Off iconic Berlin Friedrichstraße is a little dark side street soon to be renamed into Anton-Wilhelm-Amo-Straße, after the 18th century philosopher.
The name Mohrenstraße raises interesting questions: About the German word Mohr, which has been used since the 8th century, originally to designate inhabitants of Mauretania, which is derived from the Latin Maurus, which in turn might derive from the Greek μαυρός for black. But usage changes, and what once might have only designated origin, has long been a designation of a specific caste by another specific caste.
Then there are the speculations why this specific street carries that name, with even historical sources conveniently contradicting each other — was it a single black resident or a group of slaves from Africa that gave cause for this naming?
And, much more generally, it raises the question: What does give us the right to name something? I suspect that Genesis 2-23 has played a role.
It seems that philosophers, psychologists and writers agree that names are powerful. So if we inflict a name on a person, or, like here, on millions of people a once, shouldn’t we be a bit careful about how we use that name?
The imminent renaming is one step, and it’s easy to nod approval. But will we, for once, readjust our own thinking?
During the second world war, Hohenschönhausen was a heavily bombed industrial area in the northeast of Berlin.
In 1945, one of the few still intact buildings was used by the Soviet Secret Police as Special Camp 3, a prison camp to intern Nazis and other undesired elements.
The pictures above are from the former cafeteria, converted into prison cells by forced labor.
In 1951, the East German Stasi took over and added a new building with nicer rooms.
It was used as a highly secret interrogation prison, with few people knowing about its existence. Dissidents and other people stubbornly seeking to leave the young republic were brought here into solitary confinement to solicit confessions.
At night, prisoners were checked on every few minutes and woken up if their sleeping position in bed deviated from the norm. The sound of the keyhole latches is still causing nightmares to the survivors.
The psychological torture aimed to make the prisoners feel utterly alone, disoriented, and hopeless.
An open door became even more terrifying than a closed one.
What you see here are impressions from the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which has been controversial for two decades, mainly for financial reasons.
My own reservations are more of a more esthetic and, alas, political nature. At first, I was struck by its boredom.
We have low ceilings, steel, glass, and — brown decor.
The prevalence of the color brown (mostly in the form of dead wood and marble tiles) darkens the place, and, much worse, reminds me of an esthetic that I believed had been overcome long ago.
Curiously, the older airport Berlin-Tegel (which had replaced airport Berlin-Tempelhof, famous for the being used for the Luftbrücke during the Berlin Blockade) still feels much more modern, with its successful usage of simple geometric shapes like hexagons and triangles to create an efficient and stimulating atmosphere, was co-designed by the same architect, Meinhard von Gerkan.
Admittedly, here in Indiana I am used to the color brown, and I have always feared that it supports an unhealthy emotional state.
At least here, at BER, there is a solution built-in: Leave.
If you search the internet for Cemeteries at Hallesches Tor, you will find blog posts about this cemetery, and some of them mention an encounter with a friendly middle aged man.
Saying a greeting led to a polite exchange, which in turn led to a conversation about the cemetery in general, which in turn led to an in-depth discussion of many specific graves.
This is another one of these blog posts. I, too, met this person, and received the best history lesson I had in my entire life.
For instance, I learned about the strange markings on many graves that look like gun shot holes. They are from gun shots, inflicted in one of the many utterly senseless battles of the Second Word War, when the Nazis forced teenage boys to confront the Soviet army, with only a handful of ammunition and no hope but death.
Or about the bunker that the Nazis build on this cemetery after making room by eliminating all traces of the Jewish graves, a bunker that was never used as it filled instantly with ground water, a bunker that has resisted demolition ever since, a bunker that couldn’t be more meaningless.
Or about the grave of Archduke Leopold Ferdinand of Austria, one of the last hopes of the Austrian Monarchy after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, one of the escalations that led to the First World War, but who happily renounced his title in order to marry the sex worker Wilhelmine Adamovicz. His grave (together with this third wife Clara Hedwig Pawlowski) is reportedly still visited yearly by mourning monarchists.
Other visitors commemorate E.T.A. Hoffmann’s death by following his request not to bring flowers but champagne…
And of course there are graves of mathematicians, like the one of the immortal Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi, and less famous ones, like the one of Horst Kirchmeier, whose brave attempts to liberalize the German law governing sexual offenses went rather far.
I could continue my history lesson for a while. Or write about the symbolic of the cast iron fences.
Or about the massive thefts of tomb decorations that apparently sell world wide for enormous sums. Or what happened to the churches to which this cemetery belonged, and what buildings are there now… Another day.
Mona Hatoum’s impressive installation of this name was shown in the Diversity United exhibit in Berlin this year, and the catalogue speculates that what we see here are the ghost-like fragments of a house.
I saw these hanging concrete pieces as probes into space, an attempt to make visible what has disappeared.
In this reconstruction, I am using PoVRay to probe textured space. A texture in PoVRay is function of the three spatial coordinates whose values is used in a color map to determines the color value of an object at the point given by the three coordinates. Above the function is sqrt(x2+y2+z2), and the color map a simple grayscale gradient, so that spheres centered at the origin have the same color value. Objects placed into the scene appear to be carved out of this space.
Above is a more complete reconstruction of Haroum’s installation, using the same spatula texture with added reflection. And below are the same probes, using an entirely different texture based on the function sin(x)+sin(y)+sin(z).
The interior of the four-story building that supports the domes of the former Cold War listening station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin is accessible only through two (new) exterior stairwells. Each has a long corridor (without any doors!), and open spaces separated by walls.
Most of the walls are decorated with the most wonderful graffiti in bright colors.
The entire building has become a piece of art.
Views through the ‘windows’ show more building-sized graffitis.
So in a miraculous way, one of the most secretive and locked up places from Cold War Berlin has become an organic landscape of open art.
If only we all could deal with our own borders like this.
By building fences and walls, we impose an artificial structure on an existing landscape. Is there a difference in our way of seeing these structures? Both allow us to see them as beautiful, but is it the same esthetics we are applying?
And, probably more importantly, is there a functional difference between natural grown and artificial structures?
And what happens when we consider a landscaped landscape? Is this wall really a wall?
Maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me that Nature doesn’t allow for closed doors.