As some colleagues who have visited recently know, I like a walking route through downtown Berlin that I call the “seats of power”. It is all about the layers of imperial, National Socialist, divided Berlin, and unified Berlin history that can be traced with a “nice, easy walk” of no more than three hours.
One of the stops on that tour is the construction site for the reconstruction of the royal residence, the Stadtschloss. That has got to be the dumbest idea in the past 25 years of Berlin (re)construction. Now, let me tell you what I really think about that project…
Want to form your own opinion, see the Humboldt Forum website.
What don’t I like about it? We’re spending public money to re-build the moderately architecturally interesting/valuable downtown residence of a royal dynasty that lies buried in Berlin/Prussian/German history? What’s not to like? And not only are we re-constructing something baroque (help me out with my architectural eras), but we’re doing it in a half-hearted way, i.e. the facade facing Alexanderplatz is some vaguely postmodern Bauhaus building. And to top all that, the building has – as of now, as far as I can tell – no purpose.
Two Controversies: The Cross and the See-Saw
To be clear: I like the see-saw, I’m not so fond of the cross.
The more recent controversy is the matter of a Christian cross to top the cupola of the royal residence. There’s a whole history to it, but the Berlin Senate is leaning toward not allowing the cross which would be funded by a private donation. Why? Because even with its vague purpose, the Humboldt Forum is intended as a symbol/location of inclusion, including religious inclusivity. Don’t ask me how that meshes with commemoration of a royal lineage that was absolutist in origin (albeit enlightened and inclusive in a very modern fashion, note the Huguenot influence in Berlin). Never mind, the cross is not desired and I’m sure that the, er, Christian Democrats will use this for partisan purposes.
The more interesting controversy (in my mind) is the long-simmering question of a memorial to the 1989 revolution, the Freiheits- und Einheitsdenkmal. In a much more successful historical juxtaposition, I think, this has been proposed to be erected just in front of the reconstructed palace. Royal palace, “we are THE people” that’s a historical contrast worth exploring. The proposed memorial is essentially – as far as I understand – a giant bronze see-saw that would gently sway when dozens of people stand at one of its sides. Get it, people moving moves the see-saw? Not to subtle, but actually a nice image/message I think.
Well, the thing is UNPOPULAR, is it ever. Surely, the debate about its costs in the Bundestag are mere pretence. I think much of the (West) German public may not be quite willing to commemorate the quiet revolution that our Eastern compatriots managed very successfully. I certainly think that the moment, but even more people taking action in the moment is very worthy of commemoration. And, I can imagine walking past the memorial in the future and being able to swallow the bile that will rise at the sight of the palace as I stroll onto the edge of the memorial.
The Bundestag is – once again – scheduled to debate the memorial later this week.