04 November 2012

The revivalists, triumphant

"It is the building that always catches and holds the sun in the grey centre of the city: its regime-orange reflective glass mirroring the setting sun perfectly, as it moves from panel to panel along its chequered surface, drawing you in to notice it on your way up the Unter den Linden to Alexanderplaz. For a time, when Berlin was still new to me, it was just another abandoned building of the former East, that beguiled me despite its apparent ugliness, tricking and teasing the light and flattering the sensible and solid nineteenth century cathedral opposite with its reflections. Only later did I learn that it was the Palast der Republik and former government building of the GDR, a contentious place that concealed its history in the opacity of its surface, but had now been run-down, stripped of its trimmings and was awaiting the verdict on its future.

It was built on the site of a grand baroque palace that was demolished in 1950. The revivalists want the palace back; they want to rebuild it in its wedding cake finery and pretend it was never not there. They want to re-imagine history and erase the Palast der Republik, so that we, in the future, can no longer guess at a past.

And then there are those who are fighting to keep the Palast standing, who believe to level such a building is to level memory, and that a city needs to keep its scars within the fabric of its architecture in order to preserve what our finite human memory will soon forget. Berlin needs to keep evidence of that other place: that country, and its corrupt mismanagement of a Utopia, that has now been crossed out as a mistake in the reckoning of history.

And then there are others, like me, who are attracted to the Palast for aesthetic reasons: the totalitarian aesthetic. We, who have no inkling of what the building meant when it had meaning, had no reason to look upon it and know the monster it contained – when the copper-tinted mirrored glass was not about catching reflections and deflecting the sun, but about looking in one direction only; about being observed without leave to observe.

When the Palast der Republik was first opened in 1976, it was clad in white marble with 180 metres of windowed façade, triumphant in its transparent splendor and so-named 'the house of a thousand windows'. There is now no trace of the white marble; the structure is raw wood and the windows are tarnished like dirty metal. It is as if the state is letting time make up its mind – letting entropy do the job and make the decision it is loath to make. But the sore in the centre of the city is too public, and so a month ago, the wedding cake won and the Palast der Republik was condemned. The revivalists were triumphant. Soon Museum Island will be homogenized into stone white fakery and will no longer twinkle with a thousand setting suns."

- Tacita Dean, text accompanying the film 'Palast,' 2004

No comments:

  © Blogger template 'Solitude' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP