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 fa├žades). 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 <>.

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