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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Berlin 3: The present in dialogue with the past




2/9


The Wall remembered at Bernauerstrasse



At the edge of Wedding is Bernauerstrasse on the old border of East Berlin. A sort section of the Wall  has been rebuilt and double row of poles marks the old wall with no man’s land a grassy swath. There are markers where the first tunnel was built through which people escaped into the west until leaking pipes made it impassable. 
The Church of Reconciliation
The Church of Reconciliation stood on the other side of the wall until 1985 when late in the life of the GDR it was blown up for no discernible reason, for security purposes. The rubble of the old church was mixed into the concrete t build the new church and a piece of the original altar that survived stands at the head of the inner circle.
Ironically, the west houses built to show the east the superior quality of life in the west now pale in comparison to  the new luxury apartments rising just on the on the other side of where the wall was. 
Later in the day, I meet my friend Uli in Charlottenberg for Indian food. He was last in New York a year ago at the peak of the Occupy experience and took part in the meeting where Ben and Jerry and other progressive capitalists put forth the challenge to come up with measurable, achievable specific projects that they would fund, thus throwing Occupy into ideological confusion.
Uli in front of Heilig Kreuz Kirche
We go to the  Heilig Kreuze Kirche in Kreuzeberg to see if our friend Juergen is there. His church was an inspiration to me on my first visit in 2008. Built around the same time as West-Park, it was a big cold cathedral of a church with few parishioners rattling around on Sundays. They creatively used the entire interior as a landscape to create a more intimate worship space, a cafe, smaller performing spaces and a host of offices for arts and culture and social change, including the Berlin home of church asylum for refugees from war torn countries. Their work began back in the ’80’s with Palestinian refugees from he war in Lebanon. 
When I compared their work to what my friends had been doing back in Arizona with Central American refugees, they said that work had been their inspiration. So with the help of a small foundation grant, i had arranged to get workers from Arizona and German together to share experiences in border work today and work cooperatively for humane borders. 
Heilig Kreuz is exactly what I hoped West-Park could be. Of course, it helped that most of the renovation for adaptive reuse had been funded by the government through church taxes. Landmarking New York has no such support. 
Both churches reminded me of what had so impressed me on my first trip. In Berlin, architecture encourages a dialogue between the present and the past. There is preservation but with a fluid architectural adaptive free association. In New York City, with far less history, preservation  sometimes becomes a fetishization of the past. Of course it is easier to let go if much of your city has been bombed to hell and back and occupied and reborn.  
But nevertheless, I had seen in churches and factories and art houses examples of what I thought could happen at West-Park. It’s what young artists saw when they’d wander through the church house and  say it had an ambiance somewhere between Berlin and Brooklyn. (With maye a touch of Havana thrown in.)
It’s also somewhat easier for Heile Kreuze because it stands alone on its block, not hemmed in by other buildings. Still, I envy that cafe. As the sun  disappears, Uli and I sit and enjoy coffee and apple cake. The volunteers who run the cafe are finishing for the day. 

Zeljko arrives tonight. 




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