Humboldt Volcano @ YEAST

This is about the utopia of a people-friendly city.

Publication @ YEAST, Germany, 15 June 2018


A ship siren sounds. A seagull passes by screaming. Two men have settled down in deck chairs. There is something of North Sea vacation in the air, but on the banks of the Spree. Specifically, in the courtyard of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which has turned into a pop-up park. The entire yard is covered with fluffy artificial turf. Until July 1st, the project “playVOID” will take place.

Humboldt Volcano as a counterpoint to the Humboldt Forum

As part of the MakeCity festival for architecture and other things, the Embassy invites the people of Berlin to drop in and relax – even if it’s just for lunch break. It is about the utopia of a people-friendly city. You could even have your fingernails painted there – the offer really exists, smiles Benjamin Anker, Counselor and Head of the Political Department.
The wall of the Rem Koolhaas building is covered with large posters depicting the “Humboldt Jungle” and the “Humboldt Volcano”, with which Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar recently caused a furore in the media.
With their project they confront the major cultural project of the controversial Humboldt Forum with a participatory dimension, whereby they also deliberately refer to Alexander von Humboldt.
For example, the “Humboldt Volcano”, a house or, better, a castle-high conservatory, is to provide public access to the roof of the Humboldt Forum. As visitors ascend to the summit, they go through the flora of different climate zones around the world. An upstream waterfall crashes into a cave below Schlossplatz. The descent is to be shaped like a time travel through geological eras, referencing Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. Most importantly, the whole project echoes the research universe of Alexander von Humboldt.

The whole world in one place

For Rüdiger Schaper, who presented his book “The Prussian and the New Worlds” at last Friday’s Studio Talk, Alexander von Humboldt was a pioneer. An early ecologist who understood nature as networked and developed concepts forerunning sustainability. He was also the first to describe flora and fauna as a function of altitude above sea level. In the words of the scholar himself, the whole world is to be found in the elevation of a single place. The trail of the “Humboldt Volcano” plays with this idea leading through the “layers” of botanical, culinary and cultural geography.

Some utopias come true

It is a thrilling vision. It needs foresight, persuasive power and – especially in present Berlin – a lot of perseverance. Christo and Jeanne-Claude had already experienced that on the long journey they had made to the covering of the Reichstag. A utopia that enchanted not only Berliners, when it finally became reality after reunification.
Thus, the initiators of the Humboldt Volcano stick to their vision undaunted. And they receive more than just creative support. A pump specialist from the northern German small town of Heide is already determined to get the waterfall going, according to Sikiaridi: “If you do that, I’m definitely there”.

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