2018 Architecture Biennial: German Pavilion
Of division and of healing
5. June 2018 | Words: Bettina Krause, Photography: Jan Bitter
Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 55 seconds
“Unbuilding Walls” is the theme of the German entry to this year’s Architecture Biennial in Venice – and when visitors enter the Pavilion, they are met by a high dark wall reminiscent of the Iron Curtain. Germany has now been re-united for 28 years, exactly as long as the Wall stood (from 1961 to 1989). Together with Marianne Birthler, former head of Germany’s Stasi Records Agency, GRAFT-founders Thomas Willemeit, Wolfram Putz and Lars Krückeberg have taken this temporal symmetry as an opportunity to investigate the consequences of division and the process of healing as a dynamic spatial phenomenon in the Pavilion.
The black barrier in the German Pavilion initially appears to be impenetrable, bleak, a little threatening even. On closer inspection, though, what had seemed to be a wall turns out to be several steles very skilfully positioned within the space that resemble typical sections of the Berlin Wall. There are a total of 28 segments symbolising 28 years of division. The play of contrasting colours, forms of perception and visual perspectives is harnessed to dynamic effect. As the curators put it, a strong sense of walls being permeable and of something akin to freedom awaiting those who pass through them is evoked.
“Unbuilding Walls” confronts the public with the Berlin Wall whilst simultaneously celebrating the defining action through which, and moment at which, it is transcended and new free spaces take shape – both in reality and in a metaphorical sense. The Wall’s abiding impact is replicated to infinity in the process by reflection within a system of mirrors. The backs of the steles go into the subject in greater depth, each depicting a project from the history of the Wall since it fell. The examples cited address attitudes to building on the former dividing line, on the spaces freed up, and assess the role architecture can play in the “healing process”. The heterogeneity of approaches, typologies, players and upshots underscores the breadth of solutions conceived.
The plural in the title “Unbuilding Walls” is no coincidence, either, since the exhibition deals not only with the German divide but also with barriers still actually existing on Cyprus, in Northern Ireland, between Israel and Palestine, the USA and Mexico or North and South Korea and along the EU’s external border. Unlike the steles, the “Wall of Opinions” video installation by the journalist Maria Seifert focuses on the people who now live in border areas and are directly affected by the division of their countries. They graphically portray the ordeals of broken families, daily obstacles and restriction imposed upon them by various walls, barriers and fences. The “Wall of Opinions” thus transposes the topic into the reality of the present age, re-emphasizing its import and lending the exhibition as a whole suitable empathetic depth.