Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

The Ghosts of Berlin

  • Comment
review BOOKS

by Brian Ladd. University of Chicago Press, 1997. 271pp. £23.95

Brian Ladd's subject is Berlin since reunification in 1990: its buildings (whether standing, vanished or proposed), its ruins, its seeming wasteland, writes Andrew Mead. In this 'contested historical landscape', no easy consensus exists about what should be remembered, and how. The city's 'ghosts' - Hitler, Honecker et al - are all too conspicuous. Aesthetic assessments of architecture become secondary to symbolic ones; innocent- looking structures or sites prove disconcertingly charged. For Berlin's citizens, both personal and national identity are at issue.

A historian, Ladd organises his book by a series of case studies concerning particular controversies: over the site of the Hohenzollern's royal palace at the end of Unter den Linden, for instance, and of Hitler's chancellery and its bunkers; over the Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz and, of course, The Wall. In the process he highlights the successive eras in Berlin's history that impinge on its present and the complexities that underlie debate. Competing agendas are lucidly presented. The city is shown to be a minefield in which any decision - whether to build anew, to preserve, or to memorialise - guarantees dissent.

Oddly, Ladd makes only fleeting reference to Daniel Libeskind who, in his Jewish Museum and Alexanderplatz projects respectively, has surely dealt as profoundly as anyone in Berlin with the shades of Nazism and the Cold War. But his book is absorbing. More than a portrait of a fraught city, it is a reminder that not just 'good design' is at stake in the built world and its traces.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.