Forget Berlin

by Lutz Koepnick
Forget Berlin
Lutz Koepnick
The German Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


Washington University in St. Louis


The summer of 1999 saw the opening of "The Story of Berlin: Die Erlebnisausstel- lungder Hauptstadt," apermanent exhibit spread out over four floors and more than 60,000 square feet in the heart of Berlin Wilmersdorf. "The Story of Berlin" is designed for window shoppers who, after stroll- ing along the glamorous store fronts of Kurfurstendamm, no longer hesitate to embrace historical memory itself as a fan- tastic commodity. Similar to the display windows you have to pass when approach- ing the exhibit, the show's twenty halls de- liver Berlin history to the visitor's consum- ing glance. And yet, in its efforts to make history experiential, "The Story of Berlin" also explodes the framed stillness of Kur- furstendamm's shop windows. Aided by a panoply of interactive computer screens, 3D soundscapes, digitized imagery, and historical replicas, "The Story of Berlin" transforms historical memory into live ac- tion, as if no frame of perception and his- torical mediation existed. Advanced tech- nologies invite the viewer to experience the city's 800 year history-according to one of the many advertising slogans-"[mlit allen Sinnen [...I als ween Sie dabei gewe- sen".Rather than simply look at or read about ur- ban history, the viewer is asked to touch and enter it. High-tech digitization grants experiences of sensual immersion and affective immediacy, no matter whether the exhibit's individual sectors recall the foun- dation of Berlin during the Middle Ages, the turmoil of the Weimar era, or the burn- ing of books during the Third Reich. Time here turns into space. In all its different

sections, "The Story of Berlin" re-mem- bers the city's history as a living space ani- mated by heritage values and properties. It reifies the textures of history into the new capital's primary selling point, and it there- by converts even Berlin's many painful memories into viable tourist attractions.

In City of Bits (1994), William J. Mitchell writes that the digital city of the future:

will be a city unrooted to any definite spot on the surface of the earth, shaped by con- nectivity and bandwidth constraints ra- ther than accessibility and land values, largely asynchronous in its operation, and inhabited by disembodied and frag- mented subjects who exist as collections of aliases and agents. Its places will be constructed virtually by software instead of physically from stones and timbers, and they will be connected by logical lin- kages rather than by doors, passageways, and streets. (24)

According to Mitchell, the rise of digital telecommunications, computer networks, and technologies of virtualization does not simply add a new chapter to the history of architecture and urban experience, it changes the whole way we must think about the city's configuration of space and time, past and present. "The Story of Berlin," one might conclude, exemplifies this new understanding of architectural sites and urban memory as e-topian.1 The exhibit's Berlin is one whose infrastructures are ef- fects of computational devices. It is a city in which urban history has become coexten- sive with hard disk space; in which the act of remembering metonymizes the transfer

The German Quarterly 74.4 (Fall 2001) 343

of bytes to Random Access Memory. To re- call the city's past here means to explore the wonders of digital information storage, processing, and transmission. What reawa- kens the city's history is not the unpredict- able work of individual recollection, but ra- ther the links offered by user-friendly soft- ware programs and self-effacing interfaces. It may therefore come as no surprise that in their efforts to advertise the show, the makers of "The Story of Berlin" praise the exhibit's contents as much as the machin- ery that makes it possible. The show, they suggest, delivers the city's past as a site of fascinating attractions; it conjures power- ful illusions of the real so as to transport viewers effectively through discontinuous spaces and times. As importantly, however, the exhibit-according to its creators-is designed to astonish the visitor about its own technologies of presentation. Rather than merely absorbing the viewer into over- whelming simulations of the past, the show displays its own actof showmaking and there- by acknowledges the viewer's active presence. The true star of "The Story of Berlin," ac- cording to this second marketing strategy, is not the new German capital and its past, but above all the digital equipment that unlocks the city's history for the sensual experience of potential visitors.

In the perspective of many contempo- rary media theorists, the show's ambiva- lent self-positioning between attraction and astonishment would prove nothing other than a curious instance of self-referentiali- ty. "The Story of Berlin," according to this view, is not about Berlin history. It is about itself: the medium--digitized history, pros- thetic memory, computational devices- turns out to be the principle message. What this neo-McLuhanian reading flattens out, however, is the show's political and histori- cal index. For "The Story of Berlin'' ener- gizes and is energized by contemporary dis- courses about history and memory, the lo- cal and the national, place and narrative, discourses that are intimately tied to the rise of the self-proclaimed Berlin Republic. Dedicated to showcasing the highlights of urban history, the exhibit reveals a think- ing about the past and about the symbolic power of spatial forms virtually impossible within the discursive economy of the Bonn Republic. The architects of postwar Bonn, we should recall, wanted to break with the symbolism of earlier times. They designed Bonn as a modest and deliberately non-at- tractive city where-to speak cinematically -neither dramatic pans nor awe-inspiring long shots could cast a spell over the visi- tor's sense perception. In a concerted effort not to provide plastic expressions of power, collective identity, or national grandeur, they favored function over form, minimal- ist design over breathtaking gesture. "The Story of Berlin" entertains fantasies about the sensual and the political, about history and its legacies that clearly depart from Bonn's humility. Unlike Bonn's architects, the exhibit maps urban spaces and archi- tectural configurations as highly represen- tative of the nation's narrative. As it pro- vides awesome attractions and powerful astonishments, "The Story of Berlin" capi- talizes on the postwall refashioning of Berlin as a global city and historically self- confident capital.2 Far from simply being about itself, the exhibit reawakens the splendors of the past so as to renegotiate the politics of architectural forms and spa- tial experiences in the present.

"The Story of Berlin'' is part of a much larger culture of architectural memory that has preoccupied Germany since unification. Whereas during the Bonn years many fun- damental debates about questions of na- tional identity and historical recollection were played out in the field of literary ex- pressions, in the new Berlin Republic pub- lic architecture has assumed a highly sig- nificant role in recalling the past and marking the nation's place after the end of the Cold War. Whether we consider the de- bates over Peter Eisenman's Holocaust memorial, Sir Norman Foster's renovated

Reichstag, Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Mu- seum, or the reconstruction of the Berlin Stadtschloss-all indicate this prominent function of architectural forms today to evoke historical legacies and negotiate the challenges of an ever-more global future. It is therefore by no means surprising that in recent years American German Studies, in its effort to examine the construction and contestation of individual and collective identities, has turned its attention increas- ingly to the nexus of space, memory, and identity in contemporary Germany. In par- ticular the remaking of Berlin into a capital city of both collective memory and trans- national appeal seems to be on everyone's mind. It is the task of the following pages to probe some of the methodological, epis- temological, normative, and political as- sumptions that drive our current attempts to understand sites of urban memory in postwall Germany, to write narratives that escape the self-congratulatory fetishism of "The Story of Berlin." How, I shall ask, can we read and interpret architectural forms and spatial practices in the first place? To what extent does our renewed interest in urban memory become complicit with the postwall reconstruction of locality and his- toricity as global tourist attractions? How can we confront the corporate reinscrip- tion of history today without falling back into some kind of primitivist jargon of au- thenticity? What are the costs of German Studies' recent focus on the new capital and the "ghosts of Berlinn(Ladd)? ~nd,finally, how can we speak about the anam- nestic function of public architecture with- out leveling necessary differences between discourses of history and memory?

While there is clearly no way to answer all these questions in a single essay, the fol- lowing remarks seek at least to draw atten- tion to sets of issues German Studies ought to face when investigating architectures of memory in contemporary Germany. What at times may sound polemical, however, is by no means meant to discredit German

Studies' efforts to speak about matters beyond the conventional focus on literary material. On the contrary, the primary aim of the following five points is to peruse ex- actly what Germanists are doing and what they can accomplish when writing their own stories of Berlin. In doing so, I hope to provide some good arguments against any misguided resurrection of the old within the new, i.e., an unmediated application of literary criticism to architectural forms. If German Studies wants to speakcompetent- ly about the ties between architecture, ur- ban space, memory, and nation in postwall Germany, it not only must familiarize itself with the conceptual vocabularies of con- temporary urban theory and cultural geog- raphy, it must also resist any temptation to read built space in analogy to literary texts

and poetic expressions.

Fredric Jameson has suggested that the symbolic meaning of works of art and architecture is as volatile as the much-dis- cussed arbitrariness of the sign. hin our dreams, Jameson writes,

the spatial unconscious can associate any- thing with anything else-a dead body meaning jubilatory euphoria, a loved one's photograph triggering violent xeno- phobia. (259)

No matter how directly it presents itself as such, no product of cultural production can be seen as having certain political values once and for all. It was therefore one of the principle errors of the avant-gardes and neo-avantgardes of the twentieth century to view cultural forms as inherently politi- cal, for there can never be any guarantee that artworks or, even more so, architec- tural configurations will be used in the way demanded or expected. For Jameson, the political content and meaning of built space does not reside in its mere form. In- stead, meaning is projected onto space in a process of allegorization, a process depend- ing on contingent contexts as much as un- conscious associations. Space per se can never be political. Although a given place may be seen at a particular moment as a concrete embodiment of political meanings, any political understanding and appropri- ation is strictly allegorical and hence sub- ject to change: "you have to know that this is what it is supposed to be or mean-in itself it is inert" (259).

Jameson's understanding of space as allegorical is useful when thinking about the mnemonic politics of architectural con- figurations and urban designs as well. Nei- ther public history nor individual memory reside in a certain structure's form itself Rather, they must be seen as products of projection on the part of historically situ- ated users. No building, in spite of all its strategies of ostentatious self-labeling, can own a certain historical meaning once and for all, like an inalienable property. Under certain circumstances this building might be recognized as a plastic embodiment of a certain past, but we cannot deduce its me- morial functions a priori from certain for- mal arrangements. Though the sheer ma- teriality of built space might shape the user's sense perception, the historical meaning and mnemonic value of any given structure is, in other words, a question of allegorical content. In itself, built space sig- nifies nothing. Its historical meanings de- pend on narratives and discourses negoti- ating what a certain building is meant to mean, on projective activities that are by no means immune to the historical process.

Jameson's insistence on the allegorical meaning of architecture urges us to under- stand the identity of a certain place as a re- flex, not of inherent qualities and formal features, but of social interrelations that stretch far beyond the actual place in ques- tion. To emphasize the allegorical content of architectural memory implies, in Dor- een Massey's words, to

question any characterization of place which is singular, essentialist, and which relies on a view of there having been one past of this place, one story to tell, most particularly where that story is an internalized one of the evolution of that place within its bounds. (114)

Places are articulations. Their identities exceed the work of abstract and unified in- terpretations. Their meanings are consti- tuted at the intersection of multiple mem- ories, desires, narratives, inscriptions, and physical uses. Particular buildings might index the past or open a space for personal memory by incorporating or modifying certain stylistic idioms, formal languages, or symbolic references. But in order to un- derstand their relation to history and memory we need to do much more than simply decode their formal organization of space, that is to say, read them like texts or artistic expressions. It is one of the ironies of Daniel Libeskind's much-discussed Jew- ish Museum that this building, whatever its many merits and bold interventions, cultivates precisely such reductive approaches to built space. Designed as a multi-layered text whose intended mean- ings and symbolic references ask to be decoded, Libeskind's building not only wants to position the user as a hermeneu- tic reader, but suggests that meaning and memory inheres to the language of archi- tectural forms itself. A no doubt fascinat- ing allegory of history and memory, the building thus obscures nothing other than the allegorical and negotiated status of ar- chitectural memory. Writerly structures

such as Libeskind's Jewish Museum are literary critics' fantasies. While there isno reason not to follow their invitation and read between their lines, we must not think that the architect's self-labeling-however disjunctive or multiple it may be-is the only story that should be told about the memorial function of certain places.

When investigating architectural alle- gories of memory and identity today, Ger- man Studies cannot avoid examining how certain building codes, zoning policies, po- litical controversies, investment interests, and popular debates set the stage for the empirical construction and mnemonic use of specific buildings in their local, national, or even transnational context. No analysis of architectural memory is complete with- out paying heed, in equal measures, to (1) the codified and institutionalized ways of producing space that order social relations from above, (2) the peculiar patterns by which people perceive and appropriate cer- tain places within their everyday life, and

(3) the shifting and by no means unified registers of symbols, experiences, and un- conscious associations that people draw on in order to understand existing spaces as representational. Pace Libeskind, neither strategies of symbolic exegesis nor of close reading can ever suffice in order to recog- nize how specific buildings can help articu- late the location of the past in the present. I am certainly not arguing here that histori- cal symbolizations and sigmfkations do not matter. It would be foolish to dismiss Ber- lin's search for representing the past qua architecture per se as hopeless or ideologi- cal. At the same time, however, we should not forget that memory does not reside in certain buildings themselves, but in how given groups of people at given moments in time perceive and make use of them.

Berlin architecture and urban design since unification has been obsessed with endowing the new capital with an "emo- tionally appealing addition of state repre- sentation" (Ganger 16). Whether we con- sider the renovation of the old Reichstag building or the construction of the new Chancellery, postwall Berlin has become a site at which democratic politics and im- pressive architecture are supposed to go hand in hand again. As importantly, how-

ever, the frenzied remaking of the city since 1990 has served the purpose of improving the city's location in the transnational re- organization of capital, of enhancing Ber- lin's attraction and marketability on a world- wide scale. An economic outpost and cul- tural enclave throughout the era of the Cold War, postunification Berlin has been charged to become a global city: a self-as- sured metropolis coordinating the ever- more global flow of moneys, technologies, labor forces, images, sounds, pleasures, and meanings. Yet rather than create a city whose surface simply mimics the layout of other first-tier cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, or Tokyo, Berlin city planners today explore images of local- ity and historicity in order to increase the city's competitive advantages. In stark con- trast to the self-restrained architects of post- war Bonn, Berlin's chief designers have chosen to provide highly choreographed en- vironments enhancing local prestige and gratifying desires for historical continuity, livability and territorialization. They have fragmented urban space into a series of carefully developed, albeit isolated, zones of comfort and historical reference that un- dercut any attempt at seeing the city as an integrated space. Capitalizing on history as a global mark of differentiation and dis- tinction, Berlin's new city planners have reifled "urbanity" into an object of con- sumption, thereby obscuring the vagaries of modern urban experience, the fact that the very notion of the urban has been in flux at least since the last turn of the cen- tury. Berlin today embodies "a grid of well- designed and self-enclosed places in which the interstitial spaces are abandoned or ne- glected" (Boyer, "The Great Frame-Up" 81). To walk through this city means to as- sume the role of a moving channel flipper, to traverse disconnected segments that po- sition the individual in different imaginary pasts, presents, and futures. If Weimar Berlin invited the modern city dweller to become "a camera with its shutter open,

quite passive, recording, not thinking" (Isherwood I),the globalized cityscape of postunification Berlin wants to be read and consumed like a web-based hypertext. Glo- bal cities have something for everyone. They offer diverse pleasures, meanings, and mem- ories within a territory of self-contained ar- chives and event zones. Click on any link and your browser will take you to the next page, a page that bears no temporal or spa- tial connection to the previous one.

Given this ever-increasing fragmenta- tion and commodification of urban space under the condition of globalization, Ger- man Studies should not avoid asking a number of uncomfortable questions about the architectural reinscription of history and memory in contemporary Berlin and elsewhere. To what extent does the con- struction of historical monuments and public memorials play into the hands of "glocal" zoning policies? At what point do they become complicit with the marketing of urban history as a sign of distinction, consumption, and livability? Isn't today's desire for memorial architecture an effect of rather than an antidote to the way in which global capital and high-tech infor- mation threaten "to make categories like past and future, experience and expecta- tion, memory and anticipation themselves obsolete" (Huyssen 9)? Exactly when does memory become ideology? And what kind of structures and contextualizations does it take in order to recall memories that may transcend the compartmentalization of ex- perience within the disconnected zones of urban space today?

Intellectual discourse in Germany since the late 1960s rested largely on the assump- tion that public knowledge about the Nazi past would prevent any recurrence of Ger- man nationalism, racism, and antisemi- tism.3 Memory was seen as a practical ex- pression of moral enlightenment and prog- ress, as a direct conduit of political and social reform. Partly aresult of this politics of memory, Germans today can clearly no

longer be faulted for having forgotten the Nazi era and for sticking to the proverbial amnesia of the postwar decades. It would be imprudent to assume, however, that re- cent surfeits of urban memory in Germany would still follow the path envisioned by public intellectuals throughout the past thirty years. When investigating the me- morial zones and well-designed grids of con- temporary urban space, German Studies can no longer hold on to the concepts of the 1960s: they have been consumed by the his- torical process itself. Memory per se is nei- ther good nor bad, progressive nor reac- tionary, enlightening nor preservationist. In order to assess memory's role in contem- porary urban space German Studies will therefore have to develop an ethos of dis- tinction that is able to evaluate how mem- ory connects different times and spaces, in- dividual and collective experience~. Unless it wants to abandon any critical perspec- tive, German Studies cannot simply exam- ine urban sites of memory in their own terms and within their own bounds. In- stead, we must find means to appraise the extent to which monuments and memori- als can exceed the reifying logic of localiza- tion, surpass the fragmentation of urban space, and thus reinsert the kind of inter- stitial places zoning policies and city de- signs today seem to neglect or mask. It is uncertain whether any such analysis of ur- ban memory can succeed without taking recourse to what affords little popularity within contemporary theoretical discourse: the concept of the city as a totality, however fragmented, imbricated, multiple, and cen- trifugal its space may be.

Current arguments about Berlin renew- al, whether they focus on the pending re- construction of the Stadtschloss or the com- pleted renovation of the Hack'sche Hofe, of- ten invoke the trope of Disneyfication in or-

der to question the packagingof history and memory into tourist attractions. To speak of urban design as a historical (or better: historicist) theme park, in this perspective, means firstly to argue against any attempt at transforming urban space into a theat- rical space of positive identifications. Dis- neyfication glosses over the cracks of pain- ful pasts in order to showcase a history that never existed as such. Secondly, to speak of Disneyfication often implies the assump- tion that current urban projects level nec- essary differences, not only between past and present, the local and the global, but also between the edifying appreciation and the dim-witted consumption of history. Dis- ney-like architecture wants to trigger high- cultural effects by means of a mass-cultural apparatus; it falsely endows the popular with the cultural capital of aesthetic refine- ment. Third and finally, the Disney trope serves the purposes of labeling certain pro- jects as inauthentic, as spellbinding simu- lations and simulacra. Accordingly, the hy- perreal textures of Disney-like architecture transform the work of memory into a thrill- ing ride through space and time. They co- erce us to experience the past directly with our bodies, as if we had really been there, and thereby overwhelm our senses and si-

lence our minds.

While postmodern and corporate his- toricism today indeed often results in the radical expansion of what Marc Auge calls non-places, i.e., spaces that seem to posi- tion us both everywhere and nowhere, there are good reasons to be wary about the criti- cal efficacy of the Disney trope. In its ef- forts to investigate urban forms of histori- cal recollection, German Studies would do well to clarify its normative assumptions whenever branding certain urban projects as inauthentic theme parks of history. To critique urban reconstruction as a form of Disneyfication might be politically oppor- tune. In many cases, however, the trope obscures more than it produces insight. In light of the above-mentioned arguments, I see three sets of open questions we should answer before we might want to launch the Disney metaphor in our critique of certain sites of urban memory.

Today's city planning may often transform present urban space into a stage reenacting the past, but-so we must ask first-how much do these new theaters of memory really differ from the way in which theatrical designs, thespian tropes, and hy- brid citations have informed public archi- tecture ever since the Renaissance? To what extent does the hype about the recon- struction of the Berlin Stadtschloss con- ceptually differ from, say, the nineteenth- century craze about the completion of the Kolner Dom as a site restaging an imagi- nary past for a highly transitory present (Koshar 54-55, 95-96, 154-55)? Or from Karl Friedrich Schinkel's scenographic ap- proach to urban design when turning the heart of Berlin in the second half of the 1810s into "a series of pleasing vistas and perspectives, varying in scale and orienta- tionn(Boyer,CollectiveMemory 99)?
Though it would be cynical to deny the business practices of global capital that structure today's commodification of ar- chitectural styles, images, and technologies, we should question the extent to which the Disney trope might gloss over the fact that one and the same object can mean very dif- ferent things to different people and pub- lics. Does the concept of Disneyfication not on the one hand completely belittle the cu- rious and often excessive promises of mass consumption, while on the other ignoring the productivity of individual appropria- tion, that is to say, the way in which vernac- ular uses of architectural sites might pro- duce highly diverse, differentiated, and lo- cal memories and meanings?
3.While it is relatively obvious that con- temporary architecture often results in an aestheticization of urban forms, i.e., a radi- cal separation between spatial practice and the representation of space, we must ask to what extent the theme park trope-his- tory and memory as a spectacular ride- can adequately describe the affective-sen- sory effects of urban designs today. Does not the excessive emphasis on visual dis- play and spatial choreography in contem- porary architecture, instead of intoxicat- ing the viewer's senses, activate a com- pensatory protection against overstimu- lation? Does the hyperreality of today's urban designs, rather than entertaining the viewer with a seductive aesthetics of historical memory, not threaten to become anaesthetic (Leach)-an aesthetics that numbs the senses and denies the body as private site of experience?

Musing about the desire for historical reconstruction in postwall Berlin, Daniel Libeskind has advised that, "You can't re- start history by pressing a button. It be- comes a kitsch idea of history" (Riding 38). It is the trope of Disneyfication that in much of contemporary critical discourse serves the purpose of identifying such scenarios of architectural kitsch. While it is not my inten- tion at all to challenge Libeskind's stress on historical mediation (aucontraire!), my point here is simply to say that we must carefully reflect about our normative and methodological presuppositions before we condemn certain architectural memories as inauthentic, theatrical, aestheticized, or simulated. Any assertive jargon of authen- ticity is simply not sufficient for challeng- ing the ways in which architectural pro- jects might push the buttons of history and thereby reduce, rather than enrich, the space of lived experience.

In the immediate aftermath of unifi- cation, many German intellectuals were quick to discard the unassuming self-rep- resentation of the Bonn Republic asa sign of "political and intellectual regionalism" (Bohrer 69).Whereas the modernist icono- clasm of Bonn architecture was now re-

Fall 2001

jected as the mark of political atomization and aesthetic provincialism, the capital's move to Berlin promised the return of a self-confident national imaginary which could simultaneously heal the wounds of the Cold War and symbolize Germany's altered position in Europe and the New World Order. Like Britain or France, which had always relied on much older architec- tural forms in order to represent demo- cratic politics, postwall Germany too, ac- cording to many postwall voices, should es- pouse Berlin's architectural heritage for the purpose of celebrating political sover- eignty, manifesting national unity, and symbolizing democratic openness. Subse- quently, many considered Sir Norman Fos- ter's renovation of the old Reichstag build- ing as emblematic for this renegotiation of the national and the historical. In the ab- sence of any monument memorializing the process of unification itself, the finished new Reichstag today seems to embody ev- erything that makes the Berlin Republic different from its Bonn precursor. In par- ticular its glass-and-steel dome has come to serve as the Berlin Republic's new signa- ture piece: a site of powerful identification and irresistible astonishment. Designed as an allegory for political transparency as much as a marketable tourist attraction, Foster's dome invites the nation's subjects literally to look up to their capital again. Self-consciously cosmopolitan, it recodes the auratic and the monumental in the hopes of freeing the present from the spell of the past.4 There are clearly many good reasons why German Studies should spend consid- erable energy addressing how Berlin archi- tectural projects such as the Reichstag re- work the legacies of the past so asto envi- sion a different future. In many respects, Berlin urban space (as recent disputes about the erection of a Holocaust memorial as much as the future of the Palast der Republik have evidenced) functions as a paradigmatic setting for the politics of

memory in postwall German. In our efforts to investigate the negotiation of individual memory, collective history, and national identity in postwall Germany, we therefore cannot do without an exploration of how urban designers, local politicians, invest- ment strategists, and tourist operators re- define Berlin as a national allegory and rep- resentative imaginary. However, German Studies will be ill served if it ignores what, according to the Berlin Republic's new ideo- logical lingo, is now suddenly denounced as the provinces. Let us not forget about the profoundly federalist and creatively decen- tered traditions of German urban culture. Berlin is not and will never be a second Paris. Rather than troping all our paths to the new capital, let us also continue to ex- plore the local textures and regional mem- ories of other German areas. Similar to the way recent (2000)feature films such as Tom Tykwer's Der Krieger und die Kaiserin, Va- nessa Jopp's Vergiss' Amerika, and Detlev Buck's Liebesluder have mapped the local as a site of competing memories and his- torical inscriptions, so German Studies should keep an eye on the regional diver- sity of German architectures of memory. Let us resist the lures of metropolitan

grandeur and not forget about going to Wuppertal, Aschleben, or Meschede!

In the first decades of the twentieth century, architectural modernism was of- ten driven by the belief that bold modifica- tions of built space would automatically re- sult in social and political reform. Breaking with the codes and conventions of the past, modernism hoped to prepare the present for a better future. It rejected historicist figurations and ornamental designs with the ambition to redefine the architect as a social engineer. Though abundant with historical reference and architectural pas- tiche, postwall Berlin seems to owe its sweeping reconstruction to the power of similar premises. Contemporary Germans, Jane Krarner has noted hyperbolically:

live in a capital from which the worst of Germany's history was decreed, and now that the government is moving back to that capital they have convinced themselves that the right buildings will somehow produce the right attitudes in the people inside them. They like the transparency of the Reichstag dome-it's the most visi- ted place in the city now-because they think it will somehow guarantee that openness and democracy thrive in the Reichstag. They think that the right number of stone slabs in a Holocaust mo- nument will possess a memory of mass death; that the right balance of concrete and glass in a building for their Chancel- lor will temper authority with accounta- bility. (Krarner 54)

Reminiscent of modernism's hubris, post- unification urban planning has been ob- sessed with the idea of improving society by means of reorganizingpublic space. Architectural designs, according to this be- lief, have the power to articulate or cure the many painful memories of national history. They provide meanings that rede- fine the past's place in the present and in doing so bring Germany back to the fu- ture.

As exaggerated as they may seem, Kra- mer's observations are of interest here for at least two methodologically instructive reasons. First, by ridiculing any facile equation of architectural form and politi- cal meaning, Kramer reformulates Jame- son's stress on the allegorical character of architecture. Like Jarneson, Kramer sug- gests that it is not the realm of form alone that may decide on how built space can stimulate people to recall certain pasts and evaluate the place of history in the present. In addition to Jameson's argument, how- ever, Kramer also submits that non-alle- gorical readings of architectural structures -the perception of architecture as a sym- bolic language-might block rather than enable productive forms of memory. Ac- cordingly, instead of reading architectural designs like authentic works of art, we should focus on how different people in- habit certain structures. In fact, it might be the high-cultural emphasis on the aesthet- ic, on an architect's intended meanings and references, that presents the mother of all problems concerning postunification ur- ban projects and architectural memories. Far from actualizing the past in the pres- ent, the hermeneutic overdrive of postwall architectural discourse-the frenzied search for symbolic meaning and fured interpreta- tion-secretly suggests that monuments can do the work of memorization for us and it thus, in the final analysis, causes mem- ory to recede.

Second, by mocking the desire to see traumatic histories commemorated in the design of architectural structures them- selves, Kramer urges us not to blur cate- gorical distinctions between public history and collective memory, i.e., between the in- terest in the representation of the histori- city of past events on the one hand, and on the other the focus on making the past present as a source of negotiating identi- ties and differences. Rather than to think of history and memory as binary opposites, however, we ought to conceptualize both in terms of a dialectical or supplementary re- lationship, one improving the work of the other without aiming at closure or totali- zation.As Dominick LaCapra has written:

Memory is both more and less than histo- ry, and vice-versa. History may never cap- ture certain elements of memory: the feel of an experience, the intensity of joy or suffering, the quality of an occurrence. Yet history also includes elements that are not exhausted by memory, such as de- mographic, ecological, and economical factors. More important, perhaps, it tests memory and ideally leads to the emergen- ce of both a more accurate memory and a clearer appraisal of what is or is not factu- al in remembrance. (LaCapra 20)s

History can probe the quasi-mythic labor of memory; it can draw our attention to how the work of representation might complicate what is usually assumed to be the genuine muse of subjective remem- brance. Memory, by way of contrast, may infuse history with a critical sense of what, in our encounter with the past, is of greater and what of lesser importance; it brings into focus what kinds of historical tradi- tions might be preserved and what should be avoided in the future.

In its study of current architectures (and industries) of memory, German Stud- ies will do well to recognize this dialectical or supplementary character of history and memory, for it is only then that we can un- derstand the full extent of what Krarner discusses as the architectural fetishism of the present. To think-in Kramer's terms -that architectural structures themselves can index historical events and embody memory indicates nothing other than -in LaCapra's termean ideological conflation of remembrance and history, of private and public narratives. Rather than endorse all sites of commemoration today as sites opposing the distantiating gaze of history, German Studies should develop conceptual means to distinguish between and evaluate different strategies of negotiating history and memory. Remaking past realities into objects of tangible sensation, monuments and architectural structures might be of great importance to help people commem- orate painful pasts andlor articulate pres- ent-day identifications and dissociations. As importantly, however, whenever it en- tertains the individual with the belief in unmediated access to the lived experiences of the past, architectural memory may also paper over, rather than commemorate or work out, lasting historical traumas, deep-- seated repressions, and irretrievable losses.

The idea of modern urbanism in the pre- war and early postwar period was often di- rectly tied to the idea of political emancipa- tion. Suspending the legacy of oppressive traditions, modern urbanity was often seen as a precondition for individual em- powerment and collective liberation, as a universalist way of life that created its norms, values, orientations, solidarities, and interpretations out of itself. Reevalu- atingits relation to the past, contemporary urbanism has replaced this notion of the city as emancipation with a view of the me- tropolis as a site of difference and multi- plicity. In the post-Fordist city of the global age, abundant reinscriptions of history and memory serve the purpose of defining local nodes of meaning, identification, pleasure, and consumption. Rather than setting us free from history, the postmodern city pro- vides a matrix in which different presents and pasts coexist next to each other, ahighly segregated and often extremely hierachical space where dissimilar memories, social practices, and representational strategies all seem to reside in self-contained proxim- ity.

In its thinking about urban and archi- tectural sites of memory, German Studies, I suggest, should try to bring the best mo- ments of both these traditions into a pro- ductive conversation. Instead of simply re- peating the orchestrated simulation of col- lective memories in contemporary media cultures, we should stress the role of in- commensurable recollections as they emerge from the cracks and fissures of hegemonic spatial representations. Instead of reading urban space as a neatly integrated totality, we should trace memories and counter-memories that crisscross dominant territori- alization~of culture and history and thereby articulate difference, temporariness, and non-- identity.As importantly, however, in our an- alysis of different and other spaces, we should be careful not to fall into the traps of neo-liberalism and hence fetishize the (market-driven) diversification of memory in contemporary urban culture per se as something good and desirable. The mem- ory boom of the last decade might indeed express a "basic human need to live in ex- tended structures of temporality" (Huys- sen, 9),one which challenges the many ways in which new technologies of commu- nication and information today erase con- ventional notions of past and future. Yet in our efforts to map how architecture can make diverse pasts present, let us not sim- ply celebrate differential memories as be- ing automatically subversive. While many may no longer believe in the universalist rhetoric of architectural modernism, we should at least inquire into the extent to which urban sites of memory today either recognize the alterity or difference of the past as a source of articulating the neces- sity of historical transformations, self-cri- tique, and political reform, or simply reinscribe history in order to reify differ- ence and turn urban space into a stage for self-sufficient spectacles.


See Mitchell's follow-up study, e-topia: "Urban Life, Jim-but Not as We Know It." See also Boyer and Pawley.

See, for instance, the various contributions to Scharenberg; and Kratke and Borst.

See Geyer, "The Politics of Memory in Con- temporary Germany," 169-200; also Geyer and Hansen, "German-Jewish Memory and Na- tional Consciousness," 175-90.

For a detailed analysis and critique of Fos- ter's project, see Koepnick.

For a similar discussion of the differences- and interactions-between history and mem- ory, see Halbwachs; and Novick 1-15.

Works Cited

Au&, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an An

thropology of Supermodernity. Trans. John

Howe. London: Verso, 1995.

Bohrer, Karl Heinz. "Why We Are Not a Nation -And Why We Should Become One." When the Wall Came Down: Reactions to German Unification. Ed. Harold James and Marla Stone. New York: Routledge, 1992.60-70.

Boyer, M. Christine. The City of Collective Mem- ory: Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments. Cambridge,MA: MIT E: 1994. . "The Great Frame-Up: Fantastic Ap- pearances in Contemporary Spatial Politics." Spatial Practices: Critical Explorations in So- ciallspatial Theory. Eds. Helen Ligget and Da- vid C. Perry. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1995. 81-109. . Cybercities: Visual Perception in the Age of Electronic Communication. New York: Princeton Architectural F: 1996.

Ganger, Jorg-Dieter. "Staatsreprasentation." Staatsreprdisentation.Ed. Jorg-Dieter Ganger and Justin Stagl. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1992.9-17.

Geyer, Michael. "The Politics of Memory in Con- temporary Germany." Radical Evil. Ed. Joan Copjec. London: Verso, 1996. 169-200.

Geyer, Michael, and Miriam Hansen. "Ger- man Jewish Memory and National Conscious- ness." Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory. Ed. Geoffrey Hartman. Cam- bridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994.175-90.

Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Ed. Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: U of Chicago E: 1992.

Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Isherwood, Christopher. The Berlin Stories. New York: New Directions, 1963.

Jameson, Fredric. "Is Space Political?" Rethinking Architecture. Ed. Neil Leach. London: Routledge, 1997. 255-69.

Koshar, Rudy. From Monuments to Traces: Arti- facts of German Memory, 187@1990 . Berke

ley: U of California F: 2000.

Koepnick, Lutz. "Redeeming History? Foster's Dome and the Political Aesthetic of the Berlin Republic." German Studies Review 24.2 (2001): 303-23.

Kramer, Jane. "Living with Berlin: How do you rebuild a city that wants to settle its account with the past, but can't decide what the future should be?" The New Yorker 5 July 1999.

Kratke, Stefan, and Renate Borst. Berlin: Metro- pole zwischen Boom und Krise. Leverkusen: Leske & Budrich, 2000.

LaCapra, Dominick. History and Memoy after Auschwitz. Ithaca: Cornell UF: 1998.

Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. Chicago: U of Chicago E: 1997.

Leach, Neil. The Anaesthetics of Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT E: 1999.

Massey, Doreen. "Double Articulation: A Place in the World." Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question. Ed. Angelika Bammer. Blooming- ton: Indiana UE: 1994.110-21.

Mitchell, William J.City ofBits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn. Cambridge, MA: MIT F: 1994. . e-topia: "Urban Life, Jim-But Not as

We Know It. " Cambridge,MA: MIT E: 1999. Novick, Peter. The Holocaust in American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Pawley, Martin. Terminal Architecture. London: Reaktion E: 1998.

Riding, Alan. "Building on the Rubble of History: A Capital Reinstated and Remodeled." The New York Times 11April 1999, Section 2.

Scharenberg, Albert, Ed. Berlin: Global City oder Konkursmasse: Eine Zwischenbilanz zehn Jahre nach den Mauerfall. Berlin: Karl Dietz, 2000.

Story of Berlin. <> .

  • Recommend Us