Borders to Canvasses (Devil’s Mountain III)

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.

The Unclosable Door (Sanssouci II)

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.

Has René Magritte ever painted a closed door?

Fading Time (Devil’s Mountain II)

One of the most fascinating buildings in the old listening station on the Devil’s Mountain is the Villa. That’s my name, I don’t know what it is called, or as what it was used for. We are free to imagine.

Dark corridors eventually lead to brighter rooms, where the colors of the outside graffiti is blinding.

Then, the main room, in faded colors, with shards from a faded time. Who can sit on a chair like this?

And was that lamp used to take away the light?

It seems like all the happiness has been removed from this place.

And yet what has been left behind appears to be waiting for something, for someone.

Is this how the place looks like where we will eventually go?

Or is it us that will be like this?

The Canvas (Devil’s Mountain I)

One of the concise views one can have of Berlin these days is from the top of the Devil’s Mountain (Teufelsberg), the artificial hill that consists of rubble from the ruins of World War II.

The conciseness decreases when stepping back, inside the structures on top of the former US listening station from the Cold War.

So we enter a place of fascinating decay and devastation that has become in its entirety a canvas.

The ruin as a design pattern for our self seems an aporia, but not so: as in many paradoxa, there is synthesis.

Descending further we witness that light and dark not only coexist, they require each other,

and they require a canvas.

Otherness (Sanssouci I)

Frederick the Great’s summer residence Sanssouci features a vast park with all kinds of interesting buildings and sculptures.

Uncommon plants, angels, truncated heads, fauns – all in some form of isolation, for individual contemplation, and all with a sense of esthetic that is not quite our own anymore – suggest that Frederick consciously made an attempt to deal with the Other, the unfamiliar, the strange and alien.

The Chinese Pavilion gives an idea of the sophistication of other cultures, using a sense of beauty that was his — not necessarily theirs.

Then a rondel with six busts, a Roman emperor, a philosopher, and four Africans, in rich dresses and again with an assuring beauty.
Insufficient as this is, this maybe is a way to give the Otherness presence through beauty, a way which we have lost, it seems, sadly.


When looking itself has become an aggression, isn’t it necessary to see even the familiar differently, to unlearn our sense of beauty, and to begin again, by offering presence?

Berlin Alexanderplatz (10mm VI)

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In Alfred Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, the place of that name is being used to dramatically convey transformation: Franz Bieberkopf  is traumatized by the changes it has  undergone while he spent years in prison, and stands for the transformations he himself will undergo.

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Döblin’s novel takes place in the 1920s, and Berlin has undergo dramatic changes since. After the destructions of the Second World War and the division of the city, it was no longer the single city center. The architects of the Eastern part weren’t insensitive, they kept the space open and repurposable.

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Nearby churches were renovated and allowed other change to happen, later.

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many of the administrative buildings were taken down. The facade of the Palace of the Republic used to annoy the people of power with distorted reflections of the nearby cathedral. Not anymore.

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Radically modern buildings show that transformation is still possible. This leaves hope for Franz’s children.

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The Intimacy of Space (10 mm V)

Berlin and Bloomington have few things in common, besides their first letter B.

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Of more general interest is probably that both cities feature a building by Chinese architect I.M. Pei. I wrote about the Art Museum in Bloomington in an earlier post. Here you see the German Historical Museum in Berlin, or rather its extension.

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I would call this building an invitation to explore the esthetic possibilities of dysfunctional space. The helicoidal stairwell, it’s most prominent feature, connects only the second to the third floor and extends further without purpose to a non-existent fourth floor. It’s placed inconveniently at the (sharp) entrance corner of the building. Climbing these steps has as its main purpose to be climbing these steps. They are gorgeous.  

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The more functional connection between the ground floor and the first floor is a long ramp leading to the helix. Like everything else, it is pushed to the side, so that as much of the empty space of the building remains intact.

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What we see while walking this building are the structural elements that connect. Above is a view down into the basement level, reachable through the escalator or an angled stairwell (at the bottom).

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What I found striking and inexplicable is the harmony and balance between the playful round elements like the helix or the circular opening above, and the cornered, straight-edged, almost brutal structural components.

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It’s tempting to call these the male and female aspects of the building. No matter, it lives from the dialogue between the two. 

Marzahn mon amour

A neighbor and I exchanged books over the holidays (a forgotten art?). I gave her Christoph Ransmayr’s Arznei gegen die Sterblichkeit, and she returned the favor with Katja Oskamp’s Marzahn mon amour.

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Marzahn is a legendary suburb of Berlin I had never been to. The name triggered childhood memories of Frau Malzahn, the wonderful dragon in Ottfried Preußler’s even more wonderful Jim Knopf books.

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But this has nothing to do with Marzahn mon amour, nor do the pictures above, which show Alt-Marzahn, miraculously preserved among the Plattenbauten, the prefab buildings that provided a cheap solution to the growing housing problem of the former German Democratic Republic.

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Here is one of them, proudly announcing cosmetic studio at the entrance as if the entire building is that studio.

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And this is what the book is about: People living in these prefab houses, and being taken care of temporarily by the narrator, who works as a pedicurist in a cosmetic studio just like the one above (this one?).

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We learn to like them, the people and the buildings, maybe because they all have decided to cope with their large and small miseries by taking care of themselves, even if only symbolically.

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Most remarkable, however, is the insight of the narrator: That by stepping apparently down (in her case from struggling author to a pedicurist) one can in fact find happiness, and then by the way, write a charming little book. 

Futurium (10mm III)

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This cute little building in Berlin houses exhibits that are concerned with — you guessed it — the future. A thematic question on one of the walls brings it to the point: How do we display something that doesn’t exist yet?

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You can find robots and explanations of some cutting edge technologies, but also large scale models that just keep you musing. 

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Much of the interior design is an attempt to appear moderately futuristic.

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This object is the closest I could find to something like a personal oracle. It lights up (or darkens) when you move in front of it.

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The exhibit above seems to be designed for introspection. Which me will pick which door? 

So maybe we have a misconception here. The future doesn’t just arrive. It’s upon us to create it.

Absence (10mm II)

Hisham Matar’s autobiographic book The Return talks about his father’s absence.

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The image above show the Voided Void at the end of the Axis of Holocaust in Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. 

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Matar quotes Aristoteles: The theory that the void exists involves the existence of place: for one would define void as place bereft of body.

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Right now, the museum is being prepared for a new standard exhibition, and hence almost completely void.

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Matar continues to reflect about Aristoteles. He adds: He says nothing of time here, and time is surely part of it all, of how we try to accommodate the absence. […]. Only time can hope to fill the void. The body of my father is gone, but his place is here and occupied by something that cannot just be called memory.

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A second accessible void in the Libeskind building is the Memory Void, containing Menashe Kadishman’s installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves).

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Matar concludes this reflection: What is extraordinary is that, given everything that has happened, the natural alignment of the heart remains towards the light.

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