Professor talks about conserving the Berlin wall

By Chelsie Field

It wasn’t long after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 that monuments started forming, according to Gabi Dolff-Bonekäemper, professor of conservation at the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning at the Technical University of Berlin.

MCT

When the wall and the German Democratic Republic fell, people began to cover the east side of the wall with over 100 works of original artwork, an act that had previously been forbidden.

Today, the artwork forms the East Side Gallery, explained Dolff-Bonekäemper during her lecture “No Longer Disturbing? The Berlin Wall 22 Years After its Opening,” yesterday at the University of Massachusetts’ Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies.

Over the past several years, actions have been taken to preserve the East Side Gallery, recreating and reconstructing the original artwork painted there in 1989 and 1990.

Dolff-Bonekäemper questions the genuineness of this process, however, as some of the paintings are being recreated not by the artist who originally painted them.

“How genuine are they and to whom does it matter — except to me, of course,” she said.

Dolff-Bonekäemper is actively involved in maintaining areas historically connected to the era of the Wall and conserving them in a factual, sensitive manner, according to the UMass event page.

Dolff-Bonekäemper said one  of the largest challenges of her conservational work has been trying to preserve this complicated historical event without unifying the memory of the individuals.

“There is never one collective memory. I don’t believe in the collection of memories as a whole. It is always moving. It is always changing, belonging to several collective memories,” said Dolff-Bonekäemper.

The goal of conserving historical areas has been to create at least one monument where the wall once was but to never re-create the wall itself, according to Dolff-Bonekäemper. She said the monuments should depict the event and its significance.

The Window of Remembrance commemorates victims by displaying their portraits and using natural light to create projections of their faces on the rear side of the monument.

“They never grew old – they were killed before they could grow old,” said Dolff-Bonekäemper, who continued saying such stories of death “just hit you” and cannot be excluded in the consideration of how to represent these historical monuments.

According to Dolff-Bonekäemper, people’s perception of the wall are heavily influenced by whether they live on the east or west side. On the west side, the wall opened. On the east side, the wall came down.

But no matter which side of the Wall one was on, Dolff-Bonekäemper said, “everyone had to get used to it.”

The Palace of Tears, another monument, used to be a place of sad exchanges between westerners and easterners divided on either side of the Berlin Wall, as it was originally used for border-crossing. Built in 1961, as a propaganda piece to portray to the west a sense of friendliness, modernity and transparency by the German Democratic Republic, many family members and friends shared a tearful goodbye. Today, the building is a museum on the border-crossing process.

“It looks better than ever before … It is no longer a place where people weep. You go to learn,” said Dolff-Bonekäemper.

The use of conservation as an educational tool has a high value with Dolff-Bonekäemper. “Everyone who has not lived through these things, this is how they are taught,” through conservation and historical monuments.

“No one comes out of history unaffected,” Dolff-Bonekäemper said.

Dolff-Bonekäemper will be giving a second lecture called “Material, Formal, & Social Problems with the Rebuilding of Destroyed Monuments” today at 12 p.m. in 601 Herter.

Chelsie Field can be reached at [email protected]