Saturday, May 14, 2011

Berlin: A Coda

A note from a reader:

I really enjoyed your recent column on Berlin... I'm living here for 6 months, running an exchange program for my university. I was particularly struck by your line: "Can you not see how we reject what was monumental here?"

For an excellent example of that, I'd suggest a visit to Tempelhof airport, which is now no longer an airport, but a huge area for roller skaters, kite flyers, bicyclists, dog walkers, grill parties, and so forth. It's an amazing re-purposing of the space, and it's best to see it soon, before it's more "developed," which is happening to much of Berlin (they're apparently going to add a big climbing wall, etc.).

The airport buildings are some of the most striking examples of "monumental" (i.e. facist) architecture, and from the street, as one always had to approach them in the past, they are overwhelming. But from the airport runways and fields, with the perspective of a distance that was normally not available to the public, even these buildings don't seem monumental anymore, but strike me as almost graceful, but also insignificant. Interestingly, the architect for Tempelhof, Ernst Sagebiel, had been project leader...in Erich Mendelsohn's architectural practice in the '20s. Mendelsohn is one of my favorite architects, and in Israel he designed among other things Chaim Weizmann's house.

Also, one of the more bizarre relics of Hitler's megalomania is the Schwerbelastungskörper, which was built to study the feasibility for building a massive "arc de triumph" on the north-south axis of "Welthauptstadt Germania," as Hitler (and Albert Speer) imagined the future of Berlin. It was to be several times larger than the Arc de Triumph in Paris.

The Schwerbelastungskörper is located several blocks west of Tempelhof airport, a 15-minute walk far from the S-Sudkreuz S-Bahn, and very close to the 104 bus. From U-Tempelhof, or you can take Bus 104 to the Kolonnenbrücke bus stop (heading west--just a few stops).

Best regards,

Jeffrey Wallen, Professor of Comparative Literature,
Hampshire College

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