Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Photo Journal: Berlin 11.2011

The capital city, with a high concentration of 
construction sites in the last twenty years, is fervently 
rebuilding itself as the centre of Europe.

Topographie des Terrors

Apart from being an outdoor museum on location where the Gestapo and SS Headquarters once stood, it also lies adjacent to a long stretch of the Berlin Wall, forming a time-space continuum. The Documentation Centre, designed by Heinle, Wischer und Partner, houses an extensive permanent exhibition of atrocities committed under the police state.

This is one of the programme types in Germany that can be measured up as an architecture of dignity.


What was buried permanently in history includes the original design by an enigmatic Peter Zumthor in 1993.  The construction works was grinded to a halt, left idled for ten years and eventually demolished in 2004.  Few know if the existing architectural end product, somewhat unfinished in appearance due to its prefab-looking structure and the overstretched site, had been a backlash of the aborted scheme.


(drawings Peter Eisenman)

The 2711 concrete blocks, sitting on an undulating terrain has an absorbing presence even after years of coverage in media.  Unlike other works by Peter Eisenman, the memorial’s abstract configuration might have saved this project from datedness. (The sculptor - Richard Serra collaborated on this winning entry but withdrew after the competition. Little had changed on design after it was built.)


The subterranean gallery – “Place of Information” designed by Dagmar von Wilcken, is worth the wait despite queuing up in the cold open air.  The exhibits, common in most Holocaust exhibitions in Germany, are organized in a matter-of-fact approach that do not evoke sentimentalism.

Jüdisches Museum

Daniel Libeskind’s one-hit wonder seems to have himself obsessed with the theme of fragmentation that the architect is stuck with this expression in his later projects.  Admittedly this language is well suited for the museum extension programme; and both the architect and institution have fittingly received acclaims.

While the museum deserves better engagement with the exteriors, the Garden of Exile and Holocaust Tower conceived for visitors' experiences of concrete and steel, are too deterministic from the architect to create drama.  The contrived play of imagery through architectonic manipulations alone could hardly resonate to produce true reflections.  

One has to be there to experience Shalekhat (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman.  The installation is beyond what words can describe.  The combined effects of the environs, tactility and sound imprint upon people anguish, if not indelible memories, associated with human-inflicted sufferings.


Foster sketches - the architect’s fundamental design 
inspirations based on a mentality of problem-solving, not vision.  
(sketches Norman Foster)

The German parliament building, renovated by Norman Foster, is manifested through an empiricist intention of demonstrating transparency of governance.  The nature of goodwill is noted.  Nonetheless, it would be naïve to believe that government institutions are simple guardian angels of the people; the fact is they can only be open and transparent as far as conditions allow.  You only see what you are supposed to see.

The glass dome is accessible to the public amid tight security measures and only after filing personal details through on-line registration.  In so far as personal experience tells, it is only a horizontal Ferris wheel that resembles a stage-setting. 

Museumsinsel (Museum Island)

The original Egyptian collection at the Neues Museum in 1943.  No barricades could stop the Allied bombing that almost levelled the building. (image ∣ German government archive)

The restoration work (completed in 2009) by the so-called minimalist architect David Chipperfield is an outstanding case of contemporary heritage preservation.

Guarding lions in the style of the Ptolemaic era. The sandstone sculptures, with fracture in places, were completely charred during WWII.

Regiment of stone carvings.

The sun god of Helios.

L’age d’airain (The Age of Bronze) by Rodin at the 
Alte Nationalgalerie – a demeanour full of ambiguities. 

Unknown angel at the Altes Museum.  Could anyone 
provide its proper information?

The angel that sparked the mental connection had its origin in Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire”, shot in the pre-unified Berlin, 1987.  This dramatic shot is Ola Mafaalan’s adaptation of the film into a play for the American Repertory Theatre in 2006.

The magnificent content of the five houses at the island museum is undeniable.  The Altes Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues Museum are exemplary efforts to re-vamp old establishments.  However, the Bode-Museum and Pergamonmuseum seem not to fare as good.  The latter has such stifling air quality that I had to make my exit within thirty minutes.

The original masterplan of the museum island conceived by Chipperfield in coordination with O.M. Ungers and other architects in the 1990’s.  The reconfiguration project is still undergoing construction phase.  
(image David Chipperfield Architects)

Museum für Gegenwart (Hamburger Bahnhof)

“Cloud Cities” by Tomas Saraceno is a summation of earlier works including the rope formation of “14 Billions” and inflated cocoon of “Girasol (Turning City)”.  The work at the main hall is almost monumental yet overly suggestive with the deployment of water and plants on the discourse of habitable space.  

Pushing limits, his latest work of “On Space Time Foam” in Milan 2012 is quite remarkable - personal experience pending.

Joseph Beuys, Infiltration – Homogen für Cello, 1967

Joseph Beuys, Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts 
(The End of the 20th Century), 1982-83

As controversies subside over the years, Beuys’ oeuvre - progressive as much as mythical, has become for most readers a preference based on taste rather than ideology.  The permanent exhibition also accompanied the show “8 Days in Japan and the Utopia of Eurasia” recollecting in video format the artist’s visit of Japan in 1984.  

Absalon, Cellule No. 2, 1992

It is one of the six cells supposed to be lived in by the artist in six cities.  His untimely death in 1993 renders this incomplete project an open case for imagination.

Referring this project and modern architect, he said: “The great difference between a modernist and me is that a modernist thinks about the world, how to make it better, how to sort it out.  Whereas I am not thinking about changing the world, like the avant-garde might have done, I am thinking about changing my life.”

Bruce Nauman, Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does 
Not Care, 1984. (Exhibited under the new title: Dream Passage)

Nauman’s effort makes an absorbing comparison with that of Absalon in the sense that he was trying to deal with space-time from a mind-to-matter approach, whereas Absalon seemed to investigate the subject in reverse order.  Interesting enough, the works themselves are uncannily transpired with opposite visual attributes.

Andy Warhol, Mao, 1973

Eye of the beholder: Substituting Mao’s head with that of Stalin or Ceausescu, one would be able to see Warhol’s giant print in different light.  This work is only more relevant in Germany.

Anselm Kiefer, Mohn und Gedächtnis, 1989.

I am almost convinced of his works especially after the monographic video documentary “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow”.  His latest series “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” have been succumbed to full-blown enterprising exploits most famous artists are tempted with.

“Diamat” – the bicycle weighed with oversized lead books 
and in front of the painting at White Cube Hong Kong.

Berlin Philharmonie for free

It is worth everyone’s effort to attend the free lunchtime concert at the foyer, scheduled and published in most “what’s on” magazines in Berlin.  The quality of music and spirit of anticipation was amazing.

Walking with architecture

Apart from those described above, there are some other buildings as seen from the “pedestrian” level.

Park Kolonnaden, Potsdamer Platz

(typical floor plan Giorgio Grassi architetto)

Few renowned architects realize less works than Giorgio Grassi (1935- ).  The contentions surrounding the architect is largely based on his formal approach to architecture, uncompromising to the verge of being labeled a reductivist.  His architecture represents a small but stern opponent to commercial tastes.

Presentation drawing by Rossi indicating 
attempts to blend in with the surrounding.  
(image Aldo Rossi archive)

Although sympathetic to his historicist discourse in Italy, Aldo Rossi’s palazzo styled Quartier Schützenstraße looks passé and out of place in a German context.  However it is yet in better shape than his corner block at Wilhemstrasse – a state of dilapidation comparable with its architectural merit.

Street Scenes

One of the prominent relics that survives the DDR era - the television tower (the Fernsehturm).  At 368m, it could well be the tallest communist structure in the world.

Japanese students in front of the Brandenburg Gate.  They have a lot to learn from the host country on the attitude of facing up to history.

The remodeling of the Potsdamer Platz has been marred by a series of bad judgments since its drawing board stage in the early 1990’s.     Propped by a stellar line-up of designers, many buildings here have demonstrated over time to be a huge disappointment, the urban space a characterless wind-sweep.

Potsdamer Platz and the adjoining Leipziger Platz according to Giorgio Grassi.  Common to most competition schemes, the chosen entry designed by Renzo Piano and Christoph Kohlbeckers could not elevate itself from historicist dogmas. 
(drawing Giorgio Grassi architetto)

Still, construction works remain unabated. Disposing ground water, the painted drainpipes steal the limelight more effectively than the renewed urban landscape.

The Neue Synagogue at Oranienburger Straße – a street with smart collection of bars, restaurants and shops.  The neigbourhood is also well-known for its prostitution rackets.

Berlin street walkers portrayed by Kirchner in “Potsdamer Platz, 1914”.  More Expressionist paintings by Die Brüke are displayed in the Neue Nationalgalerie and Brüke Museum.

Badly neglected during the DDR period, the Hackesche Höfe courtyards have been revamped with Jugendstil detailing.  The district of Mitte also bears witness to the construction of many tenement blocks to meet the influx of migrate workers in the 1900s; traces of these utilitarian brick buildings can still be found.

Galleries and restaurants are now packed in this gentrified courtyard district.

Bike shop at Oranienburger Straße.  The neon delivers casually as a joke on ‘Riding Bikes’ by Robert Rauschenburg, which is located at the Potsdamer Platz.

One year on since this photo was taken, the Syrians are still fighting for freedom.

Some of ‘who’s who’ in Berlin

K F Schinkel (1781-1841), the cemetery at Dorotheenstadt

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), the cemetery at Dorotheenstadt

Copper plaques (stolpersteine) with names and descriptions commemorating Nazi victims including gays, invalids, gypsies, communists and Jews.

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