Capital Dilemma: Germany's Search for a New Architecture of Democracy

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9781568981345: Capital Dilemma: Germany's Search for a New Architecture of Democracy

The decision to move Germany's government seat from Bonn to Berlin by ?the year 2000 poses an epic architectural challenge and has fostered an ?international debate on which building styles are appropriate to ?represent German national identity. Capital Dilemma investigates the ?political decisions and historical events behind the redesign of ?Berlin's official architecture. It tells a complex and exciting drama of ?politics, memory, cultural values, and architecture, in which Helmut ?Kohl, Albert Speer, Sir Norman Foster, and I. M. Pei all figure as ?players.?

?If capital city design projects are symbols of national identity and ?historical consciousness, Berlin is the supreme example. In fact, ?architecture has played a pivotal role throughout Germany's turbulent ?twentieth-century history. After the fall of the monarchy, Germany gave ?birth to the Bauhaus, whose founders argued that their own revolutionary ?designs could shape human destiny. The century's warring ideologies, ?Nazism and Communism, also used architecture for their own political ?ends. In its latest incarnation, Berlin will become the capital of the ?fifth German state in this century to be ruled from that city. How will ?the official architecture of reunified Berlin, a democratic capital ?being built amid totalitarian remains, be different this time around? Th?e Federal Republic of Germany, a highly stable democracy in stark ?contrast to its predecessors, has been struggling with burdensome ?architectural legacies. In the process, it has considered remedies as ?varied as outright destruction, refurbishment, and, in the case of the ?former Nazi Central Bank now being converted into the new Foreign ?Ministry, physical concealment.

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Review:

"Thomas Jefferson may have deemed classical forms to be ideally suited to the expression of American democracy, but in the Federal Republic of Germany these same forms often bring out a response that is almost phobic," writes Michael Wise in this book on the chronic controversy surrounding postwar German public architecture. A journalist who has covered Central Europe, Wise brings narrative flair and thoroughgoing research to this story of the politics, aesthetics, and historical implications of Germany's decision, following reunification, to move its government seat from Bonn to Berlin.

Wise makes the tearing down of some old buildings ("Bye, Bye Clunker," read the headline in one Berlin newspaper as the Communist, white aluminum-clad Foreign Ministry fell to the wrecking balls) and the heated arguments over new designs into a fascinating page-turner. In scores of interviews, Wise also found many younger Germans who seemed inured to the "phobia" against classicism, so tainted by Albert Speer's grand designs for the Third Reich. Those in favor of building a replica of the old royal residence, last occupied by Kaiser Wilhelm II in l9l8, were slightly chilling in their naive, right-wing nostalgia, for example. Here is Annette Ahme, head of the Society for Historical Berlin: "Everyone, whether Left or Right, wants a beautiful city, apart from a few intellectuals who say we must continue to suffer from our Nazi-era sins and that these must remain visible."

Wise's ultimate view, that "the Federal Republic has made an exemplary transition from totalitarian rule to democracy," is heartening, because it is believable. This is largely due to his detailed, fair-minded descriptions of the painstaking cultural processes of recent decades. --Peggy Moorman

About the Author:

Michael Z. Wise covered Central Europe for Reuters and the Washington Post. He has also written for the New York Times, the Economist, the New Republic, the Atlantic Monthly, and ARTnews.

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