Matériel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

21

The Berlin Wall: an archaeological site in progres

GABI DOLFF-BONEKÄMPER


PROLOGUE

Early in the year 2000, I asked friends and colleagues in Berlin where they felt the most lively memory of the Berlin Wall. The answers differed surprisingly: for some, it was places where the authentic material substance had survived best, that is, the actual concrete border-wall topped with the asbestos tube, the death-strip and hinterland-wall, lanterns and watchtowers. These were the places our Historic Buildings Preservation Office had listed in 1990/91 and more or less preserved since then. I call this the 'archaeological approach'. Others said, on the contrary, that they felt the Wall's presence most strongly where no material remains are visible, for instance at the Brandenburg Gate where it interrupted the main axis of the whole of Berlin - a scandal, blocking the central entrance to the old city. This could be named the 'image of remembrance' approach. Others replied that the most interesting places were those where the former borderline is still present as a gap in the urban landscape, but everything else is changed, overgrown or developed, artistic interventions of the less heavy and dramatic kind showing that the history is past and that Berliners of the new post-Cold War city are allowed to laugh about the Wall. The former Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse (Fig. 21.1) or the rebuilt Oberbaumbrücke crossing the Spree between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain can be named as examples. I felt myself inclined to the last way of thinking. I call it the 'let the present/future take over' approach.

But then, in March 2000, I visited for the first time the recently cleared area of a former merchandise railway station, the Güterbahnhof der Nordbahn between the districts of Mitte (East) and Wedding (West), now lying deserted and bare (Fig. 21.2). Here were the traces of an historic railway landscape, overlaid with the remains of the border landscape, with some large parts of the hinterland-wall and spontaneously grown birch trees. Here I found once more what had been essential to me in the year after the Wall had been torn down: this emptiness, a promise of future in the air, where the debris of the past was standing free, in a vacant space, still without a newly-set order. Part of my memory of those images was a hint of nostalgia about the fact that this state, containing future and past in such an incomparable way, was not

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