In May 2005, I spent three weeks combing Berlin – a veritable microcosm of 20th century history – neighborhood by neighborhood as part of a college course on the city specifically and modernity in general. I organized about 100 photos on my Flickr page – complete with location tags and some notes on background, they should make for a solid tour of the city with some background on its history. While I took a lot of notes at the time, it wasn’t until early 2011 that I got around to sharing anything I wrote outside of my friends on the trip. The results are these three blog entries, organized around the stories of the buildings shown above – the former capitol building of the Deutsches Demokratisches Republik, since demolished, and The Fernsehturm (Television Tower), questionable glory of Soviet-inspired modernity.
Part One: 1945, By Way of 2005. The near-complete destruction of Berlin in 1945 gave Berlin – capital of modernity, a city in constant flux – a dramatic chance to break from its past. This entry covers the damage left by the war – and how the people who are gone and the buildings that are still there were commemorated at the 60th anniversary of war’s end.
Part Two: Snackpoint Charlie. On the Eastern side of the divided city, the Communists sought to lose Germany’s past in the great Soviet cultural collective. Today, the most prominent architectural achievements of the DDR government have either been demolished (as with the Palast der Republik) or commodified in the service of capitalism, as with fake pieces of the Wall for sale and the ‘spy museum’ and fast food court at a once-notorious border crossing.
Part Three: The Exhibition. On many occasions when Berlin has tried to reach back to an idealized history – as with the building projects of the Wilhelminian era – the results appeared stilted. While some ‘classical’ buildings, like Schloss Charlottenburg, appear today as inert museums and fragile museum pieces, the ways in which Berlin lives with its past find expression in layers on and ruins of the excesses of eras past.