30 November 2008

Eeek! A Mouse!



For decades, the junction of Friedrichstraße and Unter den Linden has been a place typical for the city, in that it had been defined just as much by the absence of architecture as by its presence. Three of the crossroad’s four buildings were destroyed in 1945, and East German town planning transformed it from the bustling metropolitain crossroads shown below, into something resembling a public square.

The Hotel Metropol, which stood on the north-east from 1977 until 2006, included an imposing forecourt, which did much to transform the atmosphere of the space. The building on the right in the historical view below, marks the site where it once stood. The building shown below left, on the north-west of the site, was erected during the NS regime by a gloomy and provincial looking office building, The Swiss House, which still stands.

Looking north up Friedrichstraße in 1909.
[Source: Library of Congress prints and Photos Division]

Looking south, in 1900 [Source: Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz]

The Victoria Café (above right), which stood at the south-west until 1945, was replaced in 1987 by another GDR-era hotel building, the Grand Hotel. This still remains and is now called, ironically, the Westin Grand.

It is the two buildings which have been erected since the fall of the Wall, however, which are of concern here. The building dominating the south-east corner is a monstrously disfigured turd, but its boistrous disregard for proportion does at least arouse some interest.

Interestingly disfigured turd

The recently completed Upper Eastside Berlin development, however, is as stale as last week’s bread. It’s name suggests that its developers have also contracted a severe case of Pretentious Anglophilia Syndrome, which is currently rampant in the city and sadly terminal. It’s fills the corner nicely, restoring the historical street lines, but a large shoe box or shipping container would have done the same. It is clad in ubiquitous sandstone, and finds it all rather embarrasing that people are looking at it, and that it has to go out in public.

Inevitable stale bread

Both buildings seem to have been shaped by invisible forces, for their upper floors have recoiled upwards, and their lower floors retracted backwards. Whilst this maximises floor-space and conserves the pavements below, the effect is tragicomical. Comical because they resemble two fat ladies standing on tables, shrieking “Eeeek! A mouse!”, petticoats raised reflexively. And tragic because the person on the street, the tourist, the shopper, the busy resident, the contemporary flâneur has been cast as the witless mouse.