PRINT April 1997


Development Projects

The depressed state of Berlin’s property market can no longer be denied. Spurred by government incentives in the tax structure, the frenzy for construction is simply overwhelming the demand for new units; there just aren’t enough people to fill the existing spaces, much less future ones, and the number of construction firms going bankrupt contributes to what on paper look like dismal prospects for the massive rebuilding of the city. Yet, though most of the city’s “visions of the future” are at best still under construction, both investors and a construction-weary populace continue to be besieged with “evidence”—in forms ranging from books and glossies, ubiquitous display panels, video simulations, son et lumière spectacles—that everything is as good as built.

Beginning the summer before last, Stern magazine and other backers of development sponsored four giant “Berlin 2005” panoramas, artist Yadegar Assisi’s painstakingly rendered visions of the future city. Assisi accomplished what planners could not, deftly eliminating all evidence of the city’s immigrants and working class (as well as graffiti) by the year 2005. The discrepancy between Assisi’s consumerist utopia and the reality of Berlin fueled parodies in one of city’s free alternative weeklies, Scheinschlag, which ran a cutout panorama and instructed readers how to assemble the various strips and weave their own mini-cityscapes into fully adjustable crowns.

The building industry’s contribution to the onslaught of publicity is the “Info-Box,” a red-lacquered trailerlike building hovering above one of the large construction sites on Potsdamer Platz. Offering a simulated, Disney Monorail–like ride on the magnetized suspension railway “Transrapid,” as well as models and videos of the future city, this 10 million mark ad for development attracted over a half-million visitors in the first six months it was open. It also served as a magnet for student protesters and striking workers. Though the faces of the Gastarbeiters toiling all around the spacious “Info-Box” are conspicuously absent in the representations inside, their working conditions and cramped living arrangements are available for public inspection through the building’s picture windows.

From the perspective of those developing Potsdamer Platz, the hype is a necessary part of selling the idea of renting and shopping in an area that had been fallow for two decades. Any number of spectacles—from performances by orchestras and ballet troupes to fireworks displays and laser shows—have been held against the surreal backdrop of the cranes, debris, and workers at the monumental construction site. Last summer, artist Gerhard Merz decked out 11 cranes with 2,200 fluorescent lights. What all this celebratory boosterism obscures is the social turmoil and displacement experienced by many who live and work in the city.

The massive development project has generated a number of forms of resistance. Anticipating the demolition of the former East German Foreign Ministry, “Freies Fach,” a group of architecture students, planned their own Rückbau, or “un-building,” as a form of symbolically criticizing the wholesale destruction of East Berlin’s history. However, the building had already become the property of a real demolition company, which put the police on alert for any premature “un-building.” The students, clad in construction gear, got only as far as removing part of the façade before the cops arrived. A few days later, this piece of East German history became a casualty of the “official” demolition company.

—Staff, with reporting by Jochen Becker.

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.