Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Barcelona: Day 41 : Kaiserwilhemgedächtniskirche .

So, if you're wondering about the title, yes, it is indeed a real name of a small church that was destroyed in the war, and this is where we begin our day. The ruins that were there after the war were kept, and a new structure was built around the tower, which was virtually the only thing that remained after the war. Kathrin said that this is because the church is no longer meant to be seen. Next to it, in the footprint of the old church, is a new octagonal-shaped church, which has services and is used today. The old cathedral dwarfs this new church, but I have to say it's still really cool.

The blue glass stained windows provide a really interesting feeling inside, and is illuminated at night. It definitely doesn't look like your traditional catholic church, and perhaps that is what caught my eye. Despite my desire for traditional elements in a church, I really liked this one. The name is in Kaiserwilhemgedächtniskirche, which technically is hyphenated (like Kaiser-Wilhem-Gedächtsnis-Kirche) but I like sticking it all together because it shows how Germans like to just stick together words sometimes.
the modern tower that was built around the church tower ruins

the new church, with concrete and pre-fab elements

the inside of the new church
Next we headed to a bit of a famous place, which was Checkpoint Charlie (or as the Germans spell it, Checkpoint Charly). This was a crossing point on Friedrichstraße that mostly diplomats and foreigners would use, but also some west Germans could go through if they had the right papers. This checkpoint divided the US and Soviet borders of the control of Germany. The museum nearby has a permanent exhibition of the history of the Berlin Wall, and there are pretend soldiers standing at the checkpoint to help you get the idea of what it would have felt like at that time. There is even cobblestone blocks on the ground to signify where the wall used to stand.
Afterwards we headed to the Jewish museum. It used to exist for some sort of governmental purpose, but then was changed into this museum with additions by Daniel Libeskind. This was his first design, and this outlandish metal building that he designed attracted many visitors even before there were any exhibits. The museum starts you in the older part, and you descend underground to begin your walk through into the newer area (this is the part designed by Libeskind). The plan is very erratic and angular, to signify the tension of the past. It's made of zinc, which is actually used for many things in Berlin from pipes to other parts of infrastructure.
From the inside, you are not supposed to be able to understand what is happening. You are supposed to be guided through chronologically, all the way up until what it is like to be Jewish today. You leave through the Garden of Exile, which is meant to disorient you further.

Once on the tour, our guide began to walk us through Libeskind's masterpiece. The sharp contrast of black and white is meant to put you back in time -- to a time where you would start at the beginning. You even start underground in the basement, which is representative of the Nazizeit, the time when the Nazi's had control. This is also the darkest time in history.
There are no right angles in this building, which helps create an intentional loss of orientation. The lights in the ceiling illuminate three different axes; the Axis of Exile, the Axis of the Holocaust, and the Axis of Continuity. Each axis tells a different story, and helps to create a different experience. At the end of one of the Axis of Exile is the Garden of Exile, which is very similar to the experience created at the Holocaust memorial, with all these giant stones in a grid that suffocate the space around you. Obviously, it is on a much smaller scale, but the ideas behind it are the same. In some ways you have to work in order to get through it -- Eventually you get to through to the sunlight, a lighter time. The space is really what you make of it, in the end.

The dark showcases and shortening ceiling help to give you the feeling that there is no way out. At the end of this axis is the Holocaust Tower, which is a room that completely closes you off from the rest of the museum and is meant to memorialize the 6 million people who died. There is only one place where the light really comes in, except it is so high up that there is no way that you'd be able to get to it; and so the escape is fleeting. This area is described as a 'voided void,' the emptiness of emptiness. You can also hear muffled sounds from outside through the open window; yet you can never reach them.
The tour guide brought up an interesting point that people often ask, how can we remember the Holocaust in architecture? Often it is empty space that people find they can most associate the Holocaust with. In the building there is this balance of object and emptiness. You view objects and exhibits, but you must pass through voids of emptiness to get through to the next set of objects. Libeskind called this concept 'between the lines.'

We moved on to this Corridor of Life, which leads up from the basement and the axes to the other exhibits. There are 18 steps on the first landing, which are symbolic of life in Judaism. The stairs continue into a wall, which means that you don't know you future yet. As you turn around and look at what you've already traversed, you are looking at your past.
On the way to the Memory Void, you pass through this dark room with a bunch of TV's. They are all turned up to an extreme volume, and you just hear a bunch of voices echoing around the room. In my mind, this really prepares you for what you see next.

In the whole museum there are 6 voids, one of which is the Memory Void. The Memory Void is the one void that you can actually go in and experience, and was probably my favorite part of the museum. This is a combination between art and architecture and has 10,000 faces on the ground carved out of iron. At first you're not sure what to do; but then you start walking. The faces have this pained expression, as if they are screaming. At first it is silent, but once you start walking, you begin to hear their screams. It is representative of all the innocent victims of the war, those that have no voice. By having this Memory Void, you have the power to give them back their voice, and the void is filled with their voices.
Our last stop of the day was at an outer city town of Marzahn. The topic of the site was technically Marzahn / Hellersdorf, because they are very similar to each other. They are located on the outskirts of Berlin, built in this very heavy pre-fab manner. Even the beams were concrete. In German this is called plattenbau. Originally it was highly desirable after Berlin was practically leveled, but not the area has begun to deteriorate, not to mention it has a reputation for high unemployment as well as a high amount of crime. It has also become quite inconvenient for people to live that far removed from the city (just to add to my point -- it was dead silent out here when we came). There are quite a few of these giant settlements outside the city, with huge high rise towers; yet they are all the same color and height.
The government has really taken a special interest in these areas, and they really are becoming a much better place to live in. Communities are beginning to form with green and public spaces, as well as commercial places to shop and markets (as you know from my Spain blogs, markets always bring people together). There is still work to be done, but it's getting there. The original goal was was for these buildings to be embedded in large amounts of green space, and become almost seamless vertical gardens, however that idea has completely failed, so a new angle must be taken.

There was a concert in the Berlin Phiharmonie and they had special rates for students an hour before the show. It wasn't in the main hall, instead it was in the smaller one, but that was okay; it was still really great to be able to see something like that for so cheap. They had several acts with different variations of maybe about 8 people. We were all tired and kinda falling asleep, but it actually was really good and the musicians were incredibly talented. Well worth it!

Tomorrow is the last day in Berlin -- gotta make the most of it!

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