Dealing with Remnants of Politics, Power and History in Germany
ABSTRACT: The link between place and identity is not stagnant or fixed. It changes over time, influenced by social and political changes and ethical developments, from one generation to another. What was important to remember (or commemorate) yesterday may not have the same significance tomorrow. What we see as right and just now may be viewed as wrong or obsolete in a decade or two. So, what do we do when the storyline changes? In our current political climate, the question about the validity of certain historic monuments, their context, their meaning for various groups and our handling of these at times uncomfortable monuments gained unexpected relevance. Suddenly the question becomes important what to do with these memories, with monuments and buildings that clearly reference a certain time or nationalistic expression and that today leave us with an uncomfortable aftertaste. This abbreviated version of the paper explores the questions posed above by looking at Germany as one example of where the people had to grapple with the role and impact of collective memory, of public monuments and architecture that are freighted with heavy past. German history since 1871 is filled with fractures of political, cultural and social orders that forced the definition and re-definition of what to remember and how to remember appropriately by its politicians and citizens. The paper will retrace the changes in significance and how authorities and the public dealt with buildings of historic significance in two locations of Berlin as examples from a larger range of buildings and monuments the author is investigating in context of the topic. They give an overview how uncomfortable monuments were treated in a country with turbulent past.
KEYWORDS: Berlin, architecture, symbolism, perception, monument, politics, history