Posted by Haseeb Ahmed (ifau-Berlin, Germany)
Just wanted to say a few words about my time here in Berlin. Perhaps some background. I am in the Visual Arts Program at MIT and spending my time here in Berlin working for an Architect Jesko Fezer, who is highly involved with issues of urban conditions and opportunities of open use. In a very rigorous way they practice what’s often called user-centered design and their interventions are minimal but highly adaptable. So I am helping them with the designs for a museum in Stuttgart and a gallery in NYC.
Aside from that I have a studio in the Turkish neighborhood of Neukolln and I spend a lot of my time developing a new body of work dealing with the way in which history is made available, critiqued, or celebrated through architecture. It’s really impressive how advanced the understanding of the relationship of architecture and ideology is here in Berlin.
Specifically I am working with three very different sites here. The first is Tempelhof Airport- the first modern airport in which planes could roll straight into terminals was built by the Nazis, later used by the US in the Berlin Airlift, and now is a site of contention between the state and Left groups that want to claim it as public domain. It’s a massive curved building with underground passages and huge hangars. The site is sealed so my interventions consist of finding my way in, exploring it, documenting my paths and encounters, and eventually a minimal installation.
The site that I am working with most is the Teufelsberg Tower in Grunwald Forest. It’s the main listening post for the US in West Berlin when it was an Island in East Germany. Everything is interesting about this site. It was built on one of Berlin’s two mountains- both created by piling rubble from WWII bombings. This one buries Hitler’s military college which was too massive to blow up. After following a winding road up the “mountain” you arrive at the gates of the complex filled with holes, and that is when you get your first glimpse of the tower with its 4 massive geodesic ra-domes. You can actually hear it before you see it. The wind is very strong up there and the teflon canvas that skinned the structure has been cut loose creating some eerie curtains. Its the best place to see the city and espcially sunsets. It sits somewhere between its future as a museum and its past as a military outpost. I think it can really only be experienced in all its complexity in this intermediate state and I’ve been going there with random assortments of tools to figure out how this site can be activated.
After trying quite a few experiments and exploring and documenting the site I’ve found that actually repairing it seems to be the most effective. I’ve been cleaning and painting in ways that pull out the strange structure of this place created from an unconcious architecture of functionality. Perhaps more on this later. Im planning an informal opening the week before I leave-which is getting close!
Briefly the third site is the former site of the Palace of the Republic- the Capital of the GDR (east Berlin). It sits in the Museum Island and was supposed to be the finest building produced by the GDR. It was torn down to rebuild an old and minor Prussian Castle that was torn down by the GDR to build the Palace. It’s this interesting trend to try and reconsititute a continuity between the 1920s and earlier into the present and supersede the intervening years of catastrophic war and division.
In general this kind of building style of monumental housing blocks and iconic geometrical form is something I’ve been thinking about and living amongst since I arrived. I live on Karl Marx Allee (former Stalin Allee)- the grandest parade boulevard this side of Moscow. Its the ideological interpretation of what a society based on the principles of the Left would look like. All over East Berlin its leaders are cast into concrete-rendering that history and its potentiality even more opaque.
There is far too much to do here in Berlin and I often find myself plotting my return. Thanks for reading!