Experience of critical reconstruction during “Heart of the City mission” to Dresden and Berlin in May 2016
”Well, this will be the same as the last year”, -That is what I thought when preparing for my trip. I was wrong almost about everything.
Day One. Fichte and the first meeting with sandstone
The first item of our program drafted by the Adenauer Foundation and senator Klaus Brahmig has struck me already in Kaliningrad. The festival “Sand and Music” – what does that mean? Are there going to be “sound makers” like those composing music of nature sounds, “making noises with sand”, sampling – is it going to be such a festival? Jeans and t-shirts? In some ”Baroque Palace” – among statues of Apollo and water nymphs? Nothing clear at all...though the program stated “classical music festival”....
It turned out as it was stated. Chief architect Vyacheslav Genne and I were picked up from the airport to go to Saxony where the ancient Baroque style palace complex is located on the banks of the magnificent Elba River. There is an entrance group with the coat of arms on the façade, stables on the right, support premises on the left, the main building of the mansion. A three century old park located behind blossoms with all colors, among which rhododendrons dominate the scenery in the quantities and color palettes making their presence obvious right away– in the same way as our peonies do. Lots of them, so bright and “delicious”. Thick beeches (who among Kaliningrad citizens does not like beeches?), a decorative pond with a small fountain and backlight, a stream constrained with a dam, a tiny waterfall all looked just as we read about it in the books about nobility. Either a damp and gloomy castle or such a romantic palace with kisses in arbours and the love letters thrown on the pond bottom to be forgotten.
However, it was not until afterwards we saw all the splendor properly. First of all, we took a double espresso with Senator Klaus Brahmig and his assistant Alexander Vollmert. Then we moved to the main hall. Two petite ladies stood behind the piano. One of them was Japanese who had a surname Ono (maybe one of those Ono). There were also four vocalists, most likely with Music Conservatory background. They were playing and singing Brahms.
It appeared that “sand” means the same in Saxony as amber does for us in Kaliningrad. The festival “Sand and Music” has been carried out for the third decade and today it is Senator Brahmig who opens the event.
I tried to imagine any “of our local” politicians in his place and I could not. No ribbon is cut. Though the audience is civil (mostly grey-haired), it does not remind of our voters from the factory summoned after work. There are not that many seats in the main hall of the Baroque palace, not more than eighty… Like in the aristocratic times.
Having attributed these aspects to the difference between our and German political traditions, I “indulged myself to Brahms” enjoying four-hand playing, the soloists performing music according to the canons of that time when Pushkin finalized “Evgeny Onegin” and one Brahms’s “dance” which has quite a contemporary musical pattern and can be easily adapted to the tune of “Eurovision” format…
«Every generation thinks that it is at the top of human evolution and later, it is surprised to learn that there have been people who loved and had desires before them”, – such ideas occurred to me after the concert during my walk in the park. While reflecting about this thought (“was it me who has arrived at it or was I inspired by the place”) I was amazed to discover the monument to the philosopher Fichte in the park. Likewise, Brodsky was amazed to find the Suvorov’s bust near the ruins of the Königsberg castle. It appeared that Fichte was born in this castle “Barockschloss” in Rammenau that has even the roadside beer shop called “At Fichte’s”!
- Why the sculptures in the park are made of sandstone instead of plaster? – I thought when taking a photo of the next amusing plump character frolicking on the pedestal and bringing joy to people walking by. – Plaster is better, it gives more details! – Those were my hasty thoughts and I did not suspect that the tomorrow’s day would provide me with an answer.
Day two. Explosion in the quarry and Frauenkirche
It should be mentioned here that sandstone for Kaliningrad and Königsberg is an exotic material. It seems that it has never been used in construction in Kaliningrad (at best, in finishing with sandstone slabs). In Königsberg, one remembers for sure the Stock Exchange building which was built of sandstone and had the allegorical sculptures of the continents that Königsberg merchants traded with – Asia, Africa, Europe and America. Antarctica was not represented. The sculptures did not survive after the war but there are still two lions with shields that once had the coats of arms of three medieval cities of Königsberg below, at the entrance to the Stock Exchange.
It is quite possible that sandstone was used in the construction of the Unfried’s Wing of the castle as it became fashionable as “a noble material” at that time. The décor and sculptures were also made of sandstone.
All these things came back to my memory when Senator Brahmig took us to the stone quarry “Sandsteinwerke”. Smiling Director Johannes Rossrucker introduced us to the history of his 200 years old enterprise, the specifics of Saxon sandstone (there are three kinds of them – ordinary, frost resistant and used for sculptures). This was followed by the horn tootling and three explosions made by the rugged explosives expert whose clothes had such pockets that the Vasserman’s waistcoat would fall into stupor of envy if it saw them. A kite soared up in the sky to see in whose honor Saxon sandstone was blown up that day. The smoke dispersed and we saw three blocks split into the target fragments.
- Aren’t birds bothered by explosions? – Vyacheslav asked.
Then we saw the factory where blocks turned into a fragment of a column, or a sculpture, or an element of the castle’s décor, the office or garden exteriors. The technology is as complicated as the art jewelry. First there should be the prototype made of plaster at the scale 1:1. The craftsmen sculptors “transfer” the volume and curves of the prototype “from plaster into the stone”. The readymade sculpture or a detail is packed and shipped to the Berlin Palace while the plaster copies of goddesses and allegories that are soon going to stand on the elevations of the Humboldt-forum, a “Post-castle” of Berlin, are kept in the workshop “at the spare track”.
Our surprise at what we had seen was increased by Senator Brahmig who made fiery international speech dedicated Saxon sandstone. It appeared that Senator had launched a flood of activities to involve Germany (and of course Saxon sandstone) in the restoration of Palmira in Syria.
- Such actions need to be taken together by many countries and Germany may be Russia’s ally in this! – Senator said. – We can teach a hundred Syrian stonecutters to prepare them for the restoration of Palmira! He asked then: “What do you think, may Saxon sandstone be used in the construction of the “Post-castle in Kaliningrad?”
I could not make dear Mr Brahmig happy here. The major building material in the Königsberg castle was red brick. Maybe, sandstone which was traditional for Baroque time was used for the Unfried’s Wing (the East Wing reconstructed in the early 18th century) but I had to check it with the primary sources…. And it crossed my mind:
- The sculptural portals of the Hall of Muscovites and the entrance to the South Wing were made of sandstone!...
- …It could be quite possible to manufacture such a portal as a separate element and to demonstrate it on the King’s mountain in parallel with excavations and construction! – Vyacheslav Genne added. – This is totally a realistic idea.
Senator Brahmig liked the idea. It is quite a technological and not very cash-consuming idea. It would be a nice reason to involve German stonecutters in our Kaliningrad “Post-castle”…
…Dresden and Königsberg share similar fate during the war and have completely different post-war history. The city was also destroyed by the Allied air bombings to the condition of the “moon landscape” (see Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Slaughterhouse Five”). In the post-war aftermath, it became the GDR’s half-a-million-strong city, “the capital of Saxon province” and experienced the “Socialist urban planning doctrine”. The unification of Germany brought a new turn of history, when the idea of the reconstruction of the destroyed Frauenkirche (Holy Mother church) became the most important factor for the urban identity. The ruins of the Baroque church stood in the “old city” at Neumarkt Platz and functioned as a “monument to the horrors of the war”. In the late 80s, the city community began raising a question about its restoration. The construction works began after long and fierce debates of the society and professionals (what function will it have? What materials and technology should be used in its restoration? What will be the financing sources?) as well as informed decision-making on the key issues. After ten years the church was restored with the use of the same materials (sandstone from the same quarry we visited in the morning), the same technologies and the same religious function (which does not exclude conducting a few secular concerts as far as I understood). The only technological upgrade was about heating and electrification; in all other aspects, the original architecture of the building met all contemporary requirements.
All of this was told to us by the architect Thomas Gottschlich (he has a significant surname meaning literally “God’s servant”), who at first participated in the restoration of the church and now he is an architect responsible for monitoring its condition, arranging quick-look maintenance etc. The method of such kind was called by him “an archaeological reconstruction”.
He then participated as an expert in the discussion organized with us at the local regional natural museum. The topic was “Critical Reconstruction of the historic city center of Kaliningrad as an idea for the future”. Unlike Dresden experience, the winning project of “Studio 44” (in the first competition) and Anton Sagal (in the second competition) deals with critical reconstruction and it is completely different from the “archaeological reconstruction” and “non-critical” reconstruction, i.e. direct “copying” the castle and Altstadt in the new situation in the background of new functions and contexts.
The discussion in Dresden gathered ninety people, and that was completely a success of attendance for such a specific topic in the scale of the city that is not a capital. Your humble servant presented a review of two competitions. Anton Sagal who joined our mission in Dresden told about the idea of his winning design. Vyacheslav Genne described the perspectives of the General Plan, the site plan and the next steps. Dresden experts gave positive feedback to Sagal and the discussion gradually changed its course to raise some obvious issues: what will be the next steps? Are there any funds? May the reconstruction of Frauenkirche in Dresden be a useful case study for Kaliningrad?
I focused on the term “critical reconstruction” which was interpreted in quite a broad sense by some participants of the discussion. It was said that the “non-critical attitude towards History” has a risk of creating the banal copies of “best practices” (that will lead to mummification of the History rather than its prolongation). It was also mentioned our children are the critical reconstruction of us, their parents and that our children can virtually never become our copies though they carry our genes and traces of our upbringing…
…A small reception after the discussion provided the citizens of Dresden with a lot of answers while our mission “Heart of the City” received a lot of useful contacts in return. It was a surprise to meet Anastasia, PhD student of Dresden Technical University. She is from Tomsk and writes about Tomsk wooden architecture. She uses our historic and cultural study on “Heart of the City” dated from 2013 as an example of the excellent methodological work.
Day three. Berlin: tour guided by Hans Stimmann and discussion in Adenauer Institute
It is always interesting when the excursion is led by an architect. It is doubly interesting when this architect has been the chief architect of the city for ten years. The rate of interest reaches the maximum level when this city is Berlin. It was my second time I was listening to Hans Stimmann and beside the city model as a must-see item for all guests, he did not repeat himself a single time during our tour if compared with the last year! There were new roads, new thoughts and jokes (“if I bought cheap accommodation in this building at that time, I would not have to have a side job by guiding tours” – an example of Stimmann’s branded humor).
It is curios that nothing has been left of the old Berlin Altstadt! The capital that has grown around the medieval core swallowed and digested it retaining just a small park surrounded by high-rise buildings. The “Refracted History” has evolved here in a different way than in Königsberg or Danzig. Berlin’s status as a capital did not leave any chance to the medieval core…. It seems to be the fate of all capitals – the luxury of cities’ “historical infancy” is left to smaller and more tranquil cities.
I testify that over the past year the Humboldt-forum has started “to get dressed”. It was insulated by ceramic brick. The window apertures were framed by sandstone architrave. The public utilities were laid. All was according to the time-schedule. Each detail of the sandstone décor has been purchased by someone. Thus, the “state-owned” project of Berlin “Post-castle” becomes a public project involving many stakeholders. One of businessmen took care of the reconstruction of the cupola, another one – the corner stairs. Ordinary people bought smaller elements. In any case, it became a “people’s construction project” in the proper sense of the word…
…There were almost no vacant seats in the Adenauer Institute. The topic has received a greater attention since the last year. Vyachslav Genne as a representative of the official part of the delegation made a review of the current urban planning problems in Kaliningrad (the General Plan and the site plan under design, preparations for the World Championship 2018, the beginning of archaeological works on the King’s Mountain).
Anton Sagal presented his winning project. This was followed by panel discussion. The participants included the moderator, Prof.Dr. Berndt Albers (architect, the member of Berlin Werkbund, the guild of architects and craftsmen), the German Russian architect Sergey Tchoban and Prof. Dr. Paul Kahlfeldt, the chairman of Berlin Werkbund and International Berlin Bauakademie. After a moderate positive assessment of the winning project (by the way, Werkbund explained the way he would renovate the House of Soviets in Kaliningrad meaning that this is neither symbolic or ideological issue but the technical one), they focused on two topics: on the quality of the project implement and its cost. To summarize all the comments briefly, they said “It is expensive and now, Russia is not going through the best time in economic terms”…
These issues have been first aired by the members of the panel and gradually found some adepts in the audience. “It is expensive… it is difficult and expensive to do it with a high quality…”Senator Klaus Brahmig opposed them by saying that “twenty years ago, they were also told that there would be problems but they took a chance and now Frauenkirche is a decoration of Dresden and the whole country!” “You just need to start moving” – he said. Vyacheslav Genne also invited everybody to stop dramatizing the process. The discussion was finally brought to another level by master Stimmann. Hans (who, by the way, belongs to the opposition party with regard to the hosting party CDU\CSU) set forth the example of Berlin Palace. If the project had stayed at the level of Berlin municipality, it would have faced huge problems in its implementation. It was only the federal level that secured the project implementation and gave it “a second chance”. This was exactly what Stimmann proposed to do with Kaliningrad “Post-castle”: to upgrade the project status to the federal level and probably to make it a new symbol of “reconciliation” of Russia and Germany, their new joint project (I will also add, the same happened with the reconstructed Amber Room in Saint-Petersburg that has become such a symbol)…
…And now, it has occurred to me what the term “critical reconstruction” is reminding me of – the genre of the famous trilogy of our landsman, his Critique of pure and pragmatic reason as well as “criticism” of the main instrument of this “reason”, the ability of judgment. Only “a person of full age” is able to process the experience of previous generations in a critical way and thus, generating the continuation of history instead of producing its copy.
Neither our city of Kaliningrad nor the Castle’s (King’s) mountain are that simple that the mountain could be revitalized by mere copying the old forms in the new reality.
One of the founders of the urban project “Heart of the City”,
Deputy Chairman for Culture at the Kaliningrad Region Governor’s Office,
Cultural expert and writer.
Kaliningrad-Dresden-Berlin-Kaliningrad, 28-31 May 2016
Photo: (с) Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation, Dr. Alexander Vollmert