Wednesday, September 30, 2009


This summer, I found two themes wove their way in and out of and between virtually all my experiences: melancholy and time, and probably the relationship between them as well. I am choosing to use melancholy, because I do not want to use Hüzün for cases unlike those described by Pamuk. Or, I do not want to use it to describe a dull, lingering sadness that is solitary. I’ll start with the slight but jarring shifts in my understanding of myself. It was like that story, of catching a glimpse of an angle of your face you never see in a reflection of a reflection. During my time in Berlin, I thought of the other little Orhan Pamuk imagined, and the other versions of myself I could imagine: an artist, an immigrant, or a communist. The people I met showed me each of her with little manipulations of the mirrors.

I’m susceptible to dichotomies, or even just to the false requirement to take a position.

Someone I met who did touch me, despite my later grumblings about his Ivy League pomposity (which might’ve really just been his niceness all dressed up in my envy), was a guy called Ernie who I ended up seated next to on a ratty couch in the top floor bar of Tacheles. It was my second visit, but my first time. He meant something to me (or to Berlin and me) because he wanted to talk to me, because he seemed to mostly be saying what he wanted to say, because he was interested in what I could make of the city so far, because he talked with Adam about poetry, and when he spoke I could hear his love, really love, and because he liked Tacheles, and he was someone I imagined sifting through some of the same convoluted questions about the place that I had begun to take on.

So Ernie says, “I would describe Berlin as a juxtaposition,” and well, I disagreed, but I’m not sure I could count the number of ‘dead end in reasoning’ signs I slammed into just before realizing I had done it again, I had divided the issue into two, neatly polar options. Of course it’s juxtaposition. It’s compare and contrast. It’s those bubbly diagrams I can never remember the name of, but only when you choose to draw them. I don’t blame myself for being narrow, although that was part of it. Berlin was for me, perhaps ironically as there are no longer two sides, an exceptionally dichotomous city on the surface level, but for that very reason I was prompted to reflect on that part of my culture and myself.

I’ve got issues with time. Management and panic.

Fridey Mickel’s Berlin is incestuous, based on a shared sense of appreciation. Her Berlin is her daughter playing with two languages at a time. It’s lifebomb. It’s the Something that Happened On The Way To. It’s a parking garage, a turntable, some cranberry juice and a room with erasers. It all has to do with time, pace of life maybe, or just the ability to live life at whatever pace you damn well please, and to fill the space with something that momentarily tickles your fancy.

I’m no stranger to the concept of the 40-hour workweek as a social construct and a product of specialization and capitalism, but I felt about as estranged as possible from the alternatives. That’s what makes Berlin so intriguing and exhausting: the alternatives – to anything- are viable. I wonder if that’s part of what Brian Ladd meant when he called Germany the first post-national state and Berlin the first post-modern city, though I now understand the post-nationality, or multi-nationality of Germany as an example of a kind of postcolonial condition, with the West’s parties gobbling up the East’s in a fit of democracy and hegemony and assimilation. Thinking of Berlin as postmodern seems perfectly sound. Enter: the occasional crisis of meaning.

That was my connection to Tacheles though, and to the people in it, or some of them, the straitjacket schedule, and I can follow the idea almost all the way down the rabbit hole. The problem is obvious, if you are having fun all the time, or even if you’re just having whatever you want all the time (whether or not it is fun), having what you want is no longer the same- it’s no longer as good. And what about contributions? And responsibility? There’s something that could be necessary to believe in order for those problems to be null, and it was the answer given to me by Riza, who’s worked in Tacheles for 12 years, “We can’t catch paradise, we are living in tragedy, and it’s beautiful.”

And so, it is the true contradiction of Tacheles- not the state being involved in what was an artist squat, or the artists being involved in turning a profit, but the sacrifice of the lifestyle, the Frei days, for its preservation. It’s like fighting for peace, or fornicating for celibacy. In this way, Tacheles has its own air of melancholy. A guy named Rich in my hostel before Adalbert said, “That place has just had its day, you know? Its day’s behind it.”

Pamuk writes about everything in Istanbul being, “broken, worn out, past its prime.” To me, the difference between Istanbul and Berlin in that regard lies only in the third trait. While not everything in Berlin seemed broken and worn out, a lot did, and the lot that did often seemed like it was smack-dab in the thick of its prime. If not, it is simply much more likely to be torn down by the clumsy claw of a demolition machine than by an earthquake. That minor skew in the parallel is what created the striking intersection of Istanbul and Berlin’s respective expressions of the same melancholy, of Hüzün.

I hate group photos, as does Orhan.

Some of my others who influenced me and the way I see their Berlin(s)

John- his Berlin is a battleground, hypocrisy, and still a point of pride and purpose.

Tobi- his Berlin is funny, Nietzsche, soap operas, full of important nuances.

Manuela- her Berlin was divided and strip searches, is a kid at heart, anti-capitalist globalization, brightly colored walls and a view of the Ubahn near Görlitzer Banhof.

Riza- his Berlin is tragic, doomed, beautiful, and lots of maxi pads. Maxi pads with hair, with sculpted vaginas, with gummy bears, with maggots.

Alfred M.D.- his Berlin is unique, curious, undiscovered, open-ended, filled with neckties.

Question and Synopsis

What is Tacheles? What is happening to Tacheles? Who might care?

The core issue at play in terms of Tacheles is preservation. In order to know what is being preserved, it must be determined what Tacheles is. After several visits, some interviews and chats with other visitors, after watching the drunk ducklings follow their mother out of Zapata and to the next bar, after watching someone set up supplies they can afford to buy in enough space to use them or smoke weed continuously, or begin to chant and nearly puke in the sand, I think I have come to my own understanding.

In terms of function- It is a house where people make things and sell them and do just about anything they want. And it’s famous. Sometimes they have big parties, sometimes someone stays in their room and locks the door. The downstairs tenant profits on his parties and doesn’t want to pay the rent. And eventually they might be evicted.

In terms of the building- it was a shopping center, a Nazi office complex, a prison for French soldiers. It has a history, like many of the other buildings that stood in Mitte before those that stand now. Some of the housemates want to keep the cheap rent arrangement and the parties alive, others want to watch the bulldozers.

My, my, methods.

I chatted with people and often walked home after the Ubahn had stopped running. I talked over my discoveries and opinions with those around me.


Istanbul was a catalyst; a catapult into well-charted territory. The pale white stippled maps and plans and diagrams, studied over sleepless hours under cover.

Istanbul was a test. How many hours of sleep can I sacrifice? How long can I sit in one place before I begin to question my allocation of time? The Blue Mosque- until it closes. What about Starbucks? Until I’ve been holding my empty plastic cup long enough for all the beads of condensation to fall and dry.

I hear: the buzzing engines of cars; eastern, western pop music coming from the overpriced café across the street which I know is accompanied by MTV style videos of dancing Turkish women dipped in Revlon and Maybelline. At night, the call to prayer wakes me gently, for a moment I stir and then let it lull me back to sleep, for a few hours more.

I smell: Dust and the thin wafts of shisha smoke that float around the city like spirits. Spices, Turkish Delight, süt, meat, spices, fish and the sea.

My Berlin lenses- “I’ll pay you back in Lyra” The laptop’s in Berlin. Istanbul is less real than Berlin is less real than Seattle. Is there anything more real than Seattle Istanbul?

I am protecting a wink, a whisper, a clutch, a shiver, and an alley.

The idea of collecting everything- a Pamukian encyclopedia.

The black sea is a black hole in our historical consciousness

Black Sea trade- fish, hazelnut, cattle, wheat,- precious materials: gold/silver and the ‘golden fleece,’ annnddd slaves

“Caucasian” –Caucasia- far North East end of Black Sea (Google)

Land bridge crossed largely by conquerors, crossing from Europe to Asia and vice versa

They needed to pay someone to prevent such intrusions- enter: the Romans (welcomed by Byzantines) –gotta go where the money’s at


320 AD- Constantine’s city is augmented- to 5X the size

Population reached 1 million around 1000 AD

The informal housing district-

What looks like fairness/justice is in some ways actually exploitation

Why are some places comfortable for photos- Manuela

'The situation is upsetting the architects'

Nazi description for modern art/ the bourgeoisie

Entartete Kunst- “degenerate/mutant”

*solution to homelessness and the creation of a new middle class?

Istanbul vs. Mexico City in terms of urban density

The informal housing district in Istanbul next to the Canyon resort and shopping center.


Today is my video log day. On our first day at Humboldt, and our first day as a group, I was determined to be excited about the “vlog” project. I scanned the pages of the schedule for my name. August 7th, Lauren Nuxoll, Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

What I did know then was my weariness about photographing such locations or my weariness, rather, about photographing locations at all. My trouble was that of taking photographs as part of an assignment, or with a particular motive- even if that motive was simply to photograph. It was not that I had never been to this concentration camp before, but that I had never been to a concentration camp before. I’m still not sure if I have ever been to a concentration camp, or what that even would mean. The hazy, glazed parade of distant inhumanity- because I was not walking though it, it was walking through me, or past me really, although at times I did notice my feet underneath me and my effort to move them- it could be called being at a concentration camp, maybe.

What I did not know then was that lifting the camera and pushing the shutter button, or hitting record would offer me some kind of window, a porthole in the side of my submarine. More and more I have been thinking of what a camera does, and the ability to, and experience of, appreciating a camera on a particular day for the very same reasons you detested it the day prior and would again on the following. That being said, I recognize it now.


The question of feeling it or not feeling it.

How to feel something at a concentration camp.


Things I managed to absorb

Learning about the banning of Mein Kampf from a tour guide

Watching the security cameras

Watching the healthy green leaves jump readily off the trees and understanding 

postkarten and zwischenraumnutzung

Our last group dinner was: awful celery soup, a main course of your, and citrusy creme brulee; a couple cigarette breaks with Adam, Tobi, Shanga, and Daniel once. Manuela gave me a postcard of Pariser Platz in 1930... huh. Tobi said, "The thirties... a great time for Germany." I remember
when Tobi said, "Let's hope nothing happens, our Chancelor is on holiday," and "A transparent building doesn't mean a transparent government...maybe." I like that Tobi is so cheeky.

When I stepped out of the restaurant, it was hotter than before. I spotted Anna playing patty-cake... because she is overwhelmingly adorable. I got in on some Miss Mary Mack and Miss Suzie had a Tugboat. Molly, Kelsi and I sing every word. Miss Suzie doesn't care where you grew up or went to grade school.

After leaving the Kunsthalle and wandering around the former Palast der Republik- "Are these the plans or the old layout?"- We saw Manuela riding her bike East on Unter den Linden. She hopped down and stuck her helmet under her arm to have a chat on the side of the road, naturally. After telling us about her plans to have a toast to Shawn's b-day and gift him a Kreuzberg 36 t-shirt, we told her of ours to see Public Enemies. It was kind of dreadful.

Tobi greeted us and asked Adam if he had started to develope some "habits." Fridey and Natz sit the front of the room infront of a screen flashing random party scenes and snow angel home videos. I feel more inclined to speak up today, and Fridey is so approachable. Maybe an hour later we are standing outside and being invited to an art opening that is meant to be quite "rock and roll." We end up almost not going, but rally with beer and burgers at a hostel that we think is close and has internet, so we can be sure. Fridey greets us and sees us off with a double-kiss.

It was Sunday, and I had time, so I wanted to buy some more groceries. I remembered Manuela's tip about the Lid'l at Ostbahnof. I gathered up loads of glass bottles in a big plastic shopping bag and my Quay COOP bag and headed toward Kopinicker. I had dinner (pasta) plans for the evening. When I got back it was later than I'd expected. My dinner plans fell through for Skype.

*These are done with tracing paper, by the way- no harm to the originals

Kiki Blofeld last night, after waiting for John and Muhammed, calling every option of final digit for someone's number and hanging up on several "Hallo?"s, and finally collecting Muhammed, who was weary of our dark, used car lot turned wooded trail route. Then sitting on the water, eating some Ritter Sport and watching Bar 25 across the river. The raft from the party boat garage floats by and... someone definitely falls off.

I found some old postmaked postcards today during a little wait to go into the Pergamon. One is of the Neptune fountain by Alexanderplats and the cutting-off-your-fingers-for-forgiveness-riddle church, another of the Berliner Dom, and another of a GDR tower. At the desk, it becomes apparent I signed my museum pass when I wasn't supposed to. After spending ages in the museum, half-wishing I had gone to the football match, and laying on a big white block in the sun talking to a friend on the phone, I realized I had spent almost 11 euro of credit on the conversation.

I stood in line and ordered a cappuccino and chocolate croissant. It was sort of rainy finally, and we were waiting to go into a bunker that I didn't know was inside the Ubahn station. I rolled something like a cigarette. A woman nearly ran into John on her bicycle- that had already happened to me, minus the nearly part. "She had crazy-eyes." I thought the subway here seemed exceptionally deep.

I got lost on my way to move into the apartment. I had just taken almost the entire U2, from Kaiserdamm to Markisches Museum after getting off my bus from Giessen. A man asked me, "Kann ich sie helfen...something something?" I said, "I think I'm good," and then cringed. I had just walked past Kaisers and was standing next to Saint Michael's and above Engelbecken. All I wanted to do was sleep. I got a call to go grocery shopping.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Notebook Story

How did I come to own a mid-size, softback, black Moleskine notebook? Well, the short answer is: as a response to the realization that my small-size, hardback, black Moleskine notebook (made specifically for Berlin, UBahn and detailed neighbourhood maps included) was simply too tiny for my erratic scribbles and sketches, not to mention those that go on for page after 3x5 page. Don’t get me wrong; though it sounds like our relationship is on the rocks, there are many traits my little BerlinSkine possesses that I find irresistible. So, I keep coming back. 

1. The first sketch on the first of the blank pages is of my dear friend and pet hamster, Eleanor, in a moment just after she’d packed her cheeks particularly full of seeds and little kibbles. And my first entry- of a dream to do with feeling completely alive I drifted in and out of just before, and in anticipation of, my travel date.

2. The size, of course, can also be quite advantageous in that it fits into my bag along with the empty pens and/or schoko milch carton(s), lose, partially unwrapped pieces of Trident Tropical, a sweater or two, my brick of a wallet, a small tube of roll-on nuit de mai parfum, loose tobacco, some brown bobby pins, sand, and whatever else had collected in my giant bag.

3. The reason I have it at all. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Moscow (Idaho). I met my friend Ashley Bell outside of the One World Café and she was wearing a new, blue dress. She had, next to her glass of white wine with a bit of condensation on the side of the bottom, a new little Berlin notebook. She handed it over with one of those ‘hear’s all my teeth’ grins and brown eyes glowing. Then, into our Deutsch lesson we dove. She wanted me to be able to at least, “sound like a jackass in German.” Afterward, we rode our bikes to the park and continued to drink wine in the shade of a tree until strollers, and toddlers, and Smokey the Bear all joined us for an unexpected demonstration on fire safety.

I bought my mid-size, softback, black Moleskine notebook in the Ostbanhof shopping center on a Sunday, because it was open. 



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Topos Graphien

August 5th, 2009

A building for propaganda.

In 1918, the protestors outside the Prussian House of Representatives were smiling.

An article in the Reichstagesgezetz read, “Those articles of the constitution pertaining to freedom of the press, of movement, of free speech and assembly as well as the privacy of personal mail, phone calls, etc., are to be suspended until further notice.”

I watch the “Die Welt” balloon climb slowly into the sky above and drift down and up again, the iconic right-wing rag hanging over the topographie des terrors. Is it still a site for propaganda? What is it propagating?

I feel a shift in consciousness as I leave the gated path of words and images under Die Welt, a path with direction and chronology, to a garden of bare concrete walls and shadows.

I feel waves. The waves of the ground carry me up and down. The traveling of sound. Uneasy apprehension until the next intersection, then relief for a moment. Loud, then silent. Hot sun, cold stone. Smooth and safe approaches razor sharp, and then nothing. The immaculately ordered rows cast chaotic shadows, and I feel waves. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 4th, 2009

Dwarfed, I sit next to one of sixteen stone war scenes dwarfed by soldiers who kneel under hammers and sickles and bow, dwarfed by a savior, a small child hangs limp in one arm and a benevolent sword from the hand of the other. Though I can’t see her, I feel the presence of a worried mother, her hand clutching the seam of her shawl and her braided crown sunken in solace.

The silence is not jarring as I had expected, but soothing. Only traces of the violent city sounds remain, starved after their long journey on the back of the wind. The stark symmetry is the only source of discomfort. I can’t look at any one thing without finding its unwelcome reflection somewhere else. All is measured, calculated, congruent. Only the mother, the savior, and the child are unique. They are not, but where are their reflections? If the child were to glance into a mirror and see everyone, if he were to notice himself and see me, what would the savior see? Would she see the earth, or God? 

English translation of aforeposted 'Schwarz zu Blau' video -Peter Fox

Schwarz zu blau

I come out of the club, it was nice
Smell like drinking, I am exhausted, it's a beautiful life
Walk over drunken bodies rotting on my way
I see rats eating until they are replete
In the shadow of the kebap shop
I walk through puke at the Kottbusser Tor, junks are befuddled
Guys spitting around, not behaving well
Snotty upstarts on a desperate search for the scene
Pierced girls who want me to read "Straßenfeger"

Half past six, my eyes are burning
Step on guy who's sleeping between dead pigeons
Hystericals girls nag and are in panic, because
Around the corner there's tension between Tarek and Sam
Tarek says: "Shut up
Or I'll hit you in your face"
Sam is frightened, but he can't just say nothing
The red soup runs over the asphalt (blood)
I'm feeling sick, I clasp my coat because it's cold

Good morning Berlin
You can be so ugly, so dirty and gray
You can so wonderfully terrible
You're night are devouring me
It might just be the best for me
If I go home and sleep
And while I'm walking through the streets
Black slowly turns into blue (darkness is fading)

Tired figures in the neon light
Deep wrinkles in the face
The early shift stays silten, everone remains to himself
Frustration comes up, the bus is not comming
And everywhere there's sh*t, one would actually have to hover over it
Everybody has a dog but nobody to talk to
I breathe through my mouth all the time, that's part of my life
I feel unhealthy, need something pure against it

I have a headache, I need to get medicine
I'd like to have some Bagdad pastries now
It's warm there, I try to loose myself in my dreams
With Fatima, the sweet pastries saleswoman
R&B ballads come out of a parking Benz
End of the work day for the street gangs
A hooligan is lying in a woman's arms and he's crying
Well, this city isn't as hard as you think it is

I'm tired, rub your dust out of my eyes
You're not beautiful and you know it
Your panorama filthy
You don't even look beautiful from afar
But the sun is just rising
And I know, if I want to or not,
That I need you to breathe

Of course... the sound is lost in translation

August 3rd, 2009

Grau, Rot, Liver and Smoke

The first morning was muggy and grey, the kind of dull grey that bleeds into the sky from the soggy edges of modern buildings. Members of my group hung around in a scattered formation near the corner store. A meeting point, a starting time, an aching, dizzy feeling in my stomach.

My pace sped and slowed awkwardly according to the girls I walked beside through the heavy, warm air. Sally told me her shoes were no longer white. I took a look. Canvas flats saturated with street. I was strangely and silently envious. This grey churns and mingles. It drips and swallows and spits back up and out again.

“I don’t think I can swallow even once more…” an introduction to John O’Meara, Joe Kim, and soft, thick, coagulated organs from a slaughtered baby cow. Again, the dizziness was flung into my own, and the night before rushed to the back of my eyelids. The heady grit of iron and blood clung to my teeth and the space between my lips and gums like John’s fingers to his glass of Kryptonite.


Later, brass letters hung against liver-colored marble send me to another night. Slogans, numbers, dates and chants line the dimly lit red walls behind the clouds that rise… or fall. “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu veränden.” Pieces of his face and words are visible in gaps beneath the layers; his chin, his kommt, his brow and veränden. A palimpsest.

The next stairwell represents intellectual development, maturity, knowledge, and progress. We hope to rise, but we fall. We’ll just fall today, because it’s the quickest way. My action? I walk behind, look up, look down, move my pen and sigh, consider something. Perhaps I’d like to stop or to turn around, but of course, I surrender to the gravity of the Weltgeist. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

Military Parade

Coming upon a fence and police guards on the way to the Brandeburg gate felt a bit like a time warp. I decided to wait by one of the guards and watch both the people interacting with the guards and each other on my side of the fence (the public side), and whatever it was that was happening behind it that warranted this barrier. I was able to see a few people being escorted out of the Adlon hotel and put in black cars that caravanned through the fences and toward the Reichstag. I heard the word “parade” several times, but that word definitely didn’t match the scene, the public was definitely being excluded from the festivities. After watching for a while longer, I made my way to the corner of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe across from the Tiergarten, certain I could get to the other side of the Gate via another route. Instead, I came upon more fence, more police, and this time a few people holding a ‘peace’ flag and having somewhat confrontational discussions with those police.

I dug for my camera to snap a few photos of the scene, and as I brought my gaze back up from my bag, six or seven more police officers, this time riot police, were jumping out of a black van one-by-one outfitted in protective armor and carrying night sticks. They began to arrest a middle-aged woman. I began to take more photos. A young man standing with his bicycle next to me asked me a question in German.

I used my worn-out sentences, “Ich spreche kein deutsch. Sprechen sie Englisch”

“Sure, where are you from?”

“Near Seattle, in the states, and you?”

“San Antonio.”

“Really? Do you know what’s going on here?” (After noticing his I L G8 shirt)

He told me it was a military parade celebrating the anniversary of the July 20th, 1944 plot by German officers to assassinate Hitler (made famous recently by the Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie). As I had suspected, the parade was only viewed by invited guests. The rest of us were kept at a quite comfortable distance- Unter den Linden was blocked off before Hotel Adlon, part of the Tiergarten was off-limits, and I assume the barrier was erected at a good distance in the other direction from the Reichstag as well. I walked with the demonstrators into the Tier Garten to try and get closer, and to cause a bit more of a stir. Those on my side of the fence were met by similarly amour-clad riot police and dogs. When a few more people were arrested and I had seen a few of the dogs ordered to jump up onto the protestors and bark and growl loudly, I thought it best to leave.

Political protests and demonstrations are not permitted on the Reichstag lawn because they could “damage the grass.” Apparently the German military has exclusive grass-damaging privileges. Just over a week later, the grass was burnt down in large letters that read, “No War.” A few days after that, the grass was removed and presumably replanted. 

I have internetttt.... posting begins!

Images from my arrival in Berlin during the taxi trip from Tegel to Kreuzberg include:

Bicycles: Beautiful women on bicycles, incredibly fast bicycles, slow bicycles, children on the backs and fronts of bicycles, groceries on bicycles, and flowers in the baskets of bicycles, and a dog in a cart attached to a bicycle.

Graffiti: Random tags and designs on every building (a scavenger hunt for unmarked buildings would be a challenge), and scenes that sprawl across entire sides of edifices crawling down from the very top corners and spreading to meet the colors that climb up from the bottom. Later on, I would write down that living in Kreuzberg felt like living on the pages of one sketchbook shared by a collective of artists. If you watch closely enough, you can see the sketches traveling and growing and morphing into something new.

Traffic and speed: My taxi driver nearly killed a few people. Neither party was as upset or shaken as I imagined myself being in that situation. Also, a massive truck carrying loads of beer had spilled its contents on the street. So, one of the first prominent odors I encountered in the city was, quite appropriately, beer.

            The first conversations I had in Berlin were naturally about logistical travel issues. How much is a taxi to Kreuzberg? How many nights will you be staying in the hostel? Where can I find a Geldautomat? Once I had gotten somewhat settled in the hostel I would be living in for the next two weeks, 36 Rooms (which I later learned was so named because the area it is in, by Görlitzer park, was known as SO 36 in the divided Berlin ), I brought my computer downstairs to email my family, bought a Berliner Pilsner, and walked outside into the courtyard. Moments after I sat down at an empty table and started typing quickly to my mom that I had made it safely, was alive, and thought my hostel seemed fine, I was asked by a good-looking man with dread-locked hair if he and his friends could sit. They were all from Norway and were going out for their last night in Berlin. “This city is unlike any other,” one of the girls said to me, “you’ll hate to close your eyes.” I hadn’t the slightest clue about the accuracy of her sentence at the time, especially pertaining to my own set of lids, but I felt my anticipation send a jolt to my heart as it soared higher than it had at 35,000 feet.

            I woke up on my first morning in Berlin to a hot and mostly empty hostel room, except of course for myself and a muscular guy with “California- ONE LOVE” tattooed across his back. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Historical Preservation in Berlin: Monuments, Memorials, and Museums

University of Washington Honors in Berlin, August 1st-31st, 2009

Adam Farley and Lauren Nuxoll


  Our research will focus primarily on the topic of historic preservation in Berlin, and the implications of preservation and recognition as historically significant on the understanding of the history itself. We will argue that memorials and official sites of historic recognition necessarily institutionalize history and memory by officially recognizing and declaring what is worthy of historic preservation. To do this, we will compare the various forms of historic recognition (i.e. monuments, plaques, parking lots, buildings, social functions, or façades). Adam will survey existing physical forms of historical recognition, while Lauren will perform a case study on Kunsthaus Tacheles to look at the intersection of physical and functional preservation in a contemporary situation.

            The purpose of this research is to try and determine how history is officially treated in Berlin, and what kind of message it sends to the German people about accepted reactions to their own history as well as the message it sends to tourists and visitors about German history as a result. Factors that we expect, and hope to confirm, influence this message are: prior knowledge of the event, prior knowledge of the monument, the emotional effect, interactiveness, location, and whether the person is a tourist or local and in what way they are either.


            Our group came together out of a shared interest to study buildings and other structures in Berlin. We were both interested in different kinds of each and for very different reasons. Lauren is interested by museums and galleries for their artistic purpose and Adam is much more drawn by historical sites, but also by architecture more or less for its own sake. We discovered that a discussion of buildings and locations would necessarily entail a discussion of the activities that go on at that site, so Lauren’s interest in museums drew her to perhaps the most dynamic and accidental “museum” in Berlin, the Kuhnsthaus Tacheles and Adam chose to focus on sites specifically designed for historical recognition. From here, we discussed further unifying themes that our projects could fall under and arrived at the following: the desire to prevent Berlin from becoming a city of ruins, and to create a thriving metropolis; different kinds of historic preservation; who knows what/ the presence of history/ tourists vs. locals; and the often ambiguous lines between audience and actors in the context of museums and memorials. And while all of these themes will inform our project, the primary theme is simply various types of preserving history, whether through a building like the Tacheles or with an official government monument, how it does so, and what effect does that have on the specific history/site being preserved, as well as the city as a whole.


Adam: Memorials and Monuments: A Physical Commentary and Comprehension of German History

            Memorials and monuments in Berlin seem to carry with them an inherent controversy. It does not appear to matter the scale or the cost, but rather the history or event itself that is being preserved in whatever form the monument takes. When Berlin’s Holocaust memorial was completed in 2005, contention had already been waging for 17 years. Support was widespread. Wolfgang Thierse, president of the German Parliament claimed it “‘acts on the limits of our comprehension.’ [Serving] ‘as a place of memory’ for future generations, helping them ‘to face up to the incomprehensible facts’” (Bernstein, 2005). However, numerous proposals had been rejected, and even the current memorial was not safe from criticism. Some say it is an incomplete statement about German history, while others claim it suggests false information about the Holocaust. In response to these claims, the architect Peter Eisenman commented at the opening ceremony that “it is clear that we won’t have solved all our problems—architecture is not a panacea for evil—nor will we have satisfied all those present today, but this cannot have been our intention” (Bernstein, 2005).

            From this case, it is clear that the structure of the memorial itself has a lot to do with the way the history is represented to different people and that moreover, the memorialization of German history is surrounded by contention in both style and purpose. In a lecture given at MIT in 2002, Brian Ladd noted that rebuilding of all kinds necessarily entails both remembering and forgetting subjectively. In the context of memorials and monuments, this is especially true because the way the space is presented affects significantly the types of remembering or forgetting that are done. Furthermore, this fact must be considered in conjunction with the body that initiated the memorial. In some cases the memorial comes from the top down (i.e. from the government to the city) and in others, support comes from the city to the government. In both cases however, the government seems to have the final word on the structure as I have yet to find a case where the design is voted on by the people. Thus, these memorials contain not only the annals of German history, but the “official” selective remembering and forgetting treatment of that history by elected Germans.

            Germany, and especially Berlin, has a unique conundrum when contemplating creating new memorials and monuments as well as when dedicating sites of historical merit. What do you do when the historical merit in Berlin means a Nazi connection or a connection to Prussian militants? The chief overseer of these sites, Rainer Klemke, notes that “we’re not commemorating our victories. We’re commemorating our acts of shame” (Whitlock, 2009). On the one hand, some people like Berlin’s director of the tourism bureau Burkhard Kieker argue that “there is history under every stone out there. The most deadly mistake we could make is to get rid of it or cover it up” (2009). On the other hand, many sites are simply covered up without a trace. In Ghosts of Berlin, Brian Ladd writes of Hitler’s bunker:

Apparently little more than its floor still remains, forty feet below an expanse of playground, parking lot, and lawn adjoining the new apartment buildings. Typical German treatment of a historically burdened site, [Alfred] Kernd’l observed sardonically, is either to plant it with greenery or to use it for parking, and here we have both.


            There are varying purposes for historic preservation (i.e. confrontation with history, information, evoking an emotional response, or soothing) and each purpose requires different kinds of memorialization. I hope to develop an understanding for what kinds of memorials and monuments are present in Berlin and what was the historical reason for that specific memorialization. I also wonder why certain sites are delegated for  preservation or destruction and what does this process and decision say about the relationship Berlin has to its past. One of the major questions I hope to answer is simply what effect does public opinion have in the process of memorialization. Recalling the director of Berlin’s tourism bureau statement, I also want to know what is the effect of these monuments on a local versus a tourist; who has greater knowledge of the city’s history as a result of the memorials, and who are they aimed at affecting? I would guess that the most common answer would be everyone who sees them, but I wonder if they are designed to elicit a certain reaction from Germans and non-Germans alike and what sort of role national heritage plays in determining the design of the memorial.

            By studying the specific types of memorials and monuments and what each is designed for, locations of each, and the care, and thoughtfulness of each, I think I can begin to answer these questions. I wonder if some topics are memorialized in certain ways that others are not? For example, is the Stasi headquarters recognized in a different way than something dating back to William I or before? Or not even temporally, but is there a way a major event is recognized versus a minor event?


            My first step is to gather as much information about historical sites in Berlin and then about current important memorials in the city, both benign and monumental. I will pay special attention to how the site or event is being preserved. By benign sites, I mean non-imposing memorials like plaques outside buildings or painted bus stops and by monumental memorials I mean imposing or interactive sites whose presence cannot be ignored. After I have the information I can narrow my searching and focus to specific buildings and locations. From here I will try to characterize what I see and hopefully patterns will emerge with respect to what gets memorialized and how. Finally I will relate this to the idea of the city as a performance, but with ambiguous lines between audience and actors. What the presentation of history does to the city and the immediacy of weight that can come from a memorial versus the repetition of passing a plaque in the street and how these function together for locals and tourists.

            I hope to be able to interview people to get a feel for what kind of emotional reaction, or what kind of knowledge, in general what they are thinking about when they see such memorials. I would also like to interview some officials to get that perspective on what is officially memorialized and get a feel for the process of producing a memorial.

            While I do not have a complete list of sites I will visit, I will begin with the following: the Holocaust memorial, Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Museum, the Victory Column in the Tiergarten, the Reichstag, and the Brandenburg Gate.

Problems and Cultural Sensitivity

            As an American studying forms of memorialization in Berlin I bring my bias against many of the events being commemorated by these memorials and German history in general. The language barrier will be the most difficult aspect to overcome however, though I hope to at least know the courtesies and customs of speech by the time I arrive in Berlin. Conducting interviews will be difficult not only because of the language barrier, but simply finding people willing to be interviewed while examining monuments will be challenging. I also imagine difficulties in finding officials willing or able to discuss the process of memorialization.

Preliminary Schedule for Week One in Berlin (August 1st-8th): Arriving 1st of August

§  Walk from Brandenburg Gate in the general direction of the site of the former Palace of the Republic noting what forms of memorialization are present. Record my own emotions.

§   Locate officials to interview and begin making phone calls.

Narrow focus to no more than ten sites.

Discuss possible sites with Manuela and Tobi

 Set up a meeting with Ralph Stern to discuss the same


Lauren: Graffiti as Historic Preservation: the case of Kunsthaus Tacheles

Kunsthaus Tacheles could be considered functionally and structurally as a monument, museum, gallery, apartment building, performance venue, cinema, dance club, and studio space; historically as a shopping center, urban passageway, Nazi office building, a space for dissent and expression of counter-culture, and tourist destination. Before the falling of the Berlin Wall, the building was preserved unintentionally, because the government didn’t consider the site a priority for neither renovation nor demolition. After reunification, several local and international artists began squatting in the building and using the space to both create and display their artwork. The artists, instead of being forcefully evicted from the building, were offered the opportunity to enter into a lease with the new owner, the Fundus investment group.

Since then, the physical structure of the building has remained basically the same because of the lease (with an annual rent of 50 euro cents), with only slight renovations being made in 2000-2002. However, in 2003, the owners publicized plans to demolish and rebuild a luxury apartment complex on the site once the lease was up, which it has been since January of this year. For this reason, the future of Tacheles is uncertain. The artists claim they should have control over the property, as they have invested roughly 300,000 euro in it over the years, and that it is a historically significant landmark of the city that should be preserved. The government eventually stepped in to ensure such preservation, but, as is listed on the Tacheles website, government involvement presents a challenge to maintaining its original function.


            Brian Ladd mentions different kinds of historic preservation in The Ghosts of Berlin, from preserving the actual physical material of a site or structure, to preserving a story or moment in history, to preserving a purpose or function. While I think Tacheles is an example of many types of historic preservation in this sense, I would also hypothesize that the main form of preservation at work in the effort to keep it from being demolished or changed is the last on the list: preservation of a purpose. So my first question, then, is whether or not purpose is what is being “preserved” at Tacheles. Secondly, what purpose is being preserved? To whom is this preservation important and why? These questions, I suspect, will lead to questions of whether the purpose can be maintained under current circumstances according to those people, or what would need to change in order to maintain it. The question of whether or not a gallery or museum can truly house voices of dissent in an institutionalized and organized setting is not new.

In Thinking About Exhibitions by Reesa Greenberg et al., there is a section entitled, “The Institutionalization of Dissent,” which begins with the following quote by Adrian Piper:

Art contexts per se (galleries, museums, performances, situations) are becoming increasingly unworkable for me… They preserve the illusion of an identifiable, isolateable situation, much as discrete forms do, and thus a prestandardized set of responses… Alternate contexts I’ve been using include subways, buses, Macy’s, Union Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (as a spectator in Catalysis VII, in which I went to the ‘Before Cortes’ show while chewing large wads of bubble

gum, blowing large bubbles and allowing the gum to adhere to my face)…

            The quote is followed directly by the description of a cycle in the presentation of art that perhaps describes the evolution of the Tacheles, involving the creation of new types of exhibitions and a kind of degradation from “energetic independence,” to “eventual institutionalization,” (Greensberg, 1996). In looking at the differences and similarities between Tacheles and more traditional galleries and museums in Berlin, my research will attempt to pinpoint the functions an art house formatted like Tacheles serves that others do not serve, and vice versa, in the eyes of live-in artists, academics, tourists, and Berliners.      


            While in Berlin, I hope to study Tacheles and the groups for whom it has varying degrees of significance through participant observation, interviews, and academic resources such as faculty from UW and Humboldt and library research. I have established a basic knowledge of the site through some preliminary research as described in the source list. Participant observation will be comprised of extensive visits to the different venues within Tacheles. I hope to see many of the films that are shown in the cinema, Camera, throughout the month and keep notes on characteristics of those films and the audiences who attended them. I will also spend time in the gallery space (opened in 2002), the party/dance/performance spaces, and hopefully tour some of the artists’ studios.

During these observations I intend to keep records of my personal reactions, as well as hopefully some reactions of other visitors via comment books or even small interviews, and capture photographs and videos. To compare and contrast Tacheles with other galleries and museums I will make trips to larger museums like the Pergamon and others on Museum Island, as well as the many galleries in Mitte like Kunststiftung Poll, Museumsakademie, and Radio Berlin (extensive list at:, an area some at Tacheles have described as having “mutated to a napless trend quarter,” (, 2009).

Additionally, I want to become familiar with the petition to keep Tacheles as is, which has gathered over 30,000 signatures so far, and record the different forms of protest that have risen up in response to the proposed eviction and demolition. I will most likely record, and maybe also organize and present, my observations with a Geertz-like style of thick description, including as many details as I can about my experiences.

            *If I am able to conduct interviews of the artists/tenants, I would tentatively include the following questions:

-  What is your name/where are you from?

-  How long have you been living in Tacheles?

-  What mediums do you work in/ how would you describe your art?

-  What opportunities has Tacheles given you? What do you think it provides to others?

-  Do you think the historical uses for the building are important aspects of its existence now? Why?

-  What is the contemporary significance of the location of Tacheles?

-  How has it changed since you’ve been here?

-  What makes Tacheles different from other art galleries and performance venues (other than the fact that people live here)?

-  What do you think is most important to preserve about Tacheles?

Problems and Cultural Sensitivity

            The most obvious obstacle I face in my research, particularly my interviews, is the language barrier. However, since Berlin and Tacheles can be considered relatively international settings, I posit that English is widely spoken and understood and hope this barrier thus poses little threat to the validity of my interview research. Secondly, it will be challenging to control for personal bias, as I have begun to study museums and galleries from a sociological perspective, which has lead me to develop some opinions about management and organization of cultural institutions. Gaining access to artist studios and interviews could also prove to be somewhat difficult, or maybe surprisingly easy depending on the circumstances, so I should prepare for both.

Preliminary Schedule for Week One in Berlin (July 13th-20th): Arriving 13th of July

 Collect maps and info on Mitte-area galleries and museums

  Collect info on larger museums and galleries such as the Kunsthalle Temporare

  Make some preliminary visits to museums and galleries

  Compile dates/programs/locations/opening hours for exhibitions and performances in Tacheles and elsewhere and create a kind of working calendar of events

   Make first visit(s) to Tacheles, record personal reactions and reactions of other visitors



Alas, Joel (2009, July, 01). “Straight Talk For Tacheles: Inconic Berlin Squat Received Eviction Notice.” Spiegel Online, Retrieved 2 June, 2009, from < international>.

Bernstein, Richard (11 May, 2005). “Holocaust Memorial Opens in Berlin.” The New York Times, retrieved 14 May, 2009, from < 9A04E6DA1330F932A25756C0A9639C8B63>.

Burgess, John (2004, March). “A Renaissance of Counterculture.” Washington Post, Retrieved 1 June, 2009, from <>.

Greensberg, Reesa et al. (1996). Thinking About Exhibitions. London, England: Routeledge.

Ladd, Brian (11 March, 2002) “Double Restoration: Berlin after 1945.” The Resilient City: Trauma, Recovery, and Remembrance, MIT Lecture series, Retrieved 14 May, 2009, from <>.

Ladd, Brian (1997). The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. London, England: University of Chicago Press.

Muller, Peter (2005). “Counter-Architecture and Building Race: Cold War Politics and the Two Berlins.” GHI Bulletin Suppliment 2. p. 101-114.

Tacheles History. <>.

Whitlock, Craig (12 May, 2009). “Berlin Wall as a piece of History: Too-Good Riddance?” The New York Times, Retrieved 21 May, 2009, from <>.