Berlin opened its new castle but it is 2021.
While there may be a good solid reason to do so, it may also be safe to assume it was revenge combined with nostalgia that made the German federal government spend around 700 million euros for a fake castle. Revenge, because East Germany destroyed Berlin’s original beauty – nostalgia, because Germany ended up with a country stripped bare of its immense heritage after some wrong moves in history. After merging a copied castle facade with a standard structure, able to serve as a Media Markt as well, Germany opens its brand-new castle in the heart of Berlin. Das Schloss was planned to be baroque but efficient. Its facade ‛reconstructed’ on three sides – without the complicated small towers – is not a total reconstruction, but a copy and paste of a random selection of historic elements. A Disney World in terms of building typology, a tourist magnet for people spending a relatively short time to read or watch the complexity of the world, all based on the work of Prussian Alexander von Humboldt.
Now, Berlin has opened its kingdom of compromise.
Three of seven exhibitions envisaged are visit- able, qualities differ. While we try to digest the exhibition ‛BERLIN GLOBAL’ we learn, it is not a good plan to focus solely onto the lowest common denominator; trying to reach all potential visitors while instead losing them – let us assume, nobody will visit this twice. Superficial collections of clichés combined with inelastic forced gender-neutralized text, badly framed in desperate nostalgia, end up producing an exhibition with a problematic quality… This is absolutely not reflective of Berlin, it’s gift store content, it is what ‘Christian Berlin’ can legally sell on a Sunday. BERLIN GLOBAL feels like a tourist trap located somewhere between ‛Checkpoint Charlie’ and ‛Unter den Linden’, a former boulevard which lost not only its Linden trees due to easy maintenance work.
Luckily the second exhibition – ‛TERRIBLE BEAUTY’ – consists of deeper content. It explains ivory. Alexander von Humboldt would not turn over in his grave this time. This is an interesting piece of a natural puzzle, to readjust your thinking between Elephant-Human-Ivory. Nowadays the only contact with ivory happened sadly by playing the piano. We know music is beautiful, but it is more beautiful, when you don’t have to kill an elephant beforehand. Further we learn that it took two elephants, to produce 16 billiard balls. In 1863, Michael Phelan, the professional billiards player and manufacturer of billiards equipment in New York, announced a 10,000 US Dollar prize for developing an ivory substitute, a celluloid mixture of guncotton and camphor. In 2014, Ivortech, a material developed by Max Planck Institute, surfaced. This material is chemically almost identical to natural ivory, so at least from this perspective, elephants can relax slightly.
A third exhibition titled ‛LABORATORY’ is the perfect example of contemporary interior architecture. Content driven, well-constructed, and based on a wide-perspective, the exhibition is easy and relaxed with deep and rich information equipped with elements of surprise; for example an acoustic archive where you can hear German accents from all parts of the country recorded as long as 90-years ago. Curious to learn more. This is a precision landing in terms of following the footprints of Alexander von Humboldt.
“Niemand hat die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten/ Nobody has the intention to build a wall” – June 15th, 1961.
Nobody had the intention to build a fake castle.
It was Walter Ulbricht, GDR politician from 1950 till 1971, who was responsible for the demolition of the ‛original Castle’ (the Hohenzollern Head- quarters), in 1950. To be later replaced by the avant-gardist ‛Palast der Republik’, or Èrichs Lampenladen’ designed by Heinz Graffunder and team which opened in 1976, after 32 months of construction. The other side of the wall was not amused by this new performance building, a forefront trend machine; a politicized Cedric Price theatre.
Officially it has been the asbestos – not Walter Ulbrich and the GDR’s idea – which made it unavoidable for the Deutschen Bundestag to blow up that piece of derailed history. However, it was possible to remove the asbestos from German universities. Doubt (Zweifel) of the official reason of destruction was obvious. The later demolition of the Palast der Republik could be read as a collateral benefit, satisfying the German desire for revenge against the symbol of the GDR. Parts of the Palast-steel were reborn in VW’s Golf IV engines; another part was used for Dubai’s highest building, the tallest in the world. In this sense ‛Erichs Lampenladen’ is still glowing bright. It is interesting, how communism reappears in capitalism.
It can be read as a physical health benefit, removing the entire building instead of just the fire protective asbestos. A satisfying mental health benefit for the West German soul, by (re) building a free-of-asbestos Prussian-antimodern-castle.
A castle of revenge.
The German government decided to replace the replacement of the Hohenzollern Schloss, which was a replacement of the first building on this site; the residence for Kurfürst Friedrich II in 1443. That one has been constructed on top of the dividing wall between the former cities of Berlin and Cölln – a coincidence with Axel Springer HQ, which design emerged from the position of the GDR wall. Is Axel Springer the real contemporary castle, since media is ruling the world?
While castles in general were agglomerations of different styles and cultures, melted into one single, fuzzy antique cake, the Humboldt Forum is random facts: it was East German stonecutters that built the new castle. There were no such skills found in former western parts of the country, no craftsman to do such a job. In this sense it was a destruction of an East German icon, replaced by an outdated castle, built by stonecutter’s hands trained by East German firms – the ones of Berthold Just (gypsum) of Andreas Artur Hoferick (stone), and their respective teams.
While the endresult produces huge windows covering all facades of the reconstruction, the amount of useable interior space seems to disappear, as if by magic… The opening exhibitions are trapped in black boxes, but at least the toilets receiving enough sunlight and a view into the surrounding neighbourhood. Is easy maintenance the contemporary cultural commonground? Is back of house (BOH) the new facade?
Hopefully future curators will be able to turn this massive volume of emptiness into a temple of understanding our planet – hopefully it will not turn out as a piece of Kafka’s work