Memory in the Urban Space

Stefanie Endlich

Memory in the Urban Space

The villa on the fringe of the Berlin Zoological Gardens, in which the central planning office of the „T4“ murders was accommodated, was heavily damaged by bombs in 1944 and pulled down in the 1950es. Precisely at this place the Philharmonic Hall (“Philharmonie”) was erected in 1963, the heart of the future Culture Forum (“Kulturforum”). Did the architect Hans Scharoun know about the role of this place at the time of National Socialism, when he here created one of the most beautiful cultural buildings of the 20th century? Probably not, for the planning offices of the mass murders, the places of the armchair culprits passed into oblivion quickly and completely in the post-war era.

Abbildung der Grundrissüberlagerung der Villa T4 und der Philharmonie
Eclipsing of the ground-plans of the Villa T4 and the Philharmony
Andreas Knitz

In 1959 the Berlin Municipal Parliament had made this decision expressly also with regard to the division of the city and the proximity of the site to the intra-urban boundary along Potsdam Square and the Brandenburg Gate, beyond which the West-Berlin concert hall should, as it were, send a signal to East Berlin. In the decades after 1963 the Cultural Forum arose here with the philharmonic hall, chamber-music hall, museum of musical instruments, New National Gallery, State Library and museums of the Foundation “Preussischer Kulturbesitz”. After the division of the city in the Cold War the “Kulturforum” with its impressive new buildings should embody the West-Berlin idea of an own, second „museum island“ as a counterpart to the historic East-Berlin “Museum Island”. The site of the „T4“ villa on the Northern fringe of this area had for centuries not been marked or mentioned in city guides.

Only since the mid 1980es have groups of citizens drawn attention to the place. They demanded a monument, which was to be designed for this purpose. On the occasion of the 750-years city anniversary of Berlin in September 1987 an initiative group organized an exhibition at the historic place.

Aktion Mobiles Museum
The campaign „Mobile Museum"
Source Geschichtswerkstatt Claudia Quaukies

The activist group “Mobiles Museum”, supervised by the Berlin Historical Workshop, found wide support, among others by the Action Reconciliation (Aktion Sühnezeichen), the Work Group History at the Karl-Bonhoeffer-Mental Hospital, the Medical Association Berlin and the Alternative List. The small exhibition with historical information and documents was shown in a dumped and rebuilt double decker bus, painted grey on the outside like those „grey busses“, which took patients to the killing places in the NS time. The exhibition was compiled by the historian Götz Aly.

Der Graue Bus von 1987
A Grey Bus as a mobile museum in front of Berlin's Philharmonic hall/span>
Source Geschichtswerkstatt Claudia Quaukies

The „Mobile Museum“ stood next to the bus stop before the philharmonic hall for several weeks; discussions and a fund raising collection for a monument drew attention to the National Socialist euthanasia murders and the historic place. The Senate of Berlin decided, however, to erect a statue of the American sculptor Richard Serra instead of a specially created monument. Serra had shown this work – two curved steel plates with a ravine-like passage between them – on an art exhibition before the Martin-Gropius-Building and offered it for sale.

Die Skulptur Richard Serras
Richard Serra's sculpture Berlin Curves in front of Martin Gropius Bau im Frühjahr 1987
Source Poster of the exhibition "Der unverbrauchte Blick"

The State of Berlin wanted to adorn itself with the work of this famous sculptor. The sculptor himself liked the site particularly; he praised the correspondence between the curved forms of his abstract sculpture and the architectural waves of the roof of the philharmonic hall.

Die Berlin Junction vor der Philharmonie
Richard Serras sculpture now called Berlin Junction in front of Berlin's Philharmonic hall
Foto Stefanie Endlich

When the sculpture was erected there in January 1988, there was great indignation among the initiative groups. As a compromise the Senate proclaimed the sculpture, with the agreement of Richard Senna, as a monument for euthanasia victims. In order to make this dedication perceptible, a commemorative plate was placed on the ground by the sculpture, which recalls the „forgotten victims“. Its text was formulated in agreement with the initiative group „Mobile Museum“. It points to the euthanasia crimes and to the role of the place and ends with the sentence „The number of the victims is great, small the number of convicted culprits.” Richard Serra himself was originally to design this tablet, but he then left it to the Berlin sculptor Volker Bartsch.

Die Gedenktafel von Volker Bartsch
The commemorative plate by Volker Bartsch
Foto Stefanie Endlich

Annual memorial events and silent demonstrations have taken place here since the inauguration 1 September 1998. The bronze plate is by most people regarded as the real memorial. The situation of the historic place of the „T4“ villa has, however, been found unsatisfactory up to the present day. Richard Serra’s sculpture is for the most part perceived as a piece of art belonging to the building of the philharmonic hall and not as a memorial for the „T4“´victims. The tablet on the ground can easily be overlooked in every-day life. It is dirtied ever and again and blocked by parking cars. Therefore ideas, propositions, demands have been developed ever and again since 1989, to restructure the area before the philharmonic hall in such a way that it accords with the importance of the topic and contributes to clarification.

Since 2007 an iniative group which calls itself „Round Table T4” has had regular meetings on the organizational platform of the Foundation „Topography of Terror“. This group is a combination of motivated persons, associations of persons concerned, work groups and representatives of politics, administration and memorial places. This round of talks was initiated by Sigrid Falkenstein, whose aunt was murdered in the killing institution Grafeneck. The „Round Table“ agreed on the basic idea of a „Memorial and Documentation Place“ on the forecourt of the philharmonic hall and hopes for an early designing competition. The future place is to become part of the national commemorative culture, as it was already developed in the close vicinity, south of the Brandenburg Gate, for other groups of victims of the National Socialist persecution with newly created monuments for the Jews, the homosexuals and soon for the Sinti and Romani. In this ensemble the former Tiergartenstraße 4 would be the only authentic historical place and the only one situated on the place of the activity of the culprits. For this reason there shall not be built a symbolic monument here, but an adequate design is to be found, which places historical information in the center.

Also since 2007 it has been tried to make the historic place visible in the cityscape. Adolescents have during their training as surveying technicians marked the layout of the „T4“-Villa on the ground. In doing so, it became possible to recognize how the foyer of the philharmonic is superimposed on the layout of the old house. In the same year the artist Ronnie Golz succeeded in fixing a glass tablet in the waiting cabin at the bus stop before the philharmonic hall, which informs on the close connection between the euthanasia action and the mass murders in the East European extermination camps. This memorial place („Mahnort Aktion T4 and Holocaust“) was sponsered by Wall AG, but it has to compete with advertisement posters.

Einweihung der Erinnerungstafel im Wartehäuschen
Inauguration of the glass tablet, with its initiator Ronnie Golz to the left
Foto Stefanie Endlich

In Januars 2008 „The Monument of the Grey Busses“ was erected before the philharmonic hall, an art project by Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz.

Aufstellung des Denkmals der Grauen Busse
Erection of the Memorial of the Grey Busses
Foto Stefanie Endlich
Das Denkmal der Grauen Busse an der Bushaltestelle vor der Philharmonie
The Memorial of the Grey Busses at the bus stop in front of the Philharmonic Hall
Foto Stefanie Endlich

Since its origin in the South Württemberg town Ravensburg, where it was erected in 2007 before the Center for Psychiatry Weissenau, initiative groups brought it to various places, which are connected with euthanasia murders, as a call for memory and commemoration; see also The „Mobile Monument“ stood before the philharmonic hall until the beginning of 2009. After that it was brought to Brandenburg on the Havel and then to Pirna near Dresden, where two of the murdering sites had been, and then to Stuttgart, Köln and further towns.

Also since 2008 a plate of the Foundation Topography of Terror on the edge of the pavement gives information on the role of the „T4“ villa at the time of National Socialism and on the intention to establish a memorial and information place. The graphic artist Helga Lieser has designed the plate similarly to several others, which recall the National Socialist persecution, for example the deportation of the Jews at the goods station in Moabit and Anhalt Station.

Informationstafel der Stiftung Topographie des Terrors
Plate of the Foundation Topographie des Terrors
Foto Stefanie Endlich

Thus there are to be found various single hints and markings on the forecourt of the philharmonic hall, which is deserted during the day with its bus islands that have been empty for years, yet there is no complete design, which would communicate the topic in an impressive way. The long-demanded competition is to be advertised by the end of the year 2011. With its result the entrance area of the philharmonic hall will be essentially changed. An open-air design with historical information is to be established here, not a building, no working place of documentation, because this would evidently cost too much money and would not be compatible with the monument protection for the Cultural Forum. The reshaping is closely connected with the renovation of the Cultural Forum as a whole, which has been planned for a long time. In the master plan of the year 2008 the site of the „T4“ villa is marked. A second main entrance to the philharmonic hall is being built at present on the East side of the building facing Potsdamer Platz, from which most visitors come. Richard Serra‘s sculpture is presumably to be transferred to this new main entrance. With this it can leave behind itself its actually unloved role as a monument and clear the old entrance area for a design, which will be developed specifically with regard to the euthanasia topic. It remains to be hoped that the future memorial and information place on the edge of the Tiergarten park will not get out of public attention by the new alignment of the concert hall.

Abbildung der Masterplan-Überarbeitung 2008 des Kulturforums mit eingezeichnetem T4 Ausschnitt
Kulturforum Masterplan revised version 2008 with T4-Area indicated
Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung
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