Sacralized Spaces and the Urban Remembrance of War

  • Janet Ward


It is at the point of rebuilding highly symbolic sites after urban trauma that problems of signification can occur, converging concerns of public history, memory studies, and architecture alike. Reconstruction can fall prey to an overly redemptive and cathartic sense of closure: it can signal the loss of memory, an over-inscription of the memorialization that the ruined site called forth. In Germany’s case, fears about urban reconstruction appearing too seamlessly constitutive of a past prior to the Nazi regime and the urban bombardments caused by the Second World War amount, on the most basic level, to fears about a collective loss of inherited responsibility for the Holocaust. The restitution of German urban icons destroyed in the air war has had to be measured (whether directly or indirectly) against this call to Holocaust memory, and has generally been found wanting by comparison. Germany’s reunification process and its concomitant reconstitution of the German capital as well as the myriad urban, economic, and cultural infrastructures of the former East German state — all still ongoing after 20 years — have only highlighted this set of comparisons. In his account of reunified Berlin’s architectural transformations, for example, Gavriel Rosenfeld has usefully demonstrated how the ‘Architects’ Debate’ of the 1990s (about the role of historical authenticity in post-war and now post-Wall rebuilding) is itself an offshoot of West Germany’s longstanding ‘Historians’ Debate’ of the 1980s (when conservative scholars advocated a comparative genocidal relativity over an understanding of the uniqueness of the Nazi Holocaust, and left-wing scholars stressed the consequences of any loss of uniqueness for German collective memory and responsibility).1


Sacred Site Sacralized Space Moral Legacy German Capital Memory Site 
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© Janet Ward 2009

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  • Janet Ward

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