Publication A small history of the great German struggle, Merlijn Schoonenboom @ Querido Publishers, Amsterdam, 5 December 2019
What are the appropriate national symbols for a multicultural country? How do we deal with the good and bad sides of our own history? These questions are in the foreground throughout Europe, but in Germany, they are extra-sensitive due to the Second World War. For a visual story about this search for identity, journalist and historian Merlijn Schoonenboom takes one controversial location in Berlin as the starting point. The center of the German capital, where the reconstructed Berlin city palace is opening in 2020, has always been a seismograph of social and political sensitivities.
Humboldt Jungle is an explosion of cheerfulness, colors, and shapes. But the idea behind it is serious, offering the city an experimental version of a Baroque palace, which would “literally grow grass over the historical wounds of this location”. According to Hybrid Space Lab, Humboldt Jungle also aims to be a symbol addressing the country’s identity in the twenty-first century.
The facade of an old imperial palace is not exactly something you associate with a multicultural society, and that is a fundamental problem, say Vogelaar and Sikiaridi. Although their ideas are also rooted in “German traditions”, these are radically different from those of the Prussian rulers. Rather, they want to emphasize and convey the parts of German culture that are imbued with anarchist and independent spirit, ecological concerns and drive for adventure, the kind of German culture expressed by Von Humboldt’s passion for discovery, by his ecological ideas, by German architect Bruno Taut’s works on glass buildings from the interwar period, and “other German traditions that oppose the palace and its power structures”.
The architects’ plans respond to the most pressing question concerning contemporary cultural identity: the quest for a balanced relationship between tradition and innovation. Only by adapting to new circumstances can traditions survive, write Marina and Herfried Münkler in their book “Die neuen Deutschen: Ein Land vor seiner Zukunft”.
Merlijn Schoonenboom (1974) has been living and working in Berlin for ten years. In his book “A Small History of the Greatest German Struggle”, he takes one controversial location in the German capital as the starting point for a broader story about the German search for national identity.