Thursday, 24 February 2011


The other day I walked through Regierungsvierte on the Spree. My eyes were squinted against the piercing sun so that all I could see were refracted light auras and outlines of modernist buildings, reflected off of windows and water. The city sounds were muted by stone and steel walls. I don't know if it was the vast scale of everything around me or the heavy silence of the scene but Fritz Lang's film Metropolis came to mind.
Metropolis was made near Berlin in the UFA studios in 1927. It tells the story of a quasi-corporate elite ('thinkers') which lives in the plush, nirvana-like surroundings of a future city. The inhabitants of this city depend on underground workers to produce and run everything around them. In return they offer distant, godlike guidance for the workers and their machines. A lot of Berlin has been destroyed and rebuilt since the 1920's but Metropolis-style structures still sprout up around the city from time to time, as if growing from Expressionist seeds sewn here back then.

Unfortunately the mentality which Metropolis criticized is also still in evidence here. It's not difficult to compare both Mediaspree e.V. and the Berlin city senate with Metropolis’ elite as they hand down plans for the city from a lofty height, without considering the input given by residents. At least in Metropolis, the main character is shocked into helping the masses when he witnesses an accident caused by one of his father’s machines. Berliners have had no such luck with their elected representatives,
who have remained unmoved despite witnessing numerous business closures and the partial destruction of the East Side Gallery in the name of Spree development. The senate even managed to ignore a successful referendum against the project back in 2008. Indeed, its policy towards Berlin’s citizens has been to look ‘far away from them’ and focus on the people ‘high in the heavens’, instead. Whoever the corporate sponsors of Mediaspree are, their coffers are obviously loaded enough to buy out democracy itself.

In Metropolis, Fritz Lang used modernist and art deco structures to signify the elite. So it's interesting to note that many of the new buildings along the Spree are modelled in the same style shown in his film. It almost seems like a confirmation that the companies shaping east Berlin’s future want to insulate themselves from it in those vast towers they're building.

I took these pictures to show that I do think modernism can add mystery and beauty to an otherwise predictable walk, when it's in the right place. But it has to be right for everybody and not just for the 'thinkers', or else our view of the Spree will end up more like this:

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