Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

What Is Old Is New Again: The Reintegration of Dresden's Landscape into the Modern German State

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

What Is Old Is New Again: The Reintegration of Dresden's Landscape into the Modern German State

Article excerpt


The unification of Germany was one of the most dramatic events of the late twentieth century, one that has been fraught with controversy, especially in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). One of the most important processes in the rebuilding of the national identity in the former East Germany has been a rebuilding of the urban built environment. The selection of sites by the German leadership for preservation has been part of the wider project of nationalism that has characterized the country over the past two decades.

One of the most significant restoration projects has been the rebuilding of Dresden, one of the largest East German cities. Dresden was almost completely destroyed during the final days of World War Two in one of the most infamous bombing missions in history. The firebombing decimated the inner city and required a complete rebuilding of the city. The city was rebuilt following a Soviet model of urban design, similar to other eastern European cities rebuilt after World War II. This model of urban development fell into disfavor as a result of the collapse of the GDR and the unification of Germany.

This paper emphasizes the connection between landscape and political development in modern Germany. The process of selecting buildings and monuments to preserve is part of the controversial political project of national development. The role of the GDR in modern Germany has been a difficult issue to resolve. Often, authorities have chosen to simply ignore and overwrite it, replacing GDR architecture and monuments with "historical" German landscapes that hearken back to an earlier period.

In the years since the fall of communism, Dresden has been dramatically reshaped, often employing one of six important approaches to the past in the landscape. Some of these approaches look backwards, utilizing iconic landscapes, important heroes, and historical landscapes of a previous era that preceded National Socialism and the GDR. A fourth approach disavows the past, portraying the present, through modernist architecture, as a break with the past and the opportunity to create a new history. The fifth approach has been to preserve GDR-era buildings that serve to discredit the East German regime as eccentric and not part of the grand narrative of German history. The final approach has been to maintain National Socialist or World War II historical buildings in an attempt to facilitate an open discussion on the events of the Nazi era.


According to Lefebvre (1991, 1), until recently, space had a "strictly geometrical meaning" in most mainstream geographic research. In other words, space was not something that was influenced by cultural or political actions, it was innocent, and isolated from the political process. Outside of the mainstream, some research showed that space was more than geometric and was strongly influenced by societal development. Harvey, in his 1973 classic, Social Justice and the City, emphasizes that "spatial forms are there seen not as inanimate objects within which the social process unfolds, but as things which 'contain' social processes" (Harvey 1996, 10). Lefebvre built on Harvey's work by challenging the innocence of space in the political development of a region, prominently stating "that every society... produces a space, its own space" (1991, 31). Such is view is echoed by Moore and Whelan in their observation that "the cultural landscape is now conceived of as an emblematic site of representation, a locus of both power and resistance, and a key element in the heritage process" (2007, x). Similarly, Daniels and Cosgrove have emphasized that the critical turn in geography has "introduced metaphors and analogies more in keeping with an emphasis on meaning than function" (1993, 57). Space is now widely viewed as an active player in the political development of a region. It influences change and is changed during the process of political development. …

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