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| Berlin: The
Politics of Order 1737-1989|
Published Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1990
CHAPTER 3 - Moving Pictures ::
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What follows are as images and notes form a scrapbook. So little survives of the past that any attempt at recollection is by necessity a recollection of fragments. They are documents of a passage through time in an around Leipziger Platz and it's alter ego Potsdamer Platz one a fragment of an ideal the other the product of commerce. Together they reveal the subtle and often hidden character of change. And this place was to sit within the epicenter of the most disturbing change. Walter Benjamin:
Just as all things in a perpetual mingling and contamination, are loosing their intrinsic character while ambiguity displaces authenticity, so is the city.
Consider the perception of reality as a wave-like force, changed as it is refracted through the differ-ent mediums of power and faith, and architecture is its apparently disordered residue, a residue made increasingly relative by time. The progression of realities from the 19th into the 20th century and into the present can be examined as layers of such residue surviving for the most part only in photographs. The few drawings and paintings seem to represent extremes of emotion unseen by the photograph. In contrast, the photograph offers evidence of time, and time passing that disturbs the imagination with a direct sense of loss. They are an exact imprint of reality from one place at one time. They record a great deal more than can ever be said and persist in showing the uneasy relation between stage and play. Photographs of places become, in time, complex documents of the conflicting ideals in the order of reality, showing the players caught in the stages of confusion. They provide painful evidence of the uncontrollable and often unacknowledged forces below the surface of experience, which may erupt when least expected to destroy the promise of a time and weaken the strength of desire. The camera is a time machine.
1900: The Potsdam Gates at the threshold of the millennium.
1909, The Wilhelmine PlayThis is a drawing of an imaginary scene across Leipziger Platz to Potsdamer Platz. It presents a fragment of the great city in the dreams of Kaiser Wilhelm. Though Gothic arcades extended round every face of the octagon, the restaging of Potsdamer Platz will be Roman; great temples will be built to house the many servants of royal capitalism. The road through Leipziger Platz is widened and marked along its ceremonial way by a parade of monuments from sacred and civic life. As it enters Potsdamer Platz, two votive columns carry tributes to the greatness of German Kings.
The drawing was made by Bruno Schmitz, the Kaiser's favorite architect. His thoughts on Leipziger Platz are overshadowed by the major work of creative life, the Volkerschlacht in Leipzig. It is to be the final mark of the victory in the Wars of Liberation, but above all it will embody the meta-physics of the Wilhelmine Empire. In a compliment to the revival of Rome on Potsdamer Platz, the Volkerschlacht seeks to resurrect the memory of ferocious earthly gods, unrelated to gentle notions from ancient or modem history. It is a bell-like mountain carved from solid rock, enclosing a vast cave ringed by a circle of giant medieval warriors. Each warrior is embedded in a huge primeval head. It is the intense physical expression of the desire to regain the Holy Roman Empire of Karl die Grosse, to forge a German Nation preeminent in Europe and the world. It reveals from the same hand the savage drama underlying the seemingly predictable play to be presented in Potsdamer Platz. The monument is completed in the first months of 1914, and on July 28 Germany invades Belgium; the war to end all wars has begun.
1913 PotsdamerstrasseThe photograph of 1913 is familiar. It is a view down Potsdamerstrasse towards Schinkel's gates to Leipziger Platz. In the foreground is the bridge over the Landwehrkanal where it passes under Potsdamerstrasse. It could be a street in any of the new commercial cities. It is defined by the rails of the streetcars, and is as much a product of industry as the factories, a place shaped to house, service and entertain the increasingly expanding and consuming bourgeoisie. It mimics the boulevards of Paris in a convenient alignment of troop movements and trolley cars.
The broad passage in the photograph is formed around the metal lines and seems to be cut from a solid mass of stone. This is a street constructed in its every detail to support and encourage trade. All who grew up since the last decades of the century know the city only as a theater of purchases, and within its streets, products are thrust at passersby and the walls speak. The texts on Potsdamerstrasse that day in 1913 still read: Max Dryer, Pianos and Grand Pianos; Stutterheim and Company, Mortgages and Building Loans. The trade of Lanzsch and Co. is lost in the trees; the Redner Akademie is either named for a man called Redner or is a school of public speaking. On the next block Neufeld's offers more pianos and Rosenfeld's enameled bronzes. Lost also in the trees are the stationers, the silk mercers, the photographers, the linen draperies, the milliners and costumiers. Above the shops in the old new homes the owners are content to co-exist with commerce. There is nothing pejorative in trade. Their incomes are all interconnected to the activities of the street below and the public face of their apartments is worn like a good coat.
Outwardly in this fortunate part of the city, nothing is being enhanced save a complacent consump-tion of the products of industry. Inwardly however, in the interiors of the apartments, a profound change is taking place. These newly affluent - freed for the first time in their history from the burden of mere survival - confident and self aware and married to all the new things coming from the factories, construct in their private rooms a personal universe. In it they gather scenes and objects from remote places and pasts. Drawing rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms all have become boxes in a world theater. Looking behind the walls of the photograph, personal realities are being constructed to ease repression and externalize desire, to stimulate erotic or exotic dreams: to be in Africa, in Byzantium, or in the stylized naturalism of the Jugendstil, all equally significant and insignificant. Within the limits of things manufactured, domestic reality has become the property of individual consciousness, composed of objects freed from singular notions of virtue or progress and no longer dependent on faith or the dictates of an aristocracy. Such power over fantasy must at some point in the future undermine the stage of public life.
Yet many interiors, as in the dark sanctuaries of ancient temples, indulge not in fantasy but in the illusion of an ordered reality, of time suspended. Some whisper in the desire for selfish godless immortality. Unseen in the photograph but underlying and constraining the perspective of all things is the conservatism and the imperialism of the Kaiser.
The people in the photograph seem so familiar and full of character: uniformed maids and civil servants, carters, coachmen, soldiers, walking or riding on trolleys, horse buses, auto cars, carriages, trucks, bicycles, all held in a confidence and energy appropriate at this insignificant moment in time. It is confidence made buoyant in the shift from feudal order to an order of industrial capital, yet the multiplicity of manufactured things and realities veils profound divisions: divisions between the extremes of affluence and poverty confused by the products of industry. Divisions between the conservative projects of nationalism and royal predestination and the Marxist socialism uniting the laboring masses. Trapped in the divide the middle classes seek security in privacy and invisibility
1980, PotsdamerstrasseThe city is like a chimera and the pursuit of its essential nature can be seen as a process of successive approximation. The photograph is of a narrow field of grass bordered by leafless trees. It appears to be in a suburban area where farms and town meet. The photographer is trying to deceive. The land on each side of the field is fenced. There are small buildings in the fields; they appear to be garages or workshops. To the right, mostly hidden by the trees, is a tall structure of an ambiguous character. (Keep this in mind for you have seen it before.) The building at the extreme left is too distant, and too faint on the photograph to be understood. This is a nondescript place, without distinction, and only through the use of words, through the telling of stories can it be given significance. But words only remotely represent reality. Words present not an approximation, but an independent existence which may entertain the imagination but essentially creates its own reality.
The photographer seeks to shock. A great street has been reclaimed by nature. Trees preserve a memory now replanted, for this was once a grand boulevard in imitation of Paris; beneath the grass horses galloped, pulled carriages and carts, and on metal rails trolley cars rolled by shops and cafes beneath the balconies of grand apartments. Fragments of the curbs and cobblestones and rails, and drains and sewers and conduits still lie beneath the grass, and in the distance (unseen in the photograph) a wall blocks what was once a gateway to the city. The deliberate act seeks to destroy the old order, the old relationship, but a trace of the road moves through the wall and continues into the outline of an octagon. The significance of this photograph lies in the mind and in the imagination. The building behind the trees is present in the view from 1913 in the middle distance on Potsdamerstrasse. This is the scene in 1980 of the scene from 1913.
'Frauen am Potsdamer Platz' Women on Potsdamer Platz, 1914.On Potsdamer Platz, uncon-cerned with war, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner confronts what he both loathes and yet finds irresistible - street life in the corrupt city. In Dresden he had painted in nature, seeking the expression of emotional freedom, seeking to be cleansed from the pollution of materialism. To hold the immediacy of the mo-ment, the woodblock view south from the center of Potsdamer Platz has been cut with the knife directly into the wood; sensual expression is all. To make it he stood between the gates in the Schmitz drawing. In the background is the Potsdamer railway station through which so many thousands have come to the city. In the background also, a random array of predatory males appears to circle the two women, two whores, who stand on Schinkel's circle. All misplaced, for the print from the block is the reverse of reality. Nothing is certain, nothing is clear; here is not pessimism but recognition of the increasingly restless nature of all circumstance. The Wilhelmine dream of everlasting order is an absurdity in the face of the disturbed realities of city life. Only an autocracy removed from circum-stance could sustain such desire. Only a plutocracy seduced by the illusions of the new materialism could be so blind.
From two million in 1900, Berlin's population has begun to soar. At the brink of war it nears three million. The city has become a voracious and pitiless organism sucking the rural populations into its all consuming maw - people drawn not so much by opportunity as by dreams of having a part in the play of automobiles and elevated railways and department stores against the brilliant shows of wealth and inven-tion under the electric lights and neon displays. They dream still of the idea of liberty and free associa-tion among a million different people far from the suffocating conventions of provincial life.
1914, The Wertheim Department Store from the Potsdam Gates: Begun in 1896 and designed over several years by the architect Alfred Messel it was completed in great confidence in 1904. The women in Kirchner's drawing look through the Potsdam Gates across the Leipziger Platz to the view in the photograph from the same year (perhaps the same day) of The Wertheim Department Store, some say the grandest theater of trade in Europe. The Baedeker guide in 1901 wrote:
"- Wertheim's Emporium, erected by Messel in 1897 and enlarged in 1899, is an excellent type of modem German commercial house. The front of the building which covers 9,000 square yards is 320 feet long and consists throughout of granite pillars ornamented with metal-work; the back of the building in the Voss Strasse is also worthy of notice. The interior well repays a visit; visitors need not make any purchase. The glass covered inner court contains a statue of industry by Manzel and pictures of harbors by Koch and Gehrke; in the west portion of the building is an art salon.
Nowhere in the Western world is the act of buying elevated to such a refined experience; no stage so perfectly enhances what Marx has called "the theological whims of goods," the process by which the exchange value of commodities is glorified by illusion and fantastic association eclipsing their intrinsic value. Wertheim in all its parts is illusion in the service of consumption. The massive arcade on the Achteck carries what appears to be a place of public assembly beneath a great roof. Is there duplicity in the recollection of the memory of the medieval hall of the craft guilds, in the subtle symbolism aligning trade with a time when labor was dignified in the national history?
There is around us an absurd proliferation of unnecessary things existing merely to be consumed. This has produced a painful burden on a majority only beginning to adjust to possibilities of life beyond mere survival. For those who can afford to buy, consumption requires a new form of obedience to authority, and in a paradox of freedom it nurtures the lower classes into conservatism. But for those too poor to buy, it pushes their already marginal position within the new scheme of things to break point.
The Wertheim Department Store 1914. 'Grosser Lichthof.'The most imposing public presence on the east side of Leiziger Platz is not a ministry or a judicial building but a department store. The great roof-lit hall at the center of the store, has a quite conscious Byzantine character, a faint memory of the omniscience of Hagia Sophia. In the interior of Wertheim's the illusion changes. The noble public face is a mask behind which is concealed a sensual pleasure palace. In cultivating the aura in which the value of goods is glorified, the artist has surrounded the objects of desire with feelings of the exotic, the delightful, the slightly mysterious and sinful. The interior is a brilliant fusion of realities drawn from the world's expositions and advances in science and engineering, garnished with a hint of the oriental bazaar. Under the great roof-lit halls, soft voiced unhurried salesmen-priests serve as intermediaries in elevating the worth of objects, and the act of buying and selling is performed as an act of worship.
Architecture has moved far from the simple heroic constructions of Friedrich Gilly on the memory of whose monument Wertheim's faces. It has moved from being an art capable of making the transitory permanent to become itself a product of the transitory. Yet some feel being forced to invent complex allegories and tell rich and wonderful lies, for whatever reason, has made it much stronger and much more deceptive. Architecture, after all, has always sought to coerce and deceive in the interest of the ambitions of one minority or other, and the amorality of this cause has not detracted from the pleasure in the experience.
'Widmung an Oscar Panizza' (Requiem for Oscar Panizza)
Painted between 1917 and1918 after he was discharged from the army as mentally unfit. "Widmung an Oskar Panizza" is everywhere in the center of Berlin in deliberate chaos, in a riotous dance of death and life. Georg Grosz in madness was dis-charged from the army so he could contemplate the madness in the world. He said he began this painting in 1917 and had to complete it before the War's end. It anticipates not just the defeat of Germany, but the shattering of the bourgeois confidence. It is the dialectical act of the cynic undermin-ing any path to reason. Witness the whining of the deceived bourgeoisie.
While the paint is still wet the Kaiser has fled and the veil of Wilhelmine desire has been swept away. And behind it many different eyes are for the first time able to acknowledge what they see, to awaken to many realities. The exhausted German war machine concedes defeat in the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918. In the end, the war kills and maims forty million people. It utterly destroys one illusion only to provoke a thousand others in brilliant confusion and agony. The city in the days after the end of the war is in shock and near madness. For the many returning from years of battle the collapse of social order in the city acts like the bursting of a dam. All the pent up anger and frustration rages out in a torrent of violence concentrated by the Socialists under the Spartacist banner led by Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg. They rage to prevent the forces of Capital from occupying the center of power. They rage for the idea of a worker's state. They are defeated by a government militia of co-opted ex-soldiers. Liebnecht and Luxemburg are arrested and killed by their military captors, their bodies found in the Landwehr Canal near where it passes under Potsdamerstrasse.
1919, Visions from Potsdamer Platz IThe city is Berlin. The two pavilions suggested in the foreground indicate that the great tower was placed in his Imagination close to Leipziger Platz. A watercolor painting by Hans Scharoun and a charcoal drawing by Mies Van der Rohe, they are visionary images from two young architects in the spring of 1919 and would be seen across the city from Potsdamer Platz. They are reflections of the desire to create objects through whose powerful and virtuous presence the culture would be reformed and restored. They are "stadtkrone," city crowns, cathedrals of the new beginning and the new age. Scharoun's drawing burns with the intensity of ecstatic revelation; it is an object of sensual freedom, of solitary genius, of purification; it as the biblical Burning Bush, yet it is willing the age of Dionysus. It is a paradox in the echoes of Nietzsche and of Schinkel's monument to freedom.
1919, Visions from Potsdamer Platz IIThe drawing of van der Rohe is as a silent scream for reason and apriori order, in the midst of the chaos. Utterly devoid of sensuality, its passions lie in the belief in an ultimate reality. Both believe they have created allegories on the ideal structure of political power. Both refuse to speak from the language of history, yet in their silence they present a thesis and anti-thesis in reality. For Scharoun, the new future is to be founded in sensual experience, in an existential fusion of the social masses. For Mies van der Rohe the future is to be disciplined by the past in the ordered harmonics of geometric reason.
1924, Visions from Potsdamer Platz IIIIn the summer of 1924 while dictating Mein Kampf in the Landsberg Fortress, Adolf Hitler makes a number of small drawings. Some are simply doodles of personal dreams, but two are conceived and framed in his imagination to oppose all the devastating disorder destroying the nation. The economy has collapsed under the crushing burden of reparations. To a people for whom freedom has been continually denied, the collapse of all order releases them into a world without constraints encouraging extremes of degradation, of sensual experiment, of exploitation. Hitler dreams, as Scharoun and Mies before him, of creating vast symbolic constructions to compel unity among the people, reform the state and restore strength to the idea of Germany. The imperialism of his project differs from the Wilhelmine Empire only in the pretense of displacing the will of the Kaiser with the will of the masses. The great pantheon in his imagination is to become the weldkrone, the crown of a new world order; the triumphal arch is to celebrate the victory and remember all who would die in his cause. And architecture is to provide the order and the symbol for the redemp-tion of the West.
1927, "Berlin, die Sinfonie der Grossstadt"In Walter Ruttmann's film "Sym-phony of a Great City, Potsdamer Platz becomes the fulcrum in the acceleration of disjointed experience in a day in the life of the city, a city moving out of control, out of the control of predictable order, out of the control of reason. Passages of experience and movement and event and fragment are assembled to present the dissonance of the new city life, a dissonance deeply disturbing to the simple and predictable notions of order and stability in the dreams of the petit bourgeois. Ruttmann's city no longer embodies any simple idea of itself. It cannot be known save through the continually changing kaleidoscope of autonomous rhythms significant only to the machines and their masters. Against the dawning silhouette of Wertheim's as some specter of a dead age, the insane passage of cabs of buses of steam trains and electric subways overwhelms all else in his play of the city. Slaves to the order of auto motion in this play of the city, the actors around the octagon dodge the traffic, seek shelter from the rain, and fall back from the rush of the fire engines. And in the vortex of motion and text Potsdamer Platz frames the only words that move out of the action onto the screen:
'MORD, BORSE, HElRAT,É GELD, GELD, GELD'
(MURDER, STOCK MARKET, MARRIAGE,... MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. )
There is both confusion and general insignificance in most experience of place, and into the 1920's notions of even simple meaning in any reality seem to be disappearing beneath collapsing institutions and the omnipresence of movement and electric energy. The liberal capitalism of the Weimar Republic is creating a giddy unstable freedom. Caught and overwhelmed in the spiraling floods of confused energy, life for the city masses seems to revolve with the incongruous gaiety of a carousel in a graveyard. Nothing has compensated for the loss of place and the loss of meaning. Although it has been ten years since the end of the war the people still feel broken, still feel as disconnected as the rubble in the streets. They had not realized that they only understood themselves and others in relation to the Kaiser. Does this explain the mood of anarchy and the sexual ambiguity which is suddenly all around?
Beneath the veneer of liberalism the political struggle continues and the glut of commodities and the machines of conveyance progressively remove the last vestiges of all past notions of harmony and stability. City life can no longer be understood in terms of personal relationships but only in the random association between changing objects of desire; it has become a life of vicarious and empty excitement in time and movement. Architecture, history's most forceful instrument of permanence, disintegrates into commodification and expedient desire, along with all else.
1929 "Die Kaufman von Berlin"The opening was clearly a success. The theater was crowded but it was the vast photomontage filling the whole stage that has left the deepest impression. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a gifted teacher at the Bauhaus, in setting the scene for Walter Mehring's "The Salesman from Berlin," publicly proclaims the replacement of singular dominant realities by the multiplicity of simultaneous events and acts that have overwhelmed city life. He depicts a fragmented city of events and acts and objects all mutually independent yet dependent, and all meaningful only in terms, some say, of their relativity in the passages through space in time. For others, city life resembles a great barricade blocking the way to an ordered future. They say that meaning in reality has been totally lost, and for the State to regain its purpose a clear dominating order will have to be imposed again on all things.
1930 on the south side of Potsdamer Platz.Was the past more receptive to photography than the present? Or will it always be so? The photographer working in Berlin during the 20's expressed the view that the city was becoming less and less able to be photographed. Persistent movement, he said, was eroding the idea of place, but the photographer is merely an agent, he cannot understand what he sees. He stands exactly where Kirchner's 'Women' stood before him and sees a place of many realities. On the left the Pschorr Haus is met and opposed by the powerful streamlines of the Telschow Haus in which architecture has become a neutral presence whose surfaces carry the messages of the commercial city. On the right, in the distance, between the Hotel Furstenhof and the Potsdam Station stands the Haus Vaterland.
1930, Picture postcard of "Haus Vaterland" from Potsdamer PlatzThe picture postcard of Haus Vaterland from Potsdamer Platz in 1929. 'Haus Vaterland' opened on the south side of Potsdamer Platz September 1, 1928. The view is taken from the center of Potsdamer Platz looking south, on the left is the Hotel Furstenhof. The dome on the comer contains a faint memory of the Schmitz project for the Potsdamer Platz from 1909.The House of the Fatherland opened on the south side of Potsdamer Platz in September 1928. The signs brightly lit in the evening read "Kempinski's House of the Fatherland." It is the creation of the great Jewish impresario and restaurateur Kempinski who took a dull collection of Wilhelmine entertainment halls and cafes and transformed them into a fantasy world. It is a sexual object; like a bordello, it allows for the purchase and consumption of sensual experiences. Masked balls are held in the Court of the metallic palms; the gender of the participants is as ambiguous as the vegetation. Movies are shown in a drum ringed by neon lights insulated and isolated from the real world. Despite what has happened, love of fatherland can still be glorified for commercial gain. The whole concept, though vulgar, is full of the Wilhelmine spirit. In the view from Potsdamer Platz Haus, Vaterland even looks like the work of Bruno Schmitz.
There is enough of a sense of indignation with the way some of the world has treated Germany that only nations who supported the Kaiser's grand play have been allowed to take part - with the exception, that is, of the bounteous and inspiring United States of America. France, Britain and most of Northern Europe have been excluded in favor of a Turkisches Cafe from the comer of a seraglio, a Spanish Bodega under vast Romanesque vaults and a suitably rustic Hungarian village inn, the Puszta Czarda. The exuberance of the illusions grows in intensity the closer the stages come to the heart of the Fatherland. In the Grinzinger Heuriger, we sit in a wine garden in front of a painted Winerwold looking at the evening panorama of the city. On a model in meticulous detail, all Vienna is reconstructed, and tiny motor vehicles can be seen moving down great boulevards under electric lamps the size of matchsticks. In the Bavarian beer hall from Lowenbrau, we watch the sun rising on the Zugspitze through a great window capturing with radiant effect the rose veil that briefly seems to envelop all the world. And on the Rheinterrasse our hearts pound as we are subjected to the furious storm that is staged every hour on the hour. We are placed by the window on an enclosed terrace high above the Rhine in imitation, and watch the clouds become ever darker and the wind buffet the metal roof and torrential rains thrash against the cafe window. And late night after wandering in the city we end up at the Wild West Bar and pretend to be Tom Mix. Those who later may mistake all this for the pursuit of trivial nostalgia will fail to see behind the theatrics the most satisfying promise of modern technology, the mass gratification of the senses.
In all its deception this is the authentic face of the modern age. In the cinemas and in the multiple illusions of Haus Vaterland, the people can forget or ignore the unresolved conflicts in the life of the city. What for the overly serious bourgeois intellectual is an all consuming vortex of mindless illusion spiraling towards the fragmentation and destruction of city life, is for the producers of the commercial city a wonderful explosion on synthetic realities relieving and veiling the actual conditions of life and work. And the power of illusion satisfies and gratifies while offering sensual and unthreatening realities designed to be used and consumed by all. Loss of place and loss of meaning has being replaced by the commodification of reality: a much less ambitious project for the culture and for architecture. But it is a circus without bread.
1901, looking north from Potsdamer PlatzA wide-angle view in time. two photographs taken thirty years apart, which, but for the lens on the cameras, offer essentially the same optical perspective, in contrast to the radical shift in the cultural perspective. In the first photograph, Schinkel's gate pavilions to Leipziger Platz are present but obscured by trees. On the left is the Hotel Der Furstenhof, an object whose worldview belongs to the middle of the previous century, a modest place content to lie in the background, and only objects of the Crown and the state are allowed to be detached. On the comers opposite are two very similar hotels, the Bellevue and the Palast. Compared with Furstenhof these are places all gussied up to be noticed, entertaining masks of commercial enterprise. All the objects in view are linked by a classical perspective with its promise of permanence and stability: classical forms, which, it is hoped, will prevent contradictions in the progress from desire to fulfillment.
Shift the reconstructions from fragments of experience to fragments of material: on the trolley cars above the windows, narrow rectangular panels carry words. They are made to be permanent, blue letters on white background baked in enamel on a metal plate. The words can no longer be read. Consider what is happening behind the surface: maids dusting hotel rooms, some sex in the afternoon, heart attacks, complacency, failure, and a faint smell of beer in the air all present at this exact place in time.
Observe the players: they wander casually across the streets, among traffic whose pace is little faster than footsteps. The tower of the Reischstag can be seen above the roofs of Bellevuestrasse. The mood is relaxed. There is clear diversity of style and class. Even in busy places people such as these know each other: shop keepers wave, the carters and coachmen and drivers of trolley cars pass and greet and tease each other every day. All walk in different directions under the guidance of the Emperor. On the right a trolley is emerging between Schinkel's Gates in front of the 'Hotel Palast' and in the foreground is the forecourt of the Potsdamer Bahnhof.
1932, looking north from Potsdamer PlatzThough the camera has a different lens, the viewpoint, the roof of the Potsdamer Bahnhof is exactly the same as the view from 1901. The two constants are the 'Palast Hotel' and the station forecourt in the foreground. Comparing the view of 1932 with 1901, on the left an apartment building has given way to an allegorical product of commerce, the beer hall, constructed by the brewery Pschorr and built in the form of the town hall, with tower, flag, and heraldic device over the entrance. Drinking and eating are ennobled by the association with civic life. On the right the Hotel Der Furstenhof has metamorphosized into the fat child of consumerism. Competition with the Hotel Palast has driven architecture into consuming space, and into a modish dress. Its presence on the street is more concerned with energy than with symbol, more with presence than with signification. Its sur-faces are not made to be read, not meant to evoke memories; they press on the experience of the street and breath heavily. They stimulate the consumption of the language until it loses all meaning or reference; they convey the transformation from a literate architecture to a physical architecture, a passage from mind to body, and the consequent death of the idea of the classical. A first attempt at reading sees its swollen form as a direct product of the expansion in the demand for hotel accommodation, resulting from the railway. But what lies behind the mask? Out of what desire has it been formed? The great roof gives a late medieval cap to the walls, which are formed in a strange blend of the classical and the mechanical. The figures on the upper terrace appear caught between orgy and obedience. This is a deliberate fantasy, which, with pleasure, destroys the constraints of language and style, destroys the nar-row frames within which scholarship had limited the inheritance from past ages. It is a violation and a heresy, yet in consuming the forms of past realities, fantasy gives freedom from the recollection of history. A second reading sees in the architectural form an act of cultural subversion, an act which makes possible a compounding of realities, an act which destroys the autocratic power of architecture, and mocks its mysteries.
In the center the Hotel Palast continues undisturbed, surviving the competition without transformation. But on the opposite corner the Grand Hotel Bellevue, sister to the Palast, has failed. Competition has driven it into bankruptcy. The rule of the commercial city is that unprofitable flesh, no matter how beautiful, must be removed. It has been replaced by an object wholly in opposition to all that surrounds it. It will be called COLUMBUS HAUS. The new name conveys the shift in the mood of the culture from genteel French reflection, "Bellevue" to a word loaded with the promise of the new world.
1946, looking north from Potsdamer PlatzEvery building is in ruins and will disappear.
Into this vortex of mechanized consumption, of rocks and rivers, of conservatives and radicals, Columbus Haus has been placed as an object of redemption, a spatial synthe-sis through which the path to pure reason can be rediscovered. It is the ultimate object of negation, conceived in rejection of the degeneration that obsessive consumption is causing to the idea of culture; it is conceived to break the conspiracy between architecture and the persistence of the memory of Rome, the dangerous and uncontrolled evocation of ancient Gods and mysteries. It is as if architecture had become naked, shedding all deception to purify itself and purify the city. To the question "What time was this place?" the architect would answer "future time." To the question "What culture was this place?" the architect would answer, "all cultures," an honest answer that, however, belies the more complex philosophical dimension in his desire for a new order. The architect is Eric Mendelsohn, the most successful commercial architect in Berlin and a Jew
It is the fruit of a deep dissatisfaction, and of reforming desire. The fantasies of Haus Vaterland do not satisfy the chiliastic dreams of an aggressive avant-garde willing the advent of a new age. All children of the conservative Wilhelmine bourgeois, they seem driven to expiate an inherited guilt from their parents in their obsession to construct a future in the antithesis of Wilhelmine permanence. They have revived in an extreme form of Liberalism the pre-industrial vision of modernism: the desire to abstract experience and reality from all the polluting language and unreasonable influence of commerce, to reestablish what has never existed, a pure untainted presence, carte blanch for the future. And they believe that this fluid pure state will have the power to coexist with the inevitable instability in the future, will establish a dynamic balance in the relationship between all that is animate and inanimate. Thus they despise the meretricious pandering of the Haus Vaterland. The midnight revelers, after playing Tom Mix in the Wild West Bar, are confronted across the trolley rails of Potsdamer Platz by the zealous presence of Columbus Haus glowing under brilliant floodlights.
Yet there was more substance to Haus Vaterland with its insignificant illusions than Mendelsohn recognized. The ephemeral pleasures in the allegorical fantasies in Haus Vaterland and in all the other objects of the commercial city were not merely entertaining, in them the illusion of reality was for the first time shaped to seduce rather than dominate a mass audience, however pandering.
1934, the view from Potsdamer PlatzA military band is marching into Potsdamer Platz past Schinkel's Gates and crossing in front of Columbus Haus. Hitler has moved into the old Reich Chan-cellery on Voss Strasse, one block north of Leipziger Platz. It is winter and there is snow on the ground and already the imperial style of the new regime is emerging.
1936, Haus Vaterland at night.Dimly behind the street sign on the left, a kiosk marked by eagle and swastika demands all help in the struggle against hunger and cold. Haus Vaterland is no less an object of illusion than is Columbus Haus. They are both rivers of a kind, both in opposition to autocratic order, both searching for the furthest extension of modem experience. Both emerge from Berlin's Jewish culture. The strength of Haus Vaterland is in its amoral speculation in all the pleasures of the modem age. The strength of Columbus Haus is in its desire for a state of clarity that has never been. It is all in the moral premise of the illusion, and chance places both houses at the center of forces in extremes of opposition; primeval bedrocks are continually present below the surface of mercurial desire.
Elsewhere the Hotel Palast and on Wertheim's and from the roofs and walls of every building hang the red, white and black symbol of the state, the Swastika. Throughout the City center thousands upon thousands of swastikas redress reality. Its ancient mystical character gives a metaphysi-cal dimension to the cultural revolution, and Hitler's administration taken the assets of Haus Vaterland from the Kempinski family and will remove the name from the walls.
If architecture is what is left when all else is removed, it frequently leaves very little, and what there is can only provide an imperfect representation of anything. Yet in its imperfection it persists in touch-ing the mind and placing the self in relation to all else. Knowledge of the reality below the surface of things is continually being felt, continually being experienced and interpreted. Experientially it can mean the difference between the plowed field and the forest, between being forced to march in ranks or being allowed to wander free, between walking and running and rioting and dancing. Evolution in nature is imperceptibly slow. It is man's artifacts and acts which create the consciousness of progress or regress. It is man's action that extends the idea and experience of time beyond the rhythms of nature. In forty years the ideas that have shaped this double place - Potsdam and Leipziger Platz - have moved from the resurrection of the authority of history to the consumption of history to the rejection of history: from armor, to costume, to nakedness in which each change of garb does not replace the previous but leaves an ever increasing stage of confusion. And despite the passionate actions of Mendelsohn and others, the idea of architecture in this place has shifted from the desire for objects of eternal worth to the fabrication of genteel masks, disposable skins continually changing their form and texture in the process of speculation and consumption. Architecture has begun to deceive in abstraction or picturesque illu-sion, comforting and dreaming and concealing the gathering opposition to the idea of freedom.
The city along with all else is thus dividing, but the nucleus of its power remains intractably conservative. A hundred years of refusal to resolve the conflict between the autocrats and the masses is blurred in the drunken frenzy that propels Berlin into the 30's, stimulated by the indulgence of indus-trial capitalism - blurred until refocused by Hitler and the project of National Socialism.
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