Friday, July 9, 2010

Old Berlin

The East and West Berlin both had different interpretations on how they would identify the Old Berlin. The west was more favorable towards preserving the old palaces and other royal architectural monuments. The communist east was quick to tear down the remains of the ruins and rebuild monumental architecture. The German’s were upset about the Soviet’s reconstruction of their city because it was reminded them of Hitler’s architecture which included a stone fa├žade that was stripped of ornamentation, had simplified columns, and was thoroughly proportional and symmetrical. It was hardly comparable to their old beautiful Baroque style palaces they once identified themselves with. The divide is evident as you walk through the city and observe the different urban fabric that was developed over time. Christo said “Because Berlin is the site of physical encounter of East and West, of two value systems and ways of life, it has the richest and most varied texture of any town in the world” The Ghosts of Berlin.

Berlin became a city of cranes after the devastation and destruction of their city after WWII. There was a lot of public debate and political controversy on what was to be rebuilt, restored, or destroyed. Some of the historical preservationist thought that the idea of rebuilding was of ‘historical ignorance’. It is evident as you experience the city that there is a ‘falsification of history’. Siedler said that “the architectural history of Berlin, like that of Europe, is a history of counterfeits” The Ghosts of Berlin. Many German’s wanted to rebuild their royal palaces and cathedrals because they valued them as historical monuments that formed their city’s identity. There were others in defense that didn’t find it necessary to rebuild a palace where there is no longer a monarchy.

The Brandenburg Gate remains one the authentic architectural monuments and national symbol of Berlin. It was rebuilt under Fredrick Wilhelm II and since its reconstruction it has seen many transformations. It’s original name was the “Gate of Peace” and then after Napoleon’s defeat it became the “Gate of Victory”. Its symbol was most profound to Berlin under the division. The Berlin wall stood just before the end of the Unter den Linden Boulevard where the Brandenburg Gate was located. The Brandenburg Gate belonged to the east where they placed their red flag at the top. The symbolic gate that was once a national arched walkway for the military to march under was now an enormous barrier that protected the east from the west. The east also placed banners that hung in between the columns to block any visual contact with the west. The west placed a banner in front of the gate that said “Abandon all hope, ye who entered here” The Ghost of Berlin. After the unification, it still stands today as German’s most valuable national symbols. It has stood through the major struggles in Berlin’s history and will still be firmly standing before many generations to come, telling the story of its historic city.

Nazi Berlin

The era of the Nazi’s has had the most heated debates on memorializing the darkest chapter in Germany’s history. Most Germans say they would rather sweep that time period under the carpet and forget about it; but you cannot erase history by simply denying it. The biggest controversy in how the German’s should memorialize their Nazi past existed between the east and west. The east did not want to commemorate any of the traces of Hitler and the Nazis but the west wanted the German’s to recognize the horror of their Third Reich. Hitler’s bunker was not preserved because it lied on the east side of the Berlin wall. The Soviets kept the remains of Hitler’s bunker a secret until they were able to destroy the public access. Hitler’s bunker, where he committed suicide, existed below the foundation of our apartments. In the book The Ghosts of Berlin, Kernd’l argued that preserving Hitler’s bunker was the last chance to keep any traces of the Nazis. He said the “Germans’ failure to confront their own past can be measured by the continuing destruction of its traces.” The German’s are hesitant to memorialize any remains of the Third Reich because they feared it would encourage neo-Nazis gatherings. The only traces of the Nazi’s that we were able to see was the remains of the Nazi rally grounds in Nurnberg, Topographies of Terror, and the Concentration Camp in Dachau. Recently there has been some controversy on the up keeping of the Nazi Rally Grounds which was designed by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer. Albert Speer Jr. has been defended his father’s architecture as a monumental historic landmark. Hitler was fascinated with architecture and used it to represent his power in a monumental way. I think that it is important that they keep the remains of the Nazi rally grounds for educational purposes. There was also a great debate on the memorial to the Topographies of Terror where the Gestapo’s and S.S. men tortured prisoners. This site existed in the heart of the city where it was exposed for the public to encounter on a daily basis. This site was not memorialized until after the fall of the wall. Peter Zumthor won the competition for the design in 1992 but they feared his design might be too much of an architectural gesture. They recently finished a more subtle design for the museum where they confronted the painful truths of their history.

Tourists that come from all over the world deserve to become a part of Germany’s history, because it has affected us all. Their past can never be erased, even without the evidence of its ruins. It would be disturbing to visit a country that presented a false representation of themselves. Although Germany will forever be known as the land of the Nazis, they have the opportunity to commemorate their past as lesson for people to learn and appreciate the freedom we share today. It is our responsibility as a human race to protect something like this from ever happening again in our world’s history. Without the concrete traces of these horrific ruins this message would not be as profound because it would only be told through writings.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Wall Jumper

Peter Schneider, the author of The Wall Jumper illustrates the struggles between east and west Berlin. Before the wall was constructed, Germany was divided into two states without a physical barrier. There were many German’s that were unhappy under the communist rule to where they were fleeing to the west. The wall was built to control the people in the east which amplified disputes among the opposing states to where they were constantly competing with one another. Some German’s were uncertain and confused with which system offered the most benefits and stability where they could live a successful life. The western capitalist offered a society of individual freedom thriving on supply and demand; but did not protect the worker under the state. The eastern communist celebrated the worker to where there was a stable job for everyone; a consistent way of life; but no opportunity for advancement. Neither side represented the country the German’s once identified themselves with.

Schneider illustrated his struggles with deciding which side was more favorable. He was originally from the west, but also found himself in the east. He spent many nights at bars on either side where he met up with his friend Robert and discussing stories of formed riots, unsatisfied citizens, and people attempting to jump the wall. Schneider described the east as a dark, grey, and quiet place where everyone seemed depressed. As he walked through the abandoned train stations, he noticed the absence of advertisements and media. The easterners were restricted from being exposed to any media, which was regulated by the government. The Soviet’s controlled what they wanted the easterners to hear about the west. There was no freedom of speech or individual rights permitted in the east. They were under such strict control that while Schneider was visiting his aunt in the east, he was unable to converse with his cousin, who was a soldier, because they were scared of Schneider’s influence. The westerners made a mockery of the east. There was a time Schneider caught a taxi in the west and the driver persisted on telling him and eastern joke. They did not respect the wall and the capitalist used it as another disadvantage of communism, ‘being caged in by a barrier’. The west was full of jazz music, lively night life, media & advertisements; which could give a false impression on how the living conditions really were. He was annoyed with pompous attitude of some people in the west who thought they were so much better than the east. Some people learned to forget that they were competing against their own people. The eastern began to think their fellow citizens had abandoned them. It was the control of these governing states that were applying these doubts and disputes among the Germans. His life along with many other German’s was unstable. His relationship with his girlfriend Lena was on the rocks while she was slowly dismissing him. He constantly struggled with how to identify himself within a state and as a German.

Although many people were unhappy about the economical system they were forced into, they were also crossing the wall for other various reasons. Many people were trying to reunite with their families while others were simply trying to overcome the challenge of crossing this forbidden barrier. The German’s became obsessed with the wall to the point where it became an irresistible task of defeat. Schneider told about a man named Kabe who crossed the wall 15 times. He was considered mentally unstable for his obscene actions, but he was simply curious. The German’s struggled with acknowledging the wall as a mental and physical barrier because it was not always a part of their history. Over the 28 years Berlin was divided by the wall there were broken relationships developed between the German people. Today, the German’s still identify themselves as an east or west Berliner. They do not want the misconception of belonging to the other state in which they do not support their beliefs systems. Twenty years have passed since the fall of the wall in 1989 and there is still a mental division of the city.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

The struggles of the Wall

Thursday we visited Charlies Checkpoint along with the wall museum and memorial. Charlies checkpoint was the main checkpoint were people were able to cross the wall from the east to the west. This checkpoint was highly regulated through security where passports were checked and cars where meticulously searched. It was much harder to cross into the west from the east than it was to cross the west from the east. No one wanted to join the eastern communist. The capitalist west was identified through the well known phrase 'the grass is greener on the other side'. The museum revealed personal stories of eastern Germans attempts to cross the wall where some of their attempts ended in death while others recieved their freedom. On June 17, 1953 there was a rise of the rebellion against the Soviet's rule. Many people were unhappy and disturbed by the wall that kept them seperated from their families and individual freedoms. Any person that attempted to cross the wall would be risking their life for a price they were willing to pay. Although most of the people would cross the wall to renite with their families, retrieve their workers rights, or return to their homes; but there were some that did it out of pure fascination of defeat. They did not like the idea of a seperating wall or physical barrier that had power over them. The Berlin Wall went through many phases of development, where the task of passing became more dangerous and difficult. At first the wall was made of coiled barbed wire and eventually progressed to a 13ft tall concrete wall. There was a wall just before the eastern border and a wall just beyond the western border. The area in between these two walls was called 'no man's land'. The Soviets built their wall several feet away from the border so they could more easily regulate and capture victims of escape. There were land mines, watch towers, and sensored guns located along the wall activated fire among any movement. It was a cold and dark place where not many people wanted to come near. But there were some German's that were desperate enough to go beyond all measuers. At the museum, there was an exhibit that told the story of a man that was hit 100 times by the automated guns and suffered much body damage, but was fortunate to survive. Some got scrapped up by barbed wire while others broke their bones from jumping off buildings. After many people had been risking their lives, they found other solutions to sneak people across the border. There were some special cars designed to fit people into the hood next to the engine where they laid snug in the fetal position. Others travelled across the border cramped up in luggage, welding machines, and speaker boxes. Over the years the Soviet's border patrol began to search more meticulously to where they had to develop more solutions for their escape. There was a miniature mobile submarine designed which included deep sea diver's equipment where they were able to cross the Baltic Sea. Some families resulted to lowering their children into deep underground tunnels. There were also people that made their own hot air balloons, where they would be taking the risk of a 'one trial only'. It was sad to hear the helplessness stories of these people when their cry for help could not be heard. The most distrubing part I found in the exhibition was the story of a women seperated from her children. She was a prisoner of the Soviet's for disobeying the law in her family's attempt to escape. During her jail time, she recieved mail in which she had to retrieve from the warden. It was an image of her with her two 5 year old daughters at a halloween carnival. The image struck her as odd when she realized her head had been cut out of the picture. She asked the warden if she had cut her head off and she claimed guilty. She said she needed to come to terms with her punishment and understand that her disobedience cost her her family. She had been stripped of her identity as a mother and will forever suffer the consequences. I felt great remorse for this women and couldn't image the pain of loosing my own children. After the wall fell, she got to reunite with her children as when they were at the age of 22.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Socialist + Communist + Capitalist

I have never been a knowledgeable expert on economical systems, but I have taken an interest in learning more through Berlin's economical struggles. After WWII, Germany was divided between the U.S., France, England, and the Soviet Union. The greatest opposition existed between the U.S. and S.U. because they both divided the city of Berlin into two halfs of different economical systems: capitalism vs. communism (DDR vs. SED). Although the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the division from the west and east is still evident through their post-war developments. The west thrived on capitalism where their streets were full of shops and businesses while the east built monumental architecture to symbolized national power. These structures still exist today which creates a visually permanent division of the city. There are still struggles in their unificationhaving because people still identify themselves from being a east or west Berliner. After the wall fell, both sides had different views on how they would reclaim their capital city. Developing a unified economical and social system remained a constant struggle.

Throughout the city, the paved streets have been marked with a division of a large stoned path where the wall once existed. As we crossed these past from the east to the west, there was sometimes a distinctive difference. Just past the Brandenburg Gate was the wall that divided west from the east. There are several Soviet Union monuments found in the east to symbolize the German's responsibility for WWII and the Soviet soldiers lost in the war. The Soviets wanted the German's to recognize pain and suffering they have caused to which these monuments serve as a constant reminder. The monument we visited today was tributed towards the Soviet soldiers. As we entered into the garden where the monument was located, we were perpendicular to the main axis. The quarter turn or axial shift after the statue of a crying women revealed a profound statement. The main enterance was denoted through two large stone walls angled towards each other, created a broken archway. Beyond the broken archway lied 5,000 barried soldiers along the main axis. On either side of the tombs were large carved stones illustrating the story of the war, told in both Russian and German dialect. The most profound aspect about the memorial was the large statue standing at the end of the axis. There stood a statue of a Soviet soldier holding a child with his sword crossed in the victorious position while stomping on a swastika. The scale of the statue stood high above the treeeline providing a powerful statement towards the German shame. Altogether, the memorial was impressive through its elongated axis and precise symmetry. We also took a tour around the communist housing complex in the east that featured a tribute towards Karl Marx, the founder of communism. The complex was located around a central courtyard with a Soviet sculpture on two intersecting axis. The monumental architecture presented in the complexes was similar to the architectural style Hitler was fascinated with. The buildings were striped of ornamentation and designed around function, order, and symmetry. The main focus was to symbolize power. There was no distinction from one building to the next, everything looked the same. This monumental style of architecture revealed the social systems of communism where social classes ceased to exist. In the east there was an equal body of people with no rights and no individuality; every aspect of their lives was controlled by the government. The constant struggle in Berlin's economical systems is mainly revealed in the Alexander Platz socialist T.V. tower, the socialist urban planning, and the Kurfurstendam capitalist street illustrating supply and demand. The past 30 years of Berlin's history have been spent healing the opposing economical forces that divided the east from the west while defining a unified system to identify the city within.