New Monument to German Reunification Unveiled
Plans for the construction of a new monument to celebrate German reunification have caused some controversy.
The winning design, unveiled earlier this week, was the culmination of a controversial 12 year process involving two public bids for design submissions for a memorial to celebrate the peaceful revolution of 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990. Chosen by Culture Minister Bernd Neumann and approved by a parliamentary committee, the new monument will cost €10m (£8.76m, $14 million USD) and is expected to be built over the next two to three years. The new memorial will occupy a central site in Berlin, near the soon to be rebuilt Berlin Palace, which was destroyed by the SED to make way for a new communist-era German parliament. The square outside the building was also the site of peaceful mass demonstrations in the lead up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
The winning design, entitled ‘Citizens Movement’, was designed by Stuttgart designers Milla & Partner in conjunction with Berlin choreographer Sasha Waltz, as a 55 metre long, 330 tonne tilting steel dish. The dish will be inscribed with the slogans ‘Wir sind das Volk’ (we are the people) and “Wir sind ein Volk” (we are one people) and adorned with engravings depicting scenes from the 1989 revolution.
Rather than a passive monument, the dish is deliberately designed to encourage active engagement and popular participation, with people encouraged to physically climb onto the structure. The construction is designed to tip from side to side and will be set in motion by visitors’ movement. It can hold up to 1400 people but requires 20 people to start moving, representative of ‘people coming together’ as was the case in the 1989 revolution and 1991 re-unification.
German culture minister, Bernd Neumann, said that the new memorial “will not be a dead monument but one … that allows citizens to participate”, while Johannes Miller, one of the architects behind ‘Citizens Movement’, also issued a statement emphasizing the populist sentiment behind the design:
“The rest of the world’s monuments are built to be looked at. “This monument isn’t just an object to look at. It should be entered and set in motion. That movement is only possible when a large group of visitors cooperate. With this concept, it’s the people who’ll make it into something. Maybe they’ll use it for theatre, or like Speaker’s Corner, or skaters will use it. The people will make it their own.”
However the monument has attracted criticism. Viewed as something of a gimmick in certain quarters, it has been described in derogatory terms by much of the German and international media; quickly dubbed ‘a giant fruit bowl’, ‘a baby rocker’ and a ‘playground for grown ups’. Critics have also claimed that the monument is a safety hazard and, in a city already filled with memorials, superfluous. However, the announcement made earlier this week also led to calls from Roland Jahn (former dissident and current head of the Stasi Archive) for construction of a further memorial, this time dedicated to victims of repression in the former GDR.
Journalist Christian Bangel goes further, claiming that the memorial represents an ‘imbalanced unity’, symbolic of German failure to adequately come to terms with re-unification in the last twenty years. While acknowledging that, on the surface the memorial represents a ‘fun idea’, in an article published in Zeit Online, he claims that:
“The memorial leaves out any sense of the process of reunification – the problems, the friction, and yes, the sense of marginalization that many East Germans still feel. It’s very possible that this memorial will one day be seen as a symbol of the failure to confront the ghosts of East Germany … and why bother to build a memorial anyway? We already have a monument that symbolizes division, change and unity the world over: the Brandenburg Gate”.
Finally: “Citizens Movement” was not the only monument to be unveiled in Germany this week – a memorial in memory of Paul the Octopus, who became an unlikely star of the 2010 World Cup after successfully predicting the outcome of eight matches by choosing mussels from boxes labelled with the flags of rival teams, was also unveiled at the aquarium in Germany where he lived until his death in October 2010. The tribute to Paul, part of a new exhibition in Octopus Garden, shows a very large Paul with his tentacles hanging over a football which is patterned with different national flags!
27 June 2011: A recent article, ‘Rocking Remembrance‘ by Dr. Karl Schlogel, written for ‘Slow Travel Berlin’ in reference to the planned memorial to unfication, contains some interesting perspectives.