Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Paul B. Jaskot, eds. Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. ix + 321 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-472-11611-9.
Reviewed by Ulf Zimmermann (Department of Political Science and International Affairs, Kennesaw State University)
Published on H-German (October, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
"Vergangenheitsbewältigung" outside Berlin
In their introduction to this essay collection, editors Paul B. Jaskot and Gabriel D. Rosenfeld note that the veritable industry of Vergangenheitsbewältigung literature has focused chiefly on the national level. Insofar as it has focused at all on the local, it has, as their title indicates, concentrated on Berlin. The collection thus explores how other German cities "dealt with the historical, conceptual, and aesthetic conundrums posed by the Nazi past" and stresses "the importance of the built environment in the construction of public memory" (p. 4). It is also the first to compare how East and West German cities differed in these regards. The editors and contributors cover these urban sites in four instructive sections, on reconstruction, new construction, perpetrator sites, and Jewish sites. Since the cities' attempts to deal with this history are so highly variable, it is worth highlighting them individually. The outcomes documented in the different cities do not require comment--they speak quite eloquently for themselves.
The first part, "Sites of Reconstruction," begins with "The Continued Exclusion of the Nazi Past in Dresden's Cityscape" by Susanne Vees-Gulani. Dresden has persisted in portraying itself as a victim, first of the "undeserved" bombing" by the Allies (symbolized by the almost totally destroyed Frauenkirche), then of the oppressive GDR, and, since unification, of rapacious Wessis. The Jewish population and synagogue were totally ignored, and, when finally remembered, similarly, it was only as victims of the bombing. Those who called for a reconstruction of the 1840 synagogue finally succeeded in 2001, but it does not appear on any of the Dresden memorabilia sold to tourists. A similar suppression is identified by Jeffry Diefendorf for Cologne. In "Reconciling Competing Pasts in Postwar Cologne," he contrasts the city's self-image as enlightened and western with its substantial support for the Nazis. Only in the 1970s did Cologne begin to acknowledge the city's involvement in the crimes of the Third Reich by marking a small concentration camp and a Gestapo headquarters. The suburban villa where Kurt Schroeder, Franz von Papen, and Adolf Hitler worked out Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship is under historic preservation, but only for being an outstanding exemplar of its architectural style. Yet another evasion is documented in Susan Mazur-Stommen's "Ethnographic and Phenomenological Examination of Historic Preservation in Postwar Rostock." This city's mythos lumps the Nazis, Allies, KGB, Soviet soldiers, and Stasi together as external enemies of Rostock. Just as many locals seem to have a twelve-year gap in their historical memory, they seem happy to continue to house navy personnel in the National Socialist Marineamt and to use a Gymnasium that the Nazis "corrected" architecturally by removing a previous "modernist" roof that residents found unsuitable to the local climate. The silences in this section are documented from three different disciplinary perspectives: German studies (Vees-Gulani), history (Diefendorf), and anthropology (Mazur-Stommen).
Part 2, "Sites of New Construction: Industrial Cities and the Embrace of Modernism," begins with Jan Otakar Fischer's "Memento Machinae: Engineering the Past in Wolfsburg." The city where the "people's car" was produced was a Nazi creation ab ovo, with a thoroughly modern plan designed for "automobility." The Volkswagen factory was likewise thoroughly streamlined, though a fortress-like façade made it quite amenable to displaying Nazi symbolism. The only car produced there during the Nazi years was the German "Jeep," the Kübelwagen. Toward the end of the war the factory produced rockets using forced labor. When this information became public, VW dealt with it by commissioning a complete history, although the factory's theme park, the Autostadt, does not direct visitors to its own bunker memorial, and other city development projects, such as phaeno, which was designed by Zaha Hadid, also elide Wolfsburg's relationship with National Socialism. Taking on another classic industrial area, the Ruhr, Kathleen James-Chakraborty examines "Inventing Industrial Culture in Essen." In terms of attempts to deal with the past, Essen had been somewhat progressive and had begun to use a synagogue as a museum honoring the city's Jews and documenting the Nazi terror early on. But its present "rust belt" status means that the city must ramp up its economy with tourism. In this effort, a long-defunct Weimar-era mine pithead, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is central.. But, like so many other modernist buildings, it had been happily adopted by the Nazis for its great efficiency. Part of her point here is, as the case of Wolfsburg shows as well, that the persistence of modernist architecture cannot be claimed as evidence of having taken protective cover against Nazism.
The essays in part 3, "Perpetrator Sites: Representing Nazi Criminality," tend to demonstrate the wide range of intensity of local concern about memorializing Nazi crimes as well as the extreme variability of local consensus about the need to address such matters in programmatic ways. In Berlin such issues are of great public concern, but they seem to attract comparatively less attention elsewhere. Jaskot's "The Nazi Past in Postwar Nuremberg" focuses on the Party Rally Grounds, the largest physical memorial to National Socialist activity. Its grounds were refashioned by Albert Speer. After the war, exploding the swastika at the top of Zeppelin Field apparently made the grounds perfectly suitably for U.S. Army use. With unification, Nuremberg was swept by the nationwide impulse to look at the past, but a commemorative plan fell apart in favor of letting the grounds develop "'organically'" as befits a "democratic pluralist society" (p. 157). Munich has also been in no rush to move toward marking the Nazi past. In "Munich's Struggle to Create a Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism," Rosenfeld examines Munich's confrontation with its history as "capital of the movement." The center mentioned in the title was not chartered until 2002 and construction has not yet started. Although the city demolished the most notorious Nazi sites, Ludwig I's grand Königsplatz remained, with its Führerbau, a party administrative center, and "temples of honor." Its "Brown House" and sixty-eight other Nazi party buildings were nearby, making the areal the most Nazified spot in the city, though some of the sites were repurposed. As other such structures disappeared, citizens who feared the erasure of this history called for the establishment of a museum on the Brown House site. Although the solidly CSU Bavarian state had pushed public marking of Nazism to Dachau, Berchtesgaden, and even Nuremberg by arguing that for the Nazis, Munich lost significance after 1933, the SPD city council finally persuaded the state to cede property rights to the site. The Munich case seems to bear some similarity to Berlin, where the development of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe lasted seventeen years. As James Young has argued in his much-cited book, the discussion generated over those years is at least as important as the final product. But the fact remains that Munich is viewed as having "swept the past under the carpet" (p. 180).
Specific architectural structures are the focus of the two final essays in this section. In "The Struggle over Air-Raid and Submarine Shelters in Bremen after 1945," Marc Buggeln and Inge Marszolek examine attempts to deal with the "massive concrete cubes" (p. 185) right behind the central railroad station. Though this "free Hanseatic city" deemed itself independent and done with its Nazi past once the swastikas had been removed, these obvious air-raid shelters, along with the huge suburban submarine shelter, remain substantial testimonials to that past. The city used the shelters to address the postwar housing shortage and then sold some of them to parties who have built homes on them and "beautified" the shelters with plants and fake windows (p. 201). Thus "overwritten" (p. 205), the authors argue, the shelters' former employment has been made unreal. While the city has memorialized the forced labor exploited at the Marine Depot, its suburban location keeps it out of public view. As in Hamburg (and Cologne), it is easy in Bremen to perpetuate the myth of having been "above" the Nazis. Finally, in "The SS Past at the Collegiate Church of St. Servatius in Quedlinburg," Annah Kellogg-Krieg chronicles the Nazi usage of a famous imperial residence built by Heinrich I upon consolidating the first German Reich in the tenth century. Heinrich Himmler decided to use the occasion of the first empire's millennium in 1936 to forge a connection with the Third Reich. The GDR subsequently sought to eradicate and repress Nazi traces with the aid of the man who had transformed the church into a Nazi shrine. "Confronting" this past has only just begun there.
Part 4, on Jewish sites, discusses the difficulties that have emerged in the attempt to mark the absence of Jews in the urban landscape. It begins with "The Politics of Antifascism: Historic Preservation, Jewish Sites, and the Rebuilding of Potsdam's Altstadt" by Michael Meng. In 1970, the association that represented Jews in East Germany asked the city's mayor for funds to preserve the Jewish cemetery. His response--that scarce funds were allotted to rebuilding the historic center and that erecting a statue of Karl Liebknecht (at one point Potsdam's Reichstag delegate) would symbolize "all the victims of fascism" (p. 244)--reflects the GDR's choice to preserve sites like Potsdam's synagogue only much later, when it became politically expedient. In "Remembrance and Hamburg's Holocaust Memorials," Natasha Goldman takes up the tendency of monuments in this city to displace actual memory. Hamburg, like Bremen, had always played up its "liberal" politics, but its elimination of the Jews was nonetheless thorough. Most memorialization has been monumental, Goldman reminds us, and meant to console or redeem viewers. A "countermonument" trend has therefore emerged that calls for the "viewer's direct conceptual involvement in interpreting voids and/or a minimalist rhetoric," thus "marking absence" (p. 251). In Grindel, once a Jewish neighborhood, a 1936 monument--the "Kriegsklotz"--is opposed with an unfinished countermonument intended to depict a broken swastika. Only two of its planned four pieces have been completed. Similarly, the synagogue that stood near the university has been memorialized by a pavement pattern that reflects the vanished synagogue's "vaulting schema" and thus "makes visible the absence of the destroyed building" (p. 266). But the plaque that the city put on it neglected to explain why the synagogue had been destroyed. Once again, the central message is missing. Susanne Schönborn closes this section with "The New Börneplatz Memorial and the Nazi Past in Frankfurt am Main." The city has done much to commemorate victims, but has not documented Nazi crimes or their perpetrators. The memorial discussed here is a wall around what had been a thirteenth-century Jewish cemetery. It extends for 300 meters and is constructed of gray cement and embedded with 11,134 stainless steel blocks that bear the names of Frankfurt's deported and murdered Jews. The Börneplatz, just east of the Römer, had been the center of Frankfurt Jewish life since 1462. But Schönborn presses home the city's tendency to commemorate its relationship with Jews primarily via the Holocaust, not in terms of their long--and troubled--local history. As Frankfurt's mayor sees it, the harmonious relationship between the Germans and the Jews "was destroyed solely through the persecutions during the Nazi era" (p. 285). While all the victims are indeed identified on the cemetery wall, the perpetrators remain anonymous, and that, too, is problematic.
In light of the title, the analysis of these essays raises the problem of the representativeness of Berlin. In an epilogue, Brian Ladd stresses the often profound effect of architecture in comparison with archives due to its lapidary presence, as he has observed in the Berlin "memory boom" and as the present authors also believe. He sees Berlin as special due to its status as the capital of the Nazi Reich, the GDR, and unified Germany. It illustrated both West and East German approaches to dealing with this past. The GDR remained busy legitimizing its anti-fascist ideology partly to repress its own repressive features; it did not permit the kind of public sphere to emerge that was open in the 1970s and 1980s to younger West Germans who wished to confront the German past. Since unification, the East has of course been catching up, but with its own local experiences, as all of these cases demonstrate. Each city has its own local history of crimes and repression to be dealt with in its own way. To Ladd, as to me, this process seems healthy, if painfully slow.
From these examinations, the editors extract several patterns. First, construction efforts can both highlight and hinder remembrance; second, attempts at coming to terms with the past in the early postwar years were chiefly concerned with marginalizing it; and, third, cities other than Berlin have pursued commemoration to the degree that they perceive themselves as guilty parties in Nazi activities. Munich, Nuremberg, and Hamburg were "Führerstädte"; Potsdam was the symbol of Prussian militarism; Quedlinburg was appropriated by Himmler as central to the Reich because of Henry I. While the first two trends are clearly visible, the editors themselves seem to contradict the third when they write: "Yet the diverging experiences of German cities during the years 1933-45 did not, in fact, deterministically shape how well or poorly they deal with the Nazi past" (p. 17).
. James Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site
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Ulf Zimmermann. Review of Rosenfeld, Gavriel D.; Jaskot, Paul B., eds., Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past.
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