Identity, Politics, and the Creation of Consensus

  • Mary Dellenbaugh-LosseEmail author
Part of the The Urban Book Series book series (UBS)


This chapter examines a number of the “framework conditions” that accompanied built space changes in Berlin after German reunification. The legal and political forms that German reunification and administrative restructuring took were a fundamental prerequisite for the actions which came next and the power afforded the key actors. This chapter introduces the main actors who were in charge of spatial restructuring in the city, for example Hans Stimmann, Volker Hassemer and Dietrich Hoffmann-Axthelm, and goes into detail about the tactics and strategies that they used to realize their vision of Berlin. These included an extensive use of technocratic instruments such as expert committees and architectural competitions, as well as the effective suppression of opposition through simulated democratic participation, for example in the Stadtforum. In doing so, these actors effectively engendered consensus and delegitimized dissenting voices through their invocation of tropes of memory, identity and the “European city.”


German reunification Unification contract Hans Stimmann  Legitimation Consensus Administrative assistance west 

4.1 Setting the Stage: Unification and Administrative Restructuring

While many see the “fall” of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 as the pivotal moment in German reunification, in reality this night was just the beginning of a year-long process in which a number of critical decisions were reached. As with other post-socialist countries, German reunification entailed the vast restructuring of legal, economic, and social aspects of society, which included the introduction of a free-market economy, the shift from an authoritarian dictatorship to a parliamentary democracy, the reinstatement of rent and real estate markets, the privatization of the so-called “people’s property,” the emergence of a range of new actors from municipal governments to NGOs to free media, and mass migrations due to freedom of movement (Czepczyński 2008, pp. 112–113). Lenhart groups these tendencies into two categories which she describes as “transformation” (from a socialist state to a capitalist parliamentary democracy) and “structural change” (changes in social-economic structures combined with changes in political decision-making structures and actor constellations) (Lenhart 2001, pp. 63–64). In addition, there were a number of legal and political decisions and developments which were specific to the German situation and had a fundamental influence on the subsequent changes to the cultural landscape. I will refer to these collectively as “framework conditions.”

Following the “peaceful revolution” of November 1989, the SED was deposed and a party system based on the West German model was established. On March 18, 1990, the German Democratic Republic held its first free elections (de Maizière 2005; Pugh 2014). In October 1990, the freely elected members of the Volkskammer voted to dissolve the GDR and accede to the FRG (Pugh 2014, p. 327). The vote was by no means undivided; Bündnis 90/Die Grünen voted nearly unanimously against accession. According to Schröder, their resistance was not against unification in and of itself, but rather the form and tempo of unification. Throughout the short-lived freely elected Volkskammer period, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen lobbied for the creation of a new Germany with a new constitution, a dream which they were not able to realize in the relatively short period, despite attempts to draft a new constitution based on the original demands of the people’s resistance (Schröder 2005, p. 38). In the end, the parties who had pleaded for a fast union, including the swift adoption of the much stronger Deutschmark (D-Mark), won the vote.

In order to accede to the FRG, the political and administrative framework of the GDR had to be adjusted or restructured. As such, the GDR needed to be reformatted following the pattern of the FRG, so that the legal, political, and administrative structures of the FRG could be extended to the new territory. This meant a reintroduction of various administrative levels and structures including, most importantly, the German Länder (states). In addition, municipal legal and administrative structures, which had been functionally hollowed out and repurposed as the executive structure of the orders of the central planning apparatus during the GDR, were also returned their planning and oversight responsibilities (Lenhart 2001; de Maizière 2005).

The accession of the GDR to the FRG was legally structured through three treaties (Staatsverträge). The first treaty (WWSUVtr 1990) regulated the monetary, economic, and social union and was signed into law on July 1, 1990, less than four months after the first free elections in the GDR. The rapid monetary union, that is the adoption of the D-Mark by the GDR, was critical in order to prevent inner-German economic disparities and to stem the flow of émigrés from East Germany (Schröder 2005).

The basic underlying assumption of the first treaty was that the legal framework of the GDR would continue to exist for some time. Thus, a vital component of the first treaty was the adaptation of the GDR legal system to accommodate the changes brought about by the monetary, economic, and social union. However, according to de Maizière, the concept shifted while the Volkskammer was in the process of adjusting existing and writing new laws (de Maizière 2005, p. 54). Following de Maizière’s characterization, Wolfgang Schäuble (the then Federal Minister of the Interior) intended to follow this same basic logic in the second treaty (EinigVtr 1990), that is the unification contract. However, during the summer holiday recess, Theo Waigel (the then Federal Minister of Finance) and Klaus Klinkel (the then State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Justice) negotiated the complete adoption of the Federal German legal system, the official justification being the protection of the D-Mark’s stability (de Maizière 2005, p. 54). As a result, on July 31, 1990, the unification contract stipulated the complete adoption of all Federal German laws, including the constitution of the FRG; as such, “unification … effectively involved the consensual annexation of East Germany by the Federal Republic” (Wise 1998, p. 59).

One detail which often gets omitted in discussions of German reunification is the fact that the FRG and GDR could not bilaterally decide on the form that reunification would take, since the FRG was at the time still occupied by the allied forces (Schröder 2005, p. 40). The form that German unification ended up taking, namely that of an enlarged FRG, was decisively influenced by the American position in particular. In negotiating the so-called “two plus four” contract, formally known as the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany” (Zwei-plus-Vier-Vertrag 1990), reunified Germany was required to remain in the UN and NATO and a part of the European monetary union, and take the form of a regulative enlargement of the FRG. This was a stipulation of the allies, without which they would not have signed the so-called “two plus four” treaty (Schröder 2005, p. 40), which was ratified in Moscow on September 12, 1990 (de Maizière 2005; Schröder 2005).

From this point forward, it was possible to start reorganizing the lower levels of government. This led to the widespread in-migration of West German bureaucrats, who were assigned to assist in the transition of legislative and administrative structures. In political, social, and economic contexts, “the replication or assumption of institutions and the import of a large portion of the management personnel was common” (Land and Willisch 2005, p. 14). These changes to actor constellations, and in particular the staffing of high-level positions with West Germans, affected all aspects of social and political life in the former GDR.1

This included the administrative structures responsible, among other things, for planning and decision-making in cities. In order to expedite the adoption of the new system, the unification contract contained provisions for “administrative assistance” (Verwaltungshilfe); East–West partnerships on every political and administrative level were intended to expedite the importation of West German regulatory and legislative structures and ease the “growing pains” associated with the accession (Lenhart 2001, p. 72).

Municipalities in the GDR had not been independent political bodies; therefore, the administrative actors on the municipal level were not versed in the implementation of laws and statues. The districts existed as formal entities, but they had been chiefly concerned with the local implementation of centrally decided plans (Lenhart 2001, p. 96). As such, the few East German actors who remained were at a disadvantage in two respects: a lack of experience in the role and a lack of experience with the new laws, regulations, and statues (Lenhart 2001, pp. 96–97).

This situation was nowhere more pronounced than in Berlin: “even before the official accession of the GDR to the FRG, the Administrative Assistance West in urban development policy had shifted to western dominance and subsequent appropriation, at least at the state level. The West was preparing to extend its scope to the East even before the legal and institutional foundation for this move existed. […] With the argument of having to be able to make decisions in a city-wide manner before unification, Western Secretaries of State were appointed as ‘advisors’ during the Magi-Senate (May 1990 to January 1991) […] Central tasks were assumed by Western players, who were officially bound by the instructions of the Eastern actors, but factually took their orders from those who were politically responsible in the West. After the first general elections in Berlin in December 1990, the East Berlin politicians disappeared from the scene and their administrations were also occupied in the upper pay grades with employees from the West” (Lenhart 2001, pp. 72–73), a situation which had serious consequences.

4.2 Power, Legitimation, and the Key Actors

The political framework set out by the first and second treaties (the social, economic, and currency union and the unification contract) formed the basis for the political legitimacy of the changes to the built landscape which will be examined in this book. In addition, to further legitimize their actions in the eyes of the public, the responsible actors used a range of technocratic and media-based instruments to bolster their actions. In order to discuss these topics in depth, it is first necessary to take a step back and briefly set the foundation for a wider discussion of power and legitimacy.

Following Latour, “power over something or someone is a composition made by many people […] and attributed to one of them […]. The amount of power exercised varies not according to the power someone has, but to the number of other people who enter into the composition” (Latour 1986, p. 265, italics in original). Put another way, the amount of power attributed to someone can be understood as the number of people who will follow their orders, carry out their wishes, translate their ideas into reality, or, at the very least, not resist their designs. Power can be undermined or delegitimized by “the withdrawal or refusal of consent […] Actions ranging from non-cooperation and passive resistance to open disobedience and militant opposition on the part of those qualified to give consent will in different measure erode legitimacy, and the larger the numbers involved, the greater this erosion will be” (Beetham 2013, p. 19). The degree and quality of cooperation is also important, “not only for whether [leaders] remain ‘in power,’ but for what their power can be used to achieve” (Beetham 2013, pp. 28–29). Thus, it was vital for the key actors in Berlin to create a critical mass of support for their ideas among lower bureaucrats, professionals, academics, and the wider public in order to achieve their goals.

The administrative restructuring described in the previous sub-chapter placed the decisive power post-1990 in the hands of a select group of Western actors (Lenhart 2001, p. 54). Following Bourdieu’s division of specialized labor, these powerful actors were vested with a power to signify symbolic power and capital (Bourdieu 1992); they were “legitimate speaker(s), authorized to speak and to speak with authority” (Bourdieu 1992, p. 41). The designation of these legitimate speakers excluded the legitimacy of all other speakers in a self-reinforcing cycle: the legitimate speakers supported the dominance of the dominant group, and the dominant group supported the legitimate speakers’ claims to legitimacy.

This inner circle was made up of a group of West German political and academic elites who led the discussion around the changes to Berlin’s built landscape. The actors on the senate level in particular were “granted an unusually broad political corridor of influence” (Lenhart 2001, p. 280) as a result of the transformation processes in the city. Lenhart describes the years directly after the fall of the Wall as a sort of “lawless space”; the lack of formal new regulations was actively promoted by political actors to maintain their own individual power. The refusal to set overall urban development goals or guidelines served to concentrate the decision-making power with the building senator and his employees, with the result that the senate, and not the districts, was able to claim the lion’s share of the decisive power with relation to urban development in the city in the 1990s (Lenhart 2001, pp. 74–75). In this way, “a small group of a maximum of ten actors [dominated the] discourse by virtue of their official position” (Hain 1997, p. 123).

The changes discussed in this book were primarily set into motion during the Senates Diepgen III (1991–1996), IV (1996–1999), and V (1999–2001).2 As a result of a no-confidence vote due to his involvement in the Berlin banking scandal, Eberhard Diepgen was removed from office in 2001 and replaced by Klaus Wowereit. It should be noted that the roman numerals III, IV, and V indicate that these were the third, fourth, and fifth Berliner senates under Eberhard Diepgen as head mayor, respectively; his first two periods as head mayor were as the Mayor of West Berlin (I, from February 1984 until March 1985 and II, from March 1985 until March 1989).

Four politicians dominated the discourse and decision-making in Berlin between 1989 and 2006 under Mayors Diepgen and Wowereit (Table 4.1); following the concentration of power described above, it is unsurprising that all four of these political actors hail from the senate level. Far and away, the most influential and most well-known personality involved with new planning measures in Berlin was Hans Stimmann (born 1941 in Lübeck), who acted as Senate Building Director from 1991 to 1996 and 1999 to 2006, and State Secretary for Planning from 1996 until 1999. During this time, he was centrally involved in a wide range of high-profile planning measures, including Planwerk Innenstadt, the competition for the redesign of Alexanderplatz, and the establishment of critical reconstruction as the dominant Leitbild in the city, to name a few. Hans Stimmann was also involved in an extensive range of publishing projects, which will be examined in detail in later chapters.
Table 4.1

Politicians involved in decision-making relevant to the built space of East Berlin


Birth year and place

Role before reunification of Berlin

Role in Senate Diepgen III (1991–1996)

Role in Senate Diepgen IV (1996–1999)

Role in Senate Diepgen V (1999–2001)

Role in Senate Wowereit I (2001–2002)

Role in Senate Wowereit II (2002–2006)

Eberhard Diepgen

1941 in Pankow; Raised in West Berlin

Head mayor of West Berlin, 1984–1989

Head Mayor

Head Mayor

Head Mayor


Klaus Wowereit

1953 in West Berlin

Member of the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus


Head Mayor

Head Mayor

Hans Stimmann

1941 in Lübeck (Schleswig-Holstein)

Building senator for the city of Lübeck, 1986-1991

Senate Building Director

State Secretary for Planning

Senate Building Director

Senate Building Director

Senate Building Director

Wolfgang Nagel

1944 in Lüdden/Warthe (today part of Poland); Raised in Bielefeld (North Rhine-Westphalia)

Member of the West Berlin state parliament, 1981–1989

Senator for Construction and Housing


Volker Hassemer

1944 in Metz (France); Raised in Hessen

Senator for Urban Development and Environmental Protection in West Berlin (1981–1983); Cultural senator for West Berlin (1983–1989)

Senator for Urban Development and Environmental Protection


Peter Strieder

1952 in Nuremberg (Bavaria)

District mayor of Kreuzberg, 1992–1995


Senator for Urban Development, Environmental Protection and Technology

Senator for Urban Development

Senator for Urban Development

Senator for Urban Development (until 2004)

During the Senates Diepgen III, IV, and V and Wowereit I and II, three senators were appointed whose remit included urban planning and development. The senate departments underwent continuous restructuring during this period, which led to positions being named and renamed, as well as the frequent division or fusion of topical departments over the course of the decade and a half in question. For the sake of clarity, the actors in question and their positions have been listed in Table 4.1.

Wolfgang Nagel (born 1944 in Lüdden/Warthe) was appointed Senator for Construction and Housing already under Walter Momper (Diepgen’s predecessor), a position which he held from 1989 until 1996. Volker Hassemer (born 1944 in Metz),3 who had held the position of Senator for Urban Development and Environmental Protection in West Berlin from 1981 to 1983 before switching to the cultural department from 1983 to 1989, was appointed Senator for Urban Development and Environmental Protection from 1991 until 1996. Finally, Peter Strieder (born 1952 in Nuremberg) was appointed to the position of Senator for Urban Development, Environmental Protection and Technology from 1996 until 1999. His position was renamed to “Senator for Urban Development” in 1999, a title he held until 2004, when he resigned as a result of the Tempodrom scandal.

These political actors’ work was flanked by research, commentary, and critique by a range of legitimate speakers from academic and professional spheres, whose work was in part also funded through public money (Lenhart 2001, p. 286). These included high-profile academics from the German-speaking context, including eastern European scholar Karl Schlögel (born 1948 in Hawangen (Bavaria)), social scientist and urban planner Harald Bodenschatz (born 1946 in Munich (Bavaria)), and sociologist and urbanist Hartmut Häußermann (born 1943 in Waiblingen (Baden-Württemberg)), to name the most prominent. In addition, a number of architects and architecture critics stepped up to further support the political actors with exhibitions, essays, and other publications, including architecture critic and urban planner Dieter Hoffmann-Axthelm (born 1940 in West Berlin) and architectural theorist and historian Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani (born 1951 in Rome), who was the director of the German Architecture Museum (DAM) between 1990 and 1994.4

Following the central role of a small number of politically legitimated actors, this book will employ Latour’s diffusion model of power to examine the implementation of changes to the symbolic landscape; “what counts is the initial force of those who have power; this force is then transmitted in its entirety; finally, the medium through which power is exerted may diminish the power because of frictions and resistances (lack of communication, ill will, opposition of interest groups, indifference)” (Latour 1986, p. 267). Following this model, the main barrier to the power of the legitimate speakers was resistance, civil disobedience, and other forms of protest from lower bureaucrats, professionals, academics, and the wider public. Thus, it was vital for the key actors that their power be “acknowledged as rightful by those involved in a given power relation” (Beetham 2013, p. x, italics in original).

As David Beetham states, “the structure of power must be seen to serve a recognizably general interest, rather than simply the interests of the powerful” (Beetham 2013, p. 17). Thus, in order to bolster the objective legitimacy of their actions, the key actors had to frame their actions as of general interest and as not ideologically founded. Since the legitimacy of power “concerns the normative dimension of power relations, and the ideas and practices that give those in power their moral authority and credibility” (Beetham 2013, p. x), the normative justification of the actions undertaken was a key element of establishing their legitimacy. This was achieved through three means.

4.3 Technocratic Neutrality: Expert Commissions, Architectural Competitions, and the Stadtforum

According to Beetham, “[…] the main way in which the powerful will maintain their legitimacy is by respecting the intrinsic limits set to their power by the rules and the underlying principles on which they are grounded” (Beetham 2013, p. 35). In Berlin, this meant the creation of ostensible technocratic neutrality wherever possible in the decisions which were reached and implemented. The more ideologically entrenched the idea, the greater the need for the veneer of objective rationality and democratic participation.

Expert commissions, for example on the renaming of streets (1993) or the Palace of the Republic/City Palace debate (2001), were a popular technocratic instrument in the creation of the appearance of sober distance and objectivity. These commissions’ names included descriptions such as “independent” and “international,” which were meant to imply a seeming lack of inner-German bias. However, as will be demonstrated in later chapters about the case studies in question, it remained a political decision on the part of key actors on various governmental levels whether to in fact follow the recommendations made by the experts. As such, the use of expert committees in the context of the remediation of a burdened landscape amounted in many cases to not much more than consensus-bolstering window dressing.

In addition, Berlin employed architectural competitions, for example for the Reichstag or the redesign of Alexanderplatz, to lend these designs legitimacy. Again, the technocratic instrument of an expert jury was meant to confer objectivity and thus legitimacy to the decision, thus pre-empting protest and dissent. Similar to arguments of architecture in West Berlin as examined in Chap.  3, aesthetics became the central and all-encompassing quality criteria. However, also as examined in Chap.  3, aesthetics were critically tangled with ideology in subtle ways during the Cold War.

Both expert commissions and architectural competitions played an important role in post-Wall Berlin. The post-Wall period was characterized by an unusually large number of competitions (architectural, construction, and urban design competitions) registered at the chamber of architects, which rose dramatically over time; “alone in the period between 1992 and 1995, 158 competitions were announced, 79 of which came from the construction senator himself” (Lenhart 2001, p. 198).5 The development of the key areas of the city through competitions and not through the development of a masterplan was yet another tactic to maintain the decisive power at the senate level, in particular with the construction senator (Lenhart 2001, pp. 198–199).

In addition, the use of competitions grants the awarding authority a range of opportunities to control the result from the outset. Through the definition of the competition requirements, the selection of the jury members, the selection of an open or limited competition, and the selection of participants, the awarding authority has four significant opportunities to influence the result of the competition to a high degree (Lenhart 2001, pp. 200–201). Similar control opportunities exist with regard to expert commissions as well. Thus, in contrast to the transparency and openness that a competition seems to engender, Lenhart argues that, in particular as they were used in Berlin in the 1990s, competitions were instead a form of “simulated openness” (Lenhart 2001, p. 204); “formal participation, especially in competitions, was solely designed to create acceptance among the population, but not to influence the outcome” (Lenhart 2001, pp. 282–283).

The same is true of the Stadtforum (city forum), a discussion format offered and curated by the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing, which has taken place several times a year at irregular intervals since April 1991.6 The Stadtforum created a space of controlled discussion in which the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing could be seen to be engaging in public debate and citizen outreach, again without the results of the debate ever affecting the actual outcome of the decision.

Lenhart (2001) names four aspects which corroborate this claim. First, the debates focused on urban design and architectural issues in the context of Berlin’s economic development, while largely negating existing problems that may or may not have arisen in the context of the city’s intended metropolitanization. Second, while the Stadtforum offered the ability to express a wide variety of opinions, the criticisms voiced there remained inconsequential and largely symbolic. Third, while the Stadtforum projected the image of lively debate and active democratic participation, the inputs discussed there (and trumpeted to the wider public through the well-funded public relations work) had no recognizable effect on political decision-making. Fourth and finally, the topics which were raised in the Stadtforum were always discussed too late, “when the trenches had already been dug and the cannons were already fixed. While the charge was shouted out, the competitions were going on [and] the senate building director was announcing his policy, the Stadtforum was still busy studying the order of battle and debating whether the battlefields had been properly chosen” (Otremba, quoted in Lenhart 2001, pp. 101–102). However, the Stadtforum was still able to act as a vehicle for political legitimacy, despite the fact that, while the discussions were going on “following the principle ‘see here, we’re discussing it openly,’ the discussed projects were already wrapped up and/or on their way to being so” (Lenhart 2001, pp. 101–102).

Commissions, competitions, and the Stadtforum sought to establish the political legitimacy of the decisions that were reached through technocratic means. The former two, while giving the perception of aesthetic and technical objectivity, were highly curated from the awarding authority, the senate department, which was effectively able to determine the result from the outset through a variety of choices in the composition of the commission or competition. The Stadtforum, on the other hand, “sought to establish legitimacy through staged participation. Concrete decisions were not affected by the various debates, public participations and their ‘results’” (Lenhart 2001, p. 286). As such, the Stadtforum can be classified as a “non-participative measure” following Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of participation (Arnstein 1969), as it was primarily used to bolster the legitimacy of the chosen actions, co-opt and control critical voices, and increase acceptance among the wider populace.

4.4 Media and Discourse: Normalizing the Narrative

In addition, the key actors involved in this debate used local, regional, national, and international media outlets, international exhibitions, and publications to forward their arguments. In doing so, they employed three inter-related tropes in an attempt to normalize their preferred narrative and create consensus for their chosen course of action. As such, the methods employed by the key actors following German reunification represent an extension of the tactics employed in West Berlin during the Cold War.

As discussed in Chap.  3, the US-supported propaganda surrounding construction and urban development in West Berlin employed oblique strategies to convey its messages. Instead of labeling buildings overtly as “democratic” or “capitalist,” these structures were “defined through the ‘neutral’ standards of aesthetics and building technology” (Pugh 2014, p. 56). By not engaging with the ideological content of the buildings, the West was able to forge the pretense, at least in the public eye, that the buildings constructed in the western half of the city were inherently un-ideological and purely the logical and objective result of technological advancements. The use of technocratic instruments described in the last section reflects an extension of this discourse of aesthetic neutrality and objectivity in post-Wall Berlin. Similarly, the discourse about post-Wall architecture and urban planning employed oblique tactics and did not directly engage with the ideological content of the buildings in question. In doing so, the actors, however, made their assertions of legitimate history and memory quite explicit.

Titles such as “Identity, Permanence and Modernization” (Identität, Permanenz und Modernisierung) (Stimmann 1997), “The Memory of the European City” (Das Gedächtnis der europäischen Stadt) (Stimmann 2001), or “The Renaissance of the Berliner Old City, from GDR State Headquarters to City Center” (Renaissance der Berliner Altstadt, Von DDR Staatsmitte zur Stadtmitte) (Stimmann 2009) are demonstrative examples of such tactics. Here the “reconstruction” of the city center to resemble its pre-WWI form is discursively linked to the concepts of identity and memory. Thus, the only identity and historiography of the city presented as legitimate and “worth reconstruction” is that from before the First and Second World Wars, and the resultant division of the city. The specific historiography and cultural and temporal myths associated with it are strengthened through their discursive connection to “modernization” (Dellenbaugh 2015). Thus, the historical embedding of the city in an industrial-era built space fabric also hearkens back to the capitalist roots of the city’s Kaiser-era and industrial-era expansion, a pattern common to post-socialist urban development, as examined in Chap.  2 (see also Young and Light 2001).

The transition of the center of the city from “GDR state headquarters” to a “city center” exemplifies the apolitical West/ideological East discursive dichotomy. The city center created by the GDR is portrayed semantically as exclusively political and ideological, while its “remediation” is framed through technocratic and neutral terms. This represents an undiluted extension of western Cold War discourse in reunified Berlin as mentioned above.

Memory, identity, and Europeanness are repeatedly invoked in connection with architectural forms. Similar to Cold War discourses about technical advancement, European identity, in particular the concept of the “European city,” became an important oblique argumentation for the remediation of the socialist urban fabric. In this debate, the “European” city becomes a discursive foil for not only the American post-war city, many of which wholeheartedly embraced the Corbusierian and CIAM principles of functional division, car-centric development, and high-rise housing, but in equal measure the socialist/communist city, which demonstrates many of the same physical attributes as the American city paired with the burden of failed ideology. Following the discourse of the “European” city leads one to dense, walkable, pedestrian scale inner cities, frequently with historical city centers. Berlin, in invoking the trope of the European city and seeking to reformat the socialist form of the city center, engaged in a geopolitical reorientation which necessarily needed to be reflected in the city fabric and its cultural landscape.

Thus, by framing debates of the city structure in terms of “Europeanness,” the key actors in the debates around Berlin’s built space could once again position these debates as apolitical, neutral, objective, and, in the end, tautological. Berlin’s description as a European city places it in the context of London, Milan, and Paris, instead of Warsaw, Minsk, and Moscow, thus naturalizing the “correction” of its landscape as part of the wider naturalization of the “historical aberration” of its division. Thus, the form of the city became, in and of itself, politicized (Hain 1997), with pre-WWI styles as representative of the West and capitalism, and modernist spaces as characteristic of the East and socialism (see also Dellenbaugh 2015).

These tropes were also vital for the reprogramming of the city as a capitalist space; the redesign of the city center was not only bound up with symbolic interests but also very concrete financial interests (Lenhart 2001; Häußermann and Colomb 2003; Colomb 2012). The invocation of history and memory involved the sub-division of large tracts of land in the center of the city, as well as the restitution of seized property; post-modern discourses of “human-scale” and heterogeneous landscapes (as specifically beneficial for commerce and civic life) additionally supported the rapid development of a real estate market.

4.5 Delegitimizing Dissenting Voices

These actions did not go unprotested, despite the wide range of other changes happening at the same time. However, through the effective framing instruments above, the key actors had a wide range of tools at their disposal to delegitimize dissenting voices.

First and foremost, the key actors could point to the systematic “victory” of the democratic, capitalist West over the socialist East in the Cold War as the foundation for their moral superiority. The collapse and “failure” of global communism formed the keystone of a range of arguments about the built space that resulted from it. As such, debates about architecture and urban planning in post-1990 Berlin constituted a functional continuation of western, and specifically West German, narratives.

The framing of architecture and urban planning in the West in purely technological and aesthetic terms during the Cold War contained the implicit assertion that construction and urban planning in the East were inherently inferior, an argument which was frequently brought to bear in post-1990 discussions. Thus, debates about the demolition of buildings and the redesign of socialist urban planning could be grounded in the same ostensibly objective, aesthetic arguments that had been used prior to 1990, and decided under the pretense of apolitical, technical criteria. However, as demonstrated in Chap.  3, the urban landscape of Berlin was so heavily imbued with symbolic capital that the supposition of apolitical action in the wake of reunification is dubious at best.

In addition, the systematic “victory” of democracy and capitalism implied the delegitimization of not only socialism but also the opinions and voices coming from the post-socialist context. East German protesters were framed as either “East German complainers” (Jammerossis) or hopelessly backward, nostalgic for a system which had oppressed them (Czepczyński 2008, p. 144). Indeed, this second characteristic was then used to reinforce the moral superiority of westerners, as it was used as evidence for East German’s supposedly subservient spirit (Pates 2013, p. 11). East Germans were cast as ungrateful “complainers,” not able to appreciate the superiority of the western, democratic system and, in some extreme classifications, as a result of their upbringing under socialism, not even having the personality traits necessary for engagement in democratic civil society (Pates 2013, p. 9).

East Germans’ classification as deviating from the “normal” German (Pates 2013) is an extension of the creation of two cultural identities engendered by the construction of the Berlin Wall as discussed in the conclusion of Chap.  3. Through this discursive framing, the key actors could further bolster their chosen actions as returning Berlin and, likewise the German national identity, to their true paths, both of which had been interrupted by the Second World War and the resulting division. Through the equation of the communist and National Socialist regimes, the socialist landscape additionally became the vessel for the evils of the Second World War, their removal then a proxy for Vergangenheitsbewältigung. The East Germans could consequently become the unique possessors of “the prejudiced, predatory, or authoritarian traits of the bad old days” (Ladd 1997, p. 31), seemingly supported by their supposed tendency to right-wing extremism (Pates 2013, p. 9). In this way, the new regime could create both a physical and built space embodiment of the sins of the Second World War, relieving all other people and spaces of this burden (following Marcuse 1998, p. 336).

Through the argumentation of moral superiority, the West German key actors were able to exert symbolic and normative power against the East Germans. The need to assimilate to a fully new system of free market capitalism and real estate markets, plus the pains of property restitution, industrial restructuring, and widespread unemployment placed normative pressure on the former citizens of the GDR to conform to the new social and political order; “incentives and sanctions, implicit if not always explicit, […] align the behavior of the subordinate with the wishes of the powerful” (Beetham 2013, p. 27). This is true, even when the commentary was polemic and overt (i.e. Dieter Hoffmann-Axthelm’s reference to East Berlin as the “Ossi-Zoo,” Der Spiegel, 1996). In this way, the key actors could both suppress and delegitimize arguments against their actions through a range of strong normative instruments.

4.6 Summary

To summarize, a small number of key actors who were without exception socialized on the western side of the Berlin Wall dominated the discourse though an effective, self-reinforcing selection of instruments and tropes which were a functional extension of western Cold War discourses and tactics. These actors used technocratic instruments to create the semblance of objectivity and neutrality and to legitimize pre-determined endpoints; their actions were fostered by the transformation processes and structural change inherent to German unification. These actors employed tropes of memory, identity, and “Europeanness” to distance themselves from the socialist past and forge a selective historiography that presented reunified Germany and Berlin as the righting of a wrong and the correction of a historical aberration. In doing so, they unknowingly employed typical post-socialist rhetoric (Young and Light 2001). However, beyond its post-socialist implications, this narrative was much more a trope associated with West Berlin, again circling back to the dominance of the western narrative and perspective in reunified Berlin; “West Berlin’s role as a symbol of the Cold War meant that its leaders […] had to insist that Berlin was held back by the wall, its true development ‘interrupted’ by the border closure” (Pugh 2014, p. 279).

The political situation in unified Berlin also represents a continuity of West Berliner political agendas and styles (Lenhart 2001, pp. 113–114). Narratives associated with the West German mythos, and including tropes of identity, memory, and “Europeanness” not only helped to quell dissent through normative pressure but also create tautological arguments for the remediation of Berlin’s inner-city; the European city must be the European city (at the exclusion of its socialist past). Chapter  5 will examine exactly which landscape features and built space typologies were the target of these actions.


  1. 1.

    In his article on the replacement of elites, Pasternack cites a study in which the proportion of West-to-East Germans in leading roles in East German institutions was recorded. High-ranking positions were filled predominantly by West Germans, for example in the former East German and East Berliner mass media (83.3%), federal government (85.9%), including federal ministers (92.3%), the military (90.2%), universities in former East Germany and East Berlin (54.8%), unions (54.2%), and courts in the former East Germany (92.1%) (Pasternack 2005, pp. 224–225). In this way, the West German worldview and structural understanding were imported into every aspect of daily life in the former East Germany, including education, legal decisions, work, and politics.

  2. 2.

    In Berlin, the naming of senates follows the pattern (Name of mayor) (number of times he/she has been mayor). Thus, Diepgen III is the third senate run by Mayor Diepgen.

  3. 3.

    Volker Hassemer was quoted as being proud of “having decided every important space in Berlin-Mitte” (Lenhart 2001, p. 198).

  4. 4.

    The author would like to highlight that the actors listed above were, without exception, socialized in the Western context. Their formative professional years were fundamentally shaped by the Cold War conflict, which pervaded every aspect of daily life. For more information about Cold War tensions, in particular in their expression in architectural debates in Berlin, please see Chap.  3.

  5. 5.

    For example, limited urban planning idea competition Potsdamer/Leipziger Platz (June to October 1991), international and open urban design competition Spreebogen (June 1992 to February 1993), limited urban design idea competition Friedrichstraße (September 1992 to February 1993), limited urban design idea competition Alexanderplatz (January to September 1993), international and open urban planning idea competition Spreeinsel (August 1993 to May 1994), and limited urban design idea competition Lehrter station (July to October 1994) (Lenhart 2001, p. 198).

  6. 6.

    For a very detailed account, please see (Lenhart 2001, Chap. 2.4).


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BerlinGermany

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