Longing for ornament (and authenticity) in Berlin-Mitte

So two weeks ago, I wrote this article about the conflicted stance towards ornamentation in architecture in Berlin. An illustrative example of this is the city palace reconstruction that is currently underway.

Nothing says “conflicted history” more than a reconstructed palace, unless it’s a reconstructed palace with three facades of historical reconstruction and this on the massively visible side towards the central tourist area. Anyone, resident or visitor, that walks from Alexanderplatz towards Berlin’s highest building, the TV tower, will get a full view of this facade.

The Spree-facing side of the Berlin city palace reconstruction. Photo: Dellenbaugh-Losse

I personally see a striking (and sort of scary) resemblance to the strict neoclassical facades of the national socialist era.

Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. Photo: Elgaard [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s also pretty reminiscent of the new Humboldt University library at Friedrichstraße (though less visually interesting)…

The Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum in Berlin-Mitte. Photo: Denis Apel [CC BY-SA 3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons.

…or any of the critical reconstruction-conforming buildings along Friedrichstraße.

The buildings along Berlin’s Friedrichstraße were constructed after 1990 to a large extent.

But, in contrast to these contemporary buildings, the building that inhabits the central square in Berlin is not supposed to be a bloodless example of historicism and ambivalence or a nondescript office building clone, but rather make an architectural statement about and in the capital city.

Sadly, the city palace is more of a shrug than a statement. And anyone who’s looking for authenticity in this part of Berlin’s Mitte is looking in the wrong place.

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