Berlin Notebook


Ryan Ruby in n+1 (image by Ramón Goeden via flickr):

I had been away from Berlin for the better part of a month, and in my absence exhibits, memorials, and events devoted to the fall of the Wall had sprung up all over town.


On my way to the Staatsbibliothek to return an overdue book, I pause in front of the sliding doors of the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden to examine two segments of the Berlin Wall that mark the entrance to an exhibit commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of November 9, 1989.

There is nothing particularly special about these Wall segments, which were recently repainted with the same cartoon faces that French street artist Thierry Noir originally sprayed on the Wall, nor about the exhibit itself. Down the long central nave of the Arkaden are border signs in four languages, a reconstructed guard tower, video clips, photographs, maps, uniformed mannequins, a large DDR insignia, the clothes Udo Lindenberg wore to his concert at the Palast der Republik, a Trabant automobile. In short, a collection of the same things that are usually spread out over the twenty sites in Berlin dedicated to the history of the Wall.

What was interesting about the exhibit was its location. The Potsdamer Platz Arkaden is a mall. It is tempting to focus on the crassness of placing what ought to be a solemn memorial to the horrors of a police state in a shopping center, but the choice is telling, and represents a not-uncommon interpretation of the political significance of what is known here as the Mauerfall. To many in the West, the fall of the Wall is a spectacular symbol for the victory of the free market. The whole Potsdamer Platz complex—with its corporate office towers, its multiplex cinemas, its luxury condominiums and five-star hotels and shopping malls—is not just a pleasure dome for the rich, it’s why the West fought the cold war. The Arkaden is Francis Fukuyama’s End of History thesis written in steel and glass. Capitalism was born in a building just like this one, as Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project documents. It is fitting that this is where it should decide to celebrate its ultimate victory.

More here.