Counterpreservation: Architectural Decay in Berlin since 1989

Book Details

Berlin Wall Memorial

The revamping of Berlin after unification entailed the destruction of much of its urban history. Most demolished structures belonged to the former East, such as the Palace of the Republic and the housing projects known as Plattenbauten. The Berlin Wall also counts among the vanished spatial remains of divided Berlin. Before 1989 the Wall was an instrument of control, repression, and even death for those who tried to cross it. After the fall of the Wall, it was dismantled—some sections more quickly, others more gradually—to allow for the physical reknitting of the city. Hacking away at the Wall was also a cathartic gesture for those who saw it as nothing other than an object of repression (or as a historical souvenir). Very little of the inner-city Wall remained, and those remains decayed quickly. Their surface is worn, with holes showing the concrete aggregate or the rusting metal rebars inside.

On Bernauer Straße, a particularly long stretch of Wall had been placed under preservation protection in 1990, and survived alongside a wide strip of no-man’s land that had also been part of the border fortifications. These remains, in various states of decay, are now part of the Berlin Wall Memorial Grounds. The Grounds include a Visitors’ Center, an open-air exhibition, a memorial, a documentation center, and a memorial chapel. The new design, by a team of architects, landscape designers, and exhibition designers (Mola + Winkelmüller; ON Architektur; and sinai), was chosen in a 2007 competition in order to unify the archaeological remains in the area such as the Wall section, an excavated escape tunnel, and other fragments of infrastructure. The design uses new, stylized elements made of Corten steel, which rusts into an intense saturated red, evoking a language of ruination. It also incorporates the decaying stretch of Wall with all of its holes, rusted rebars, weathered concrete, and gaps.