Author: Wolf-Günter Thiel --- Date: 03/31/96 --- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

A Journey to Berlin
Wolf-Günter Thiel

A Journey to Berlin is a journey into the past, the present and the future. From Cologne it takes six to seven hours by train. The first thing you notice, sitting in the train, are people who look familiar. In my case, Tilmann Buddensieg, one of my former professors for art history. He is a prominent contributor to the architecture discussions about Alexanderplatz, Pariser Platz, Potsdamer Platz. He favored the Gerhard Merz pavillon (people call it the "Tram Station,") which finally is not going to be built in front of Schinkel's "New Museum". Buddensieg explains why Gerhard Merz's solution is better than rebuilding the nineteenth century garden at that site. He mentions the global village character of Berlin and the growing number of people visiting the place.

This shows already the difficulties of the discussion. The conservative crowd wants to rebuild the original setting of the "Schloss" and the "Pariser Platz." What a strange idea, when the Alexanderplatz (five minutes from there) already has been completely rebuilt three times in this century, and the Boulevard "Unter den Linden" was already out of fashion in the Twenties. Overall it became a symbol of Hitlers' policies--the burning of the books in front of the "Schloss" and a parade ground for troops. Even the GDR used it in this way at anniversaries. The plans for the reconstruction of the Pariser Platz with the rebuilding of the original "Hotel Adlon" looks boring and is an example of bad architecture.

The crown of the already built architecture are the new blocks on Friedrichstrasse. Jean Nouvel, an architect, who seems to have a vision and contemporary ideas, constructed a building which doesn't look like "Gebrueder Luckhard" (he probably alludes to them), but like a big version of the "New York City Empire Diner." Kleihues' building is interesting, because Michael Werner and Max Hetzler, Walter Koenig and other big shots of the artworld are moving into this house. The atrium is created by Markus Luepertz. Various critics agree that the architecture is really worse than the GDR buildings on the same street. So far, everything looks pretty empty. It somehow gives you the feeling of Madison Avenue on weekends, except the buildings are a few stories shorter. The Potsdamer Platz with buildings by Piano, Rogers, Kohlhoff, Jahn and others looks like a new Babylon. Companies like Sony or Mercedes Benz (which is actually very badly hit by economic troubles) are involved. By the way, the rate of unemployment in Berlin officially is 13%, but more likely up to 25%. The number of people living on state working programs or on welfare is 20%, higher than in most European capitals. Most of the construction workers come from Russia, Poland and other eastern European countries. The Fasanenstrasse, the most elegant shopping street, is mostly frequented by "nouveau riche" people from these countries.

Schipper & Krome are moving to Berlin because of the urbanity, but the part they move to, "Berlin Mitte," looks like a mixture between the South Bronx and Soho in the Sixties: a lot of run-down buildings and, in-between, a few smarties from the east who are showing western art, such as Judy Lüpke & Company (Judy is the one to tell the German paper "Die Woche" that he organized a party in a loft in New York, where he met Naomi Campbell, but it was a party given for him and his crew by Anton Henning and Naomi was actually Ami from Senegal, a girlfriend of Anton). The ambition is there - like we see in "Kunstwerke," but it follows the strategies of the golden Eighties, showing people like Bruce Nauman or Tony Oursler. All the galleries open at 2pm. On the other hand, you find two exceptions, Ronald Jones at Neuger-Riemschneider and Jean-Michel Othoniel at Arndt & Partner. Jones' vision of urbanity and garden architecture in the context of a plan of a new city for the year 2000 is a very subtle and interesting addition to the contest for the Holocaust monument. But the plan that finally won the award looks as monumental as uninteresting, so that some people now think of a George Segal solution instead. I think they should ask Jones to build his garden instead of monuments no one wants. Othoniel plays with the metaphor of the wall and creates the idea of the "Wishing Wall".

Paul Thek has a big retrospective in the "Neue Nationalgalerie." It is really amazing what one article on an artist by Mike Kelley can do. I read he also wrote about Fahlstroem, whose exhibition is coming up at the Cologne Kunstverein.

Art seems to play a rather unimportant part within the city's culture scene. You'd rather go to the theater or make a trip to see housing projects by Bruno Taut, like "Hufeisensiedlung" or "Falkenberg", or new colour concepts for architecture, e.g. by Hans-Jörg Wiegner and Karsten Wittke. You probably would want to see the "Hacksche Höfe", have a coffee at the Cafe Einstein or meet up with someone like Viola Vahrson, a young enthusiastic curator, who tells you with a glance in her eyes, that everyone has to come to Berlin to build up a new cultural scene.

Right now the Berlinale is taking place, and this year Oliver Stone, Emma Thompson, John Travolta and Jody Foster are the big stars. This glamour seems to be refreshing for the dark and cold city. It seems to generate a feeling which had been lost since the Twenties. The circumstances are the same, high rate of unemployment, a vivid and chaotic street-life and a group of architects rebuilding half of the city. The difference is that people do not have a utopian vision anymore. Berlin today is Tilman Buddensieg, a representative of the establishment, as well, as the underground filmproducer Hein visiting the film festival.

A guy sat next to me in the train restaurant, messed up the table with vodka and introduced himself as Peter. Peter, in his late 40s with a Neil Young haircut and a Lou Reed outfit, looked at me and said: "Businessman, he!" "No, I am a writer," I responded. "Yeah, yeah," he said, "I am also rich! I am coming straight from Ibiza and my girlfriend told me I should try the train instead of always flying First Class." He drank a second vodka and tried to convince the waiter to be allowed to smoke in a non-smoking area. "There is a limousine waiting for me at the station in Berlin but, you know, I hate limousines so I'll leave the train already in Potsdam." Afterall, this is Berlin.

--Wolf-Günter Thiel

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Joseph Nechvatal --

Nietzsche sees the world as an artwork. He feels that experiencing an illusion is enjoyable and multiple interpretations done when enjoying an art work should also be done on the world. He doesnąt feel that the truth is important as long as the facts presented in the world are true, meaning that although ideals (artworks) have many meanings, one should respond to it as if it was real.