During the year 1990, the Berlin Wall was pulled down-mainly by the borderline troops of the GDR-army (Nationale Volksarmee, NVA), who had guarded it since 1961. Most Berliners-politicians as well as other citizens-were overjoyed with the disappearance of the monstrous buildings and eager to return to a normal life in a normal city without the fences and controls-they wanted to forget.
Opposing this very obvious reaction, the Historic Buildings Conservation Department, to which I belong, tried to protect parts of the Wall as monuments of history. Several rather small sections were listed, among them one of 210 metres length at the Bernauer Straße, on a former cemetery.
Our customary procedure is to approach an old building as near as possible to make its value visible („Vergegenwärtigung“). In this case our arguments had to amplify the distance between our contemporaries and the monument, to make them believe in the sense of its preservation („Distanzierung“). This was difficult and only partially successful. How was a protected section to be dealt with? Preserving it raw and unchanged and keeping the image of its violence visible means to interfere continuously, even to restore the disintegrating concrete. Would this promote “memory”? Not to interfere means, that in their natural succession lower plants and finally birches and other trees will overgrow the death-strip and transform it into a wilderness. Would this promote “oblivion”? And would not both offend once again the dignity of the graveyard already profaned by the construction of the frontier?
An artist’s and architect’s competition held in 1994 was meant to bring forward a solution, and it did, but no one is really happy with the chose prize winner. In the meantime, even without any programmatic decision, nature and time began to transform the monument’s perception. It hurts less. Should we try to stop this process, perhaps by some work of art, a creation, that sums up the memories of oppression, fear and seclusion, and recreates the same feelings in every visitor? Or do we need appeasement by time and nature to be able to begin with our work of remembrance?
Recently, the project of a young artist has been much discussed: Angela Bohnen proposes to mark the outer and inner borderlines-and thus the space cut out of the city by the frontier-with coloured concrete-beams, embedded into the pavement of streets, sidewalks, and into the plots following the Wall through the inner city. Could this be an alternative to the failing preservation of the real Wall? Can the Wall re-appear in the artist’s work?