It does serve one purpose, though. It’s a reminder of an abominable plan that thankfully never came to fruition. Expecting global domination, Third Reich chief architect Albert Speer drew up the blueprints for the new “world capital” Germania. A small exhibition next to the concrete column shows his ruthless city plan, which would have erased much of central Berlin. All the trappings of lunacy are there: impossibly wide boulevards, a triumphal hall to hold 180,000 people, and the kind of gargantuan squares favored by illegitimate regimes.
But World War II took an entirely different turn from what Speer had envisioned, sparing Berlin from this madness. So what remains of Germania is a single forlorn column, refusing to sink into oblivion anytime soon.
Art and commerce
Like the rest of Berlin, Schöneberg is chockablock with wartime structures that are indestructible for all practical purposes, being too unsafe or costly to detonate. When a new apartment complex called the Pallasseum was built during the ’70s housing crunch, the developers had no choice but to construct it over a 5,000-person bunker, which it straddles like a lower-case “n.”
Despite its palatial name, the Pallasseum is a grim concrete monolith, many of its neighbors regarding the 514-unit apartment building as an outright affront to good taste. So artist Daniel Knipping decided to do something about it.
Since many of today’s Pallasseum residents are immigrants, the building’s concrete facade has sprouted 300-some satellite receivers. Knipping transformed these passive receptors of culture into transmitters of stories by adorning the dishes with graphics of the residents’ choice. Some wanted photographs of their loved ones, while others selected close-up shots of flowers or natural panoramas. I can’t say that the images are beautiful, but they do make quite an edgy statement.
The Pallasseum may reflect the neighborhood’s changing zeitgeist. The vicinity of the building, after all, has re-emerged as an unlikely “it” quarter for contemporary art. Along Potsdamer Strasse, where hijab-clad housewives nonchalantly pull grocery carts next to hookers in fishnets, art galleries have been arriving in droves over the past five years.
But Schöneberg has something that hasn’t changed. Between the gay enclave of Motzstrasse and the contemporary art scene of Potsdamer Strasse is Winterfeldt Square, which turns into an open-air market on Saturdays.