Is far-right ideology twisting the concept of ‘heritage’ in German architecture?

Garrison Church in Potsdam, 1967: the Communists removed the bells, damaged by an air raid during the war.
Garrison Church in Potsdam, 1967: the Communists removed the bells, damaged by an air raid during the war. Photo: Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

In 1991 Max Klaar, a retired German lieutenant-colonel, presented the municipality of Potsdam with a replica of a famous carillon, which from 1797 to 1945 had played themes by Bach and Mozart (Papageno’s Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen from The Magic Flute) from the tower of the city’s Garrison church. Both the tower and bells had been wrecked in an air raid – the ruins finally being removed by the East German government in 1968. The carillon, paid for by private donors, was a step in the hoped-for reconstruction of the church.

How very charming, you might think, except that Klaar had an agenda: he was a Nazi apologist. If you look on the internet (but please don’t), you will find him, for example, endorsing the thoroughly debunked lie that General Eisenhower had a million German prisoners of war killed in death camps.

His choice of building was controversial: the church was the setting in 1933 of the famous handshake between Hitler and the venerated conservative general Paul von Hindenburg, which conferred the old establishment’s approval on the Führer and thereby cemented his grip on power.

Although Klaar withdrew from the rebuilding project in 2005, it continues without him. At one stage the Prince of Wales’s architectural summer school lent its support. Last year, work started on the church tower, with completion due in 2020. Protests against it continue, but supporters say that to leave the site empty would “give victory” both to the Nazis and the East German communist regime.

According to Stephan Trüby, a professor of architecture at the University of Stuttgart, the Garrison church plan is an example of what he claims is now a disturbing pattern. “We can currently witness a cultural tendency of using seemingly harmless terms like identity’, ‘tradition’ and ‘beauty’ to establish an idea of ethnic purity protected by a fortress Europe,” he says. Elsewhere, writers wield terms such as heimat (home) and boden (soil/earth), which have both a long tradition in German thought and specific far-right meanings. […]

The Guardian

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