The Green Belt

The Green Belt

© picture alliance/dpa, photo: Martin Schutt

Art, discourse & parliament

Palast der Republik

Day 1

with Almuth Berger, Tatjana Böhm, Susan Buck-Morss, Boris Buden, Augusto Corrieri, Bernd Gehrke, Trajal Harrell, Max Hertzberg, Sanja Horvatinčić, Gal Kirn, Kerstin Meyer, Henrike Naumann/Technosekte, Ana Ofak, Pan Daijing, Elske Rosenfeld, Bénédicte Savoy, Bernhard Schlink, and others

A symbolic reconstruction of the Palast der Republik will be held at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele from 8th to 10th March 2019. Combined with critical reflection on the ambivalent significance of this building, a “Palace of Counter-Narratives” will take shape with fresh observations on the events of the years during and after the fall of the wall and reunification.

Artists, philosophers, activists, musicians and theatremakers will fill the building and embark together on a three day journey: on Friday we will remember the progressive proposals advocated by the 1989 citizens’ movements including a draft constitution put forward at the time. On Saturday individual aspects of reform advocated in 1989 will come into contact with ideas and projects of today’s activists in a range of working parties ultimately coming together on Sunday as contributions to a transnational European constitution that will help in times of increasing populism and nationalism to carry visionary social ideas into the future. Emerging from the “window of opportunity” that arose between the peaceful revolution of 1989 and the reunification of Germany in the autumn of 1990, the “Palast der Republik” will open a space of possibility beyond past and present polarizations, in which the public can move freely between a revue of propositions and a parliament of the future, a circus of ideas and a “music palace”, theatre, films and entertainment.

Palast der Republik: A revision of the revision

What a crowd, what a force! Half a million people is demonstrating at the Alexanderplatz. On 4th November 1989. They want a new German Democratic Republic. A different country, without the wall or the Stasi, repression and the geriatric paternalism of the Politburo. Almost 30 speakers, famous figures from cultural circles, the opposition and students, provoke booming cycles of applause and whistles. The dominant emotion is that something is beginning and banners are waved demanding greater freedom.

One year later. The wall is long gone. The GDR no longer exists. The Deutschmark has been introduced. The Two-Plus-Four contract has terminated formal occupation by the Allied powers. The reunification of the two German states – ratified by a large majority in the last GDR parliament – is complete and the Unification Treaty – under which the union led by the Federal German government has been formalised as the simple accession of the GDR into the Federal Republic – has been signed. This is how what belonged together came together – only differently to the way many in the East imagined. The ground upon which just a few months earlier the leaders of the citizens’ movements dreamed of an alternative, of a Third Way, is now up for sale. Many of the buildings adjoining the Alexanderplatz, socialist modernism, erected by the – as the phrase went – working people of the nation, will be bought out of public ownership or transferred to private hands in the first few months after unification. The same fate will befall hundreds of thousands of apartments as well as all the GDR’s businesses and collectives. Millions of people are now free but unemployed. Inter-German and state transfer payments compensate for this privatisation unprecedented in German history.

From today’s perspective the demonstration on 4th November 1989 represents a brief period of hope for a better socialism or at least an alternative to capitalism. Emancipative ideas were developed during this time when in an act of self-empowerment the GDR population declared: “We are the people!” and made the country and politics their own. At the Round Tables in particular, the future of the country was debated, about a cautious German-German rapprochement at eye level. A new constitution was drafted that intended to include much that was progressive then and still is today: women’s rights, the environment, work and housing issues. At the same time the place where the demonstration was held stands for the failure of those original hopes: scarcely any of the Round Table’s ideas were pursued in the course of reunification or ever implemented.

Situated on the other side of the TV tower, the Palast der Republik building also played a significant role in the political processes that followed the November demonstrations and the opening of the wall. This was where the last and only freely elected parliament agreed the GDR’s accession to the Federal Republic. This was where civil rights activists gathered in May 1990 to protest against the 1st State Treaty at a round table assembled outside the building – a cable drum from the Oberspree Cable Works. This was where, shortly before the end of the GDR, asbestos was detected in the building, as a result of which the parliament was relocated to the headquarters of the former state council. In the course of its demolition, this palace – once the representative location for the SED’s powerful elite but also an architectural experiment with an extremely modern theatre and visionary concepts for its usage – became a polarizing and to this day emotionally loaded symbol of a revisionist approach in terms of both urban planning and history to the contradictory legacy of the GDR.

Jean Baudrillard was quick to warn us in 1989 against the narrative of a victory by the free West over the East. Instead, in Sibyl-like fashion he put forward the parable of a reciprocal infection with diseases: “One virus for another […] the Communism that has destabilised and collapsed will somehow permeate the bloodstream of the West and destabilise it in turn.” Perhaps it is now, 30 years later, in the face of the threatened collapse of the EU, the ghost of nationalism, turning away refugees, in the face of new levels of surveillance, the dismantling of the social state, the privatisation of communal property, of neoliberal working conditions and enclaves of poverty appearing in once rich western centres, that the experience of destabilization has reached the West? While 1989 was all about the break-up of the East, now the identity of the West itself is open to discussion.

In the middle of this great transition, the Berliner Festspiele – inspired by the interim period from October 1989 to October 1990 – will open a “window of opportunity” for visions of the future that transcend the polarisations of past and present. In a form of revision of revision, a palace of counter-narratives to a world that has no alternative will be symbolically reconstructed in a place it never occupied: in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, which used to be the Freie Volksbühne in what used to be West Berlin. In this palace the concept of freedom coincides with the idealisation of a building dedicated to the people where emancipative experiences such as those generated by the collapse of the SED state can be newly articulated and linked to contemporary notions of progressive plans for the future.

In the course of this three day festival the idea of the palace will undergo numerous transformations, morphing from a place of memory to a working forum, to a circus of ideas to a future parliament. Following the opening keynote address by the American philosopher Susan Buck-Morss the programme will be made up of five thematic strands. Bracketing the event, a draft constitution will mark both the beginning and end of the “Palace”: we begin by remembering the Round Tables and the draft constitution which they created in 1990 and over the course of the event we will venture beyond the horizon of internal German problems to gather together elements of a transnational constitution. Input will include not only the experiences of 1989 but also the positive achievements of the last 30 years. The second thematic strand will open several chapters from reunification’s Black Book and the greatest transfer of capital in German history. The operations of the Treuhand agency developed instruments of neoliberalism that have shaped the current policy of austerity regarding southern Europe. From an international perspective the historic Third Way in the GDR, in Yugoslavia and in the non-aligned states will be revisited and traced in utopian architecture manifest in styles such as socialist modernism. Finally, in the Festspielhaus a location for oral histories will be created where the life stories of people from the East can be appreciated.

Sebastian Kaiser

with

Almuth Berger, Tatjana Böhm, Susan Buck-Morss, Boris Buden, Augusto Corrieri, Bernd Gehrke, Trajal Harrell, Max Hertzberg, Sanja Horvatinčić, Gal Kirn, Kerstin Meyer, Henrike Naumann/Technosekte, Ana Ofak, Pan Daijing, Elske Rosenfeld, Bénédicte Savoy, Bernhard Schlink, and others

Installations & films
by Bini Adamczak, Georgi Bogdanov & Boris Missirkov, Thomas Demand, Igor Grubić, Felix Grütsch, Neša Paripović, Klaus Pobitzer, Elske Rosenfeld, Christoph Schlingensief, and others

Subject to change without notice.
The detailed programme will be published soon.

Maximilian Haas, Sebastian Kaiser, Thomas Oberender, Elske Rosenfeld, Joshua Wicke Curators
André de Ridder Music curator
Dominic Huber House design