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Brian Ladd’s _The Ghosts of Berlin_

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In the first sentence of The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape, published in 1997, Brian Ladd proclaims, “Berlin is a haunted city” (1). This description is appropriate because, as Ladd demonstrates, the city abounds with sites of memory connected to various eras of German history from the German Empire to the Third Reich and from the divided city to the reunified nation. The haunted aspect of these sites of memory, mainly buildings and monuments in Ladd’s book, is a result of a conflicted German past, parts of which many Germans would like to forget or move to the background but cannot because sites around the city serve as reminders and, in this way, ‘haunt’ the city. One example is the Topography of Terror memorial and museum, which includes an outdoor exhibit of an excavated cellar of the Gestapo headquarters and recalls Berlin’s Nazi past. Even though remembering unpleasant eras of German history is important to coming to terms with the past, the ‘haunted’ nature of these sites remains.

Image 1. Western side of East Side Gallery

Image 1. Western side of East Side Gallery

While the classification of Berlin as a haunted city fits, I think a more apt label is contested city, which reflects the focus of Ladd’s book: controversies surrounding various buildings, monuments, street names, etc. More prominent in the book and in Berlin itself than the hauntedness of the city is the contested nature of it as various groups disagree over numerous sites within it, such as the Neue Wache, royal palace, Lenin statue, Reichstag, and Brandenburg Gate. The contest was and is over whose vision of the city, its people, and the nation will dominate, which pasts matter and should be emphasized, and which do not and should fade into the background or be removed. It is about Berlin and German identity, which sites of memory reflect and help shape.

The Berlin Wall is one of these sites of memory. As Ladd explains, at the fall of the Wall, most Germans wanted it completely removed because for 28 years it was a barrier between the eastern and western portions of city. Only a few supported preserving parts of it as a memorial, and today, the voices of those interested in preserving it are much greater. In discussing the East Side Gallery, Ladd claims, “As a historical site, this was a welter of confusion” because artists from around the world came to paint murals on the Wall after it fell and painted them on the eastern side, which the East German government did not allow while the city was divided although the West German government did (36). He ends his discussion of the gallery with a pessimistic view: “By 1995, the artists’ paint was peeling or was disappearing under uninspired graffiti. Removed from a politically liminal space and a sense of transitory creation, the Wall became a mere ghost of its former self.”

Image 2. In Mauerpark.

Image 2. In Mauerpark.

Ladd could not foresee the restoration efforts that took place in 2009 to have as many of the artists as possible return to repaint their murals, which revitalized this portion of the Wall but was not without controversy. This reflects the continued interest in the preservation of the Wall, as do efforts to stop the removal of portions of it for the construction of high-rise apartments [1]. The Wall, however, acts as an interesting and interactive memorial because in many places, it functions as a canvas, speaking not only to the immediate post-Wall era but also to a more current past and giving people a voice. I appreciate this aspect of the Wall in some cases, as on the western side of the East Side Gallery and in Mauerpark (See images 1 and 2). However, I find it hard to accept it on the East Side Gallery where the graffiti on top of the restored murals, in my opinion, diminishes their aesthetic value and, in some cases, ruins the work (See images 3 and 4). To me, it suggests that not everyone appreciates and views the memorial the same way; some want to put their own mark on its most famous pieces, perhaps at times making a political statement, while others protest the removal of parts of it, even if it is just to another area.

Image 3. East Side Gallery

Image 4. East Side Gallery

Image 4-East Side Gallery

Image 3. East Side Gallery.

A more successful memorial to the Berlin Wall is on Bernauer Strasse. Ladd touches on the efforts of those behind this memorial, who protected a portion of the wall from graffiti and chisels, but cannot discuss the culmination of their efforts that has only been completed this year. This memorial includes a monument, documentation center, chapel, and memorial grounds, which give a sense of the actual border fortifications through space, information, and representations (See images 5-7). It is on Bernauer Strasse that Berliners, Germans, and foreigners alike can learn about the history of the Wall and better understand what it looked like. While some may view this 0.8 mile long memorial as a site that ‘haunts’ the city by recapturing the skeleton of the Wall, others view it as part of coming to terms with the past, which is necessary for moving forward, not just for Berliners and Germans.

Image 5. Bernauer Strasse

Image 5. Bernauer Strasse

Image 6. Bernauer Strasse

Image 6. Bernauer Strasse

Ladd’s Ghosts of Berlin draws important connections between sites of memory and identity and the controversies that arise over them. Even though the publication of the book in 1997 dates the material, his discussions remain relevant and leave room for future scholars to bring the information on these monuments and buildings up to date and analyze the debates that continue to surround them. [1] “Developer removes segments of Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery,” Deutsche Welle, 27 March 2013, http://dw.de/p/184sq.

Image 7. Bernauer Strasse.

Image 7. Bernauer Strasse.

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