting that the Field of Stelae could be interpreted as a timeline. For me, I felt that a timeline was being represented; the small pillars on the perimeter represent the initial persecutions of Jewish people, and as you go deeper into the site, it becomes overwhelming and crushing, just as the Holocaust did. The openness of the memorial also allows people to navigate through the pillars however they like; there is no beginning and end, no right or wrong way to walk around. This freedom will allow tourists and Germans alike to process, grasp and manage the history and the tragedy that happened in their individual ways (Petersson, 2010).

Image: Smallwood (2019)

Upon my visit to the memorial, I left with a lot of anger towards how much disrespect I witnessed. Young people running around, weaving in and out of the pillars, bumping into visitors, screaming and laughing, jumping all over the pillars. I felt that the lack of information and signage in the Field of Stelae allowed for this to happen because children and young people may not realise what this site symbolises. The affect of the memorial was ruined by this behaviour that didn’t fit into the appropriate ‘code of mourning’ that you would expect at most memorial sites (Doss, 2008).

It is not just the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe that has received criticism for being inadequate and poorly represented. The Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism was extremely underwhelming to visit and felt quite disrespectful. Our whole mood and the affect of our group shifted dramatically when visiting the Homosexual Memorial; I began to question how accepted the LGBTQ+ community would feel in Germany when seeing this black concrete block that does not do justice to the atrocities committed against their community.

Just like the Homosexual persecution memorial, when first visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the overwhelming blank canvas that you initially see does evoke feelings of confusion and disrespect, but on reflection, being open to interpretation and allowing visitors to determine their own meanings gives it much more significance. The site is a permanent feature of Berlin, and Germany as a whole, and is incredibly important for Germany moving forward. This piece of history, whilst it is “not a proud memory,” it cannot be forgotten (Young, 2002: 80).

References and Further Suggested Reading:

Brody, R. (2019) ‘The Inadequacy of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, The New Yorker.
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-inadequacy-of-berlins-memorial-to-the-murdered-jews-of-europe

Chin, S.M., Franke, F. and Halpern, S. (2011) ‘A Self-Serving Admission of Guilt: An Examination of the Intentions and Effects of Germany’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, in Zarankin, J. (ed.) Reflections on the Holocaust. New York: Humanity in Action, pp. 13-21.

Doss, E. (2008) ‘The Emotional Life of Contemporary Public Memorials: Towards a Theory of Temporary Memorials. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Grenzer, E. (2002) ‘The topographies of memory in Berlin: The Neue Wache and the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe’, Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 11(1), pp. 93-110.

Jones, O. (2011) ‘Geography, Memory and Non-Representational Geographies’, Geography Compass, 5(12), pp. 875-885.

Petersson, A. (2010) ‘The Production of a Memorial Place: Materialising Expressions of Grief’, in Maddrell, A. and Sidaway, J.D. (eds.) Deathscapes: Spaces for Death, Dying, Mourning and Remembrance. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, pp. 141-160.

Visit Berlin (2019) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
https://www.visitberlin.de/en/memorial-murdered-jews-europe (Accessed: 18th April 2019).

Young, J.E. (2002) ‘Germany’s Holocaust Memorial Problem – and Mine’, The Public Historian, 24(4), pp. 65-80.

Through the Looking Glass: A Rhetoric of Transparency

My pre-trip assumptions of Berlin were that it would be like every other major city; flooded with tourists, high-rise buildings and traffic. However, as we flew into Berlin Schönefeld Airport it was already apparent that I was mistaken. Our birds eye view revealed patterns in the architectural landscape that intrigued me. What caught my attention was the length of singular buildings and how they wrapped around courtyards in ways you do not expect buildings to do. From then on, I was drawn to the differences in architecture observing the steady progression from homogeneity in the outskirts of the city to creativity and aesthetic built space in the centre. However, it was the iconology of the Band des Bundes (government buildings) that captivated me. Immediately I remarked on the ambiguity within the striking cluster of buildings. The 19thcentury structure of the Reichstag, the home of German Parliament, is eye-catching among the modernity of the Bundeskanzleramt (federal chancery) and Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders House (centre for academic services) which were completed in 2001 and 2003. But it was the similarities between the buildings that I began to question. The common theme was glass. 

The extravagance of this small sub-section of the city highlighted the monumental importance of these buildings and the obvious efforts to show the people that governance will no longer be about restriction and surveillance but transparency, now an integral part of German democracy. On the approach to the Reichstag panels of glass display Germany’s constitution indicating the transparency of the contract between the government and the people. Walking further on, I was overwhelmed by the size of the government buildings and their prominent features. The contemporary buildings contain entire walls of glass, almost creating a feeling of nakedness and honesty. The bridge over the river and the circular sheet of glass are both symbols of the reunification between East and West Germany. While the bridge links the two, the circle depicts ‘a whole’ showing the new oneness and cohesion of the country forged by the marriage of the two states.

The semi-circle feature in the Bundeskanzleramt signifies the 180 degree turn that Germany has taken in the last 60 years; a simple symbol that encompasses a rich and complex history. Finally, the most important and expressive feature within this landscape is the Reichstag’s dome. This cupola affords you a panoramic view of Berlin but more notably you can look down at the meetings of the Bundestag (German federal Parliament) and witness parliamentary decisions being made. The dome is specifically designed so that light is directed towards the debating chamber illuminating it and inviting visitors’ gaze. While the dome is the most striking aspect of the Reichstag, the refurbishment also saw enormous panels of glass put in behind the front pillars as well as large glass windows. This removes the element of darkness that an old building like this might usually have and opens it up joining internal and external spaces and connecting citizens to governance. Built up from ruin, the Reichstag transcends time showing visitors its historical and monumental value while also showing them the open, transparent and bright future of Berlin and Germany.

“A New See-Through Republic”

The purposeful physical display of the transparency in government infrastructure is merely a reflection of the transparency that has been woven into contemporary German governance since destruction of the wall and reunification. Following reunification and the government’s return to Berlin, it was crucial that Germany showed the world that European concerns, of a resurrected German superpower, were redundant. As the country had a history of corruption it was imperative that the unification of the states was seen as the restoration of moral order and Germany’s growing maturity having learned from previous mistakes. Hence, it was not just architecture that demonstrated Germany’s new rhetoric. It was decided that destroyed Stasi files would be reconstructed. By 2001, 480, 000 pages had been restored and once ordered and registered were to be made available to the public. The sheer size of this venture displayed the importance of clarity post-unification and the desperation of the German government to show the world that the country had a democratic future. 

The decision to renovate rather than entirely rebuild the Reichstag begins to make sense. “A structure that bears the scars of arson, world war, and cold war division” (Jarosinski, 2002), no other building is so connected to Germany’s history and so, the new glass architecture is a huge statement of the social transformation that has occurred in Berlin and Germany. For architect Norman Foster, the cupola was a symbol of liberation from the wounds that Germany had incurred and turned the Reichstag into a symbol of hope that the country too can be built back up following its history of war and division. 

“No Place for Ghosts to Hide”

The narrative of transparency no longer just sits in politics and architecture. This openness is continued throughout the city in everyday sites. It can be seen in the displays of history dotted around the city, in the illustrations of buildings, in graffiti artistically outlining the concerns of the people, through drinking in in the street and open displays of sexuality which are seen less often in more conservative countries. The transparency stretches through to the general feel of the city, everyone appears to live their lives openly; no one is hiding.

Following a rather rich but dismal history, a dramatic statement of change and the move from oppressive surveillance to transparency seems quite appropriate. Now deeply embedded in its landscape transparency and openness seem to be at the heart of Berlin life. The Band des Bundes is a symbol of a new beginning for a city and country that are trying to redefine what it means to be German; no longer a country characterized by its history but also not afraid to connect with and learn from it. For me, the presence of the Cold War was surprising. However, the balance between memorialisation and a drive to prove that Germany will move on and remain united was refreshing and it seemed that Berlin was enveloped by an essence of liberation and positivity.

References and Suggested Reading 

Berlin Zeitung (2018) Regierungszentrale Das Bundeskanzleramt soll erweitert warden. Available at: https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/regierungszentrale–das-bundeskanzleramt-soll-erweitert-werden-31258592(Accessed: 03/04/19) 

Jarosinski, E. (2002) “Architectural Symbolism and the Rhetoric of Transparency”, Journal of Urban History, 29(1), pp.62-77

Koepnick, L. (2001) “Redeeming History? Foster’s Dome and the Political Aesthetic of the Berlin Republic”, German Studies Review, 24(2), pp.303-323

Sperling, S. (2011) “The Politics of Transparency and Surveillance in Post-Reunification Germany”, Surveillance & Society, 8(4), pp.396-412

Visit Berlin (2019) Band des Bundes: Connecting East and West.Available at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en/band-des-bundes(Accessed: 02/04/19)

Visit Berlin (2019) Reichstag: Parliament and Mirror of German History.Available at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en/reichstag-in-berlin(Accessed: 02/04/19)

Wikipedia (2013) Reichstag building. Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_building(Accessed: 03/04/19)

Teufelsberg – remembering or forgetting?

Often when we see street art in the UK it has a personal motive and comes in the form of tagging or cartoon characters, but there has been an increase in political street art/graffiti, for which we can thank artists such as Banksy for. Teufelsberg (the German word for the “devils mountain”) is a disused site that is covered with street art, much of it sitting on the line between being personal or political.

Figure 1

Arriving at Grunewald forest to walk up to Teufelsberg all the thoughts, opinions and perceptions I had imagined when I got told I was going to a disused American spy station that sits on top of a man-made hill covering what was planned to be a Nazi technical college, vanished. I had a, perhaps naïve, imagination of what I was going to see, expecting industrial buildings that were completely run down in the middle of nowhere. Walking through the forest and up the hill, Teufelsberg appears to be quite close, but the path winds round the hill and the surrounding for most of the walk is densely packed trees. Surrounded by families, runners and people just generally making use of the environment all I could think was, how could this forest and place have any geopolitical significance to Berlin and greater Germany? But as you reach the entrance to Teufelsberg it all becomes clear, as a small slice of the urban Berlin I have been exploring over the previous few days appears in this forest.

Figure 2

This disused spy station has been transformed into a contemporary art scene, with street art (or graffiti) covering nearly every inch of concrete available. From here the contrast of what this space once was and what it signifies with how it is now being used is obvious – it was an important aspect of Germany’s history with Americans using it to listen to what was being planned and now it is used as an outlet for some of the creativity that has been withheld within Berlin for decades. As I walked around looking at the different art pieces it dawned on me that where I was wasn’t just an outlet for creativity it did in fact have a wider historical and geopolitical influence, one that didn’t seem apparent when you’re there. Anderson argues that “whether conscious and walked or unconscious and enjoyed, Teufelsberg actualizes through geography, a simultaneous experience of remembering and forgetting” (2015, p. 80). It doesn’t take much research to find out what lies beneath this tiny urban island within Grunewald forest, but the history and geopolitical significance seems to be buried (metaphorically and literally) and the focus is on the street art.

Figure 3

There are arguments about whether this urban space within the natural environment should continue as a street art space or if the surrounding environment should be allowed to overgrow onto the site. Both arguments despite being on opposing sides in terms of moral geographies, which ‘reflect the expectations of the use and misuse of particular environments’ (Mcauliffe, 2012, p. 191), are both working towards forgetting the significance of the site. Those who don’t want the space to be used for street art because it is a site of political significance are contradicted by Berlins everyday experience with the Berlin Wall, and notable the East Side Gallery where much of the art is significant to what Germany has gone through. However, as demonstrated in the pictures the street art currently at Teufelsberg is not specific to the history of the site, much of it is general art work, other than figure 2 which gives reference to the American era.

Unless visitors research Teufelsberg before their visit there is no obvious reason why they would know or recognise the significance of the site. The American Spy Stations impact is clearly there because of the buildings, but there is nothing to signify what the buildings were used for, but the Nazi technical college and the rubble of the destruction of WWII that is being stood upon is even less recognisable. As there is no state recognition of the American or Nazi era at Teufelsberg it can be argued that the site is working to forget its history, which is only furthered by the allowance of street art because it is ‘defacing’ buildings with geopolitical reputation. However, on the flip side of this it has also been argued that art is important for the critical understanding of  geopolitics because it works in paradox and contradiction (Ingram, 2016, p. 12), and this is apparent in case of Teufelsberg. The German state is not recognising the importance of the site but the artists that work there are using their personal spin and perception of geopolitics to reinforce the significance of the area through street art. Teufelsberg is an forgotten urban geopolitical site in regard to state involvement, but the public and artists are continuing its legacy through street art, trying to ensure it isn’t forgotten like other aspects of Berlins geopolitical history have been.

Suggested reading

Anderson, B., 2015. Trümmer Geographies. Performance Research, 20(3), pp. 75-82.

Ingram, A., 2016. Rethinking art and geopolitics through aesthetics: artist responses to the Iraq war. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41(1), pp. 1-13.

Mcauliffe, C., 2012. Graffiti or Street Art? Negotiating the Moral Geographies of the Creative City. Journal of Urban Affairs, 34(2), pp. 189-206.

Figure 4

Experiences & Reflections of Memorials in Berlin

Something I had not quite anticipated prior to arriving in Berlin, was the vast amounts of memorials and monuments dedicated to different groups of people and tragic events that occurred in the city. It all felt a little overwhelming to be provided with so much information about such harrowing events that once took place here. Whilst I was aware of the devastation and inhumane activities that is referred to by Germans as the ‘dark history’ of Germany, it’s hard to comprehend when you see the facts and the figures how truly awful such events really were, and experiencing these memorials first-hand begins to reveal what it would have been like to live in Berlin during this time and the coming years after. 

The Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial

Amongst the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Berlin, lies the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. I had initially believed this memorial to be dedicated to the Jews who perished during the Holocaust, however this rather broad title suggests a wider community of Jews that lost their lives in other tragedies that occurred across Europe. Even online, it is somewhat unclear whether this is dedicated to just the Holocaust victims or not. When searching “Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe” many top websites from this search are titled as “The Holocaust Memorial”. So, perhaps the true meaning of this memorial is lost due to the uncertainty. The article here, written by Richard Brody suggests it to be problematic at the lack of clarity of who specifically this memorial is in memory of. I somewhat disagree with Brody’s argument here because what I find that is so significant about this memorial is the lack of explanation, so visitors are forced to create their own interpretation of the landscape. Mügge (2008) suggests that the memorial defines a space and a time that can be experienced as something ‘different’. Perhaps because the experience of this memorial is arguably unique compared to others that exist. My first impressions were trying to figure out what exactly the concrete blocks meant. With no inscriptions or detail, it’s up to the individuals own mind to come to their own conclusions. What I am sure of is that the memorials in Berlin are here as a constant reminder of the past; symbols of memory that perhaps convey guilt and regret.

The Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial

Thinking about my own experiences when arriving at the memorial, we were advised by Brett what to look out for and what to perhaps think about when walking through the 2711 concrete blocks (Visit Berlin, 2019). Before dispersing to explore, Brett made us aware that his grandfather was in fact a holocaust survivor. It was touching that he had decided to share something so personal, and because of this I felt that my experience walking through the intimidating concrete blocks was different to if I had not known that. I walked through trying to imagine how it must feel to have had a family member go through complete anguish yet to come out of the other side, alive… but perhaps living with guilt for all those who lost their lives. The further in I walked, the more trapped I began to feel. As the pathways slope downwards and the blocks tower over you, it starts to feel that there is no escape and the loud noises of the city that moments ago were just heard, fades to nothing. I’m faced with the realities of millions of victim’s experiences in my mind, trying to imagine their pain, but the reality of it is too dark to comprehend.What is baffling about the experience is the disturbance of other visitors, the selfies, the running around and playing hide and seek. I found myself in deep thought to then be disturbed by someone brushing past me. This could be because of the uncertainty of the landscape, due to its central location in Berlin (see figure 1), many tourists might pass through without even knowing what it is. Being so central and accessible to all visitors of the city, gives the constant reminder of Berlin’s geopolitical past and according to Mügge (2008), the memorial is a sign of Germany’s political representation. Furthermore, it takes away that opportunity to grieve, which is disappointing.

The red pin point marks where the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe is situated within the city of Berlin

In comparison to this, when visiting Platform 17 at Grunwald, the atmosphere is different. The station that is a distance away from the city centre, pays tribute to victims of the holocaust in a different way. The size is much smaller than the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, but nonetheless the significance is still astounding. Around 50,000 jews were deported from Grunwald station from Platform 17 between 1941 to 1945 (6millionmemorials.co.uk, 2019). Along the tracks metal slabs mark the date, the number of jews and the location the train was heading which is another reminder of just how many Jews were sent to their death. Flowers are laid on different slabs which suggests the station is used as a graveyard to pay respects. The remainder of the tracks enables you to imagine how fearful people were as you stand on the platform where they once stood, wondering what their fate would be. On the track, trees have been planted and my interpretation of this was to represent that no train would leave this platform again. 

Platform 17
Platform 17


References

Brody R (2012) ‘The Inadequacy of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’. The New Yorker. Accessed 08/04/19. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-inadequacy-of-berlins-memorial-to-the-murdered-jews-of-europe

Mügge, M. (2008). Politics, space and material: The ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’ in Berlin as a sign of symbolic representation. European Review of History. 15, (6), 707-725.

Visit Berlin (2019). Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Accessed 09/04/19. Available at:  https://www.visitberlin.de/en/memorial-murdered-jews-europe

6millionmemorials.co.uk. (2019). Grunewald Gleis 17/Platform 17 – 6 Million Memorials. Accessed 09/04/19. Available at: http://www.6millionmemorials.co.uk/berlin-memorials/grunewald-gleis-17-platform-17