Counterpreservation: Decrepitude and memory in post-unification Berlin

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Abstract

Berlin is dotted with structures damaged by war or eroded by neglect. Since unification, several groups have appropriated such spaces for alternative cultural and social projects, intentionally displaying architectural decrepitude. Cultural centres such as the Tacheles and the Haus Schwarzenberg stand out against freshly painted faades and commercial enterprises. They react against gentrification and urban beautification, both of which have characterised Berlin's urban and architectural makeover since 1989. The display of ruination also attempts to represent a conflicted history, and is related to Germany's fraught relationship to memory. This article groups these projects, and their attitude towards decay, under the rubric of counterpreservation and suggests that the fascinating spell of counterpreservation is inseparable from the irresistible decay that Walter Benjamin associated with ruins. Through a close reading of the Haus Schwarzenberg building, it teases out the evocative potential of ruined spaces as they engage the embodied perception of space in unscripted, unpredictable ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)687-697
Number of pages11
JournalThird Text
Volume25
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

Keywords

  • Berlin
  • German Unification
  • Haus Schwarzenberg
  • Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church
  • Tacheles
  • Topography of Terror
  • architecture
  • gentrification
  • memory
  • ruins

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