Restoring the original past

12/10/2016

I had the pleasure of a walk through Schinkel’s Mitte last week, past the site where the replica Humboldt palace is being constructed. It gets bigger every time we visit and it’s easy now to see the replica brickwork and the dome really taking shape.

Construction of the Humbolt Forum

I’ve never been sure how I feel about this ├╝ber-restoration project. When I first visited Berlin around 2005 I loved the GDR’s Palace Of The Republic, which for 30 years or so sat on the same site. Its austere brown mirrored glass replayed the majesty of the nearby Berliner Dom and the TV tower, and the sunsets seen through it were magical. If we’d had instagram back then I would have had a lot of fun. The link above has pictures of the incredible interior, too.

Now that is gone, and the history of Prussian greatness is being restored in this most elaborate of ways. It will be definitely beautiful, and the whole area will certainly have a consistency that celebrates Berlin’s age-old importance as a city.

But over the road at the Dom I realised why I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing. Looking at the patchwork shrapnel repairs I was overcome by what a powerful symbol they are of what the city and her people have been through. Street architecture has always worked in a similar way for me, spotting building styles of old to get a sense of what life must have been like for people before me, whether industrial or gentile.

Shrapnel patches in the walls of Berliner Dom

Shrapnel patches in the walls of Berliner Dom

Shrapnel patches in the walls of Berliner Dom

I feel a great sense of loss that such an important monument to the post-war struggle has been wiped from the city in favour of an expensive pastiche, but perhaps in 30 years this will make great stories for tour guides as well, if it’s still standing.

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