Filmmaker and stand-up comedian Marion Pfaus is raising money to blow up the yet-to-be-rebuilt €800 million Prussian palace – aka Humboldt Forum – whose first stone is scheduled to be laid in June.
The new visitor to Berlin’s Schlossplatz might find it hard to believe.
Only five years ago, the huge bare lawn – smack in the middle of the Museum Island and home to the white and blue eyesore known as the Humboldt Box – was the site of the East German Palast der Republik. The 1970s colossus of copper, steel and glass is still missed by those Berliners who had lived here long enough to appreciate its historical pertinence (and not too long to be blinded by political short-sightedness).
People like Wilhelm von Boddien think that buildings are forever. But they’re not! And the Schlossplatz is a really great example of that.
Before that, the square was the site of Prussia’s baroque palace, the Berliner Stadtschloss. An association of nostalgics headed by Hamburg businessman Wilhelm von Boddien, as well as about half of the German population, want it back – so badly that the government felt prompted to demolish the GDR Palast to make room for a €600 million replica of the castle. East German history was a bad dream and the New Reunified Germany was trusting bulldozers to erase its memory.
Marion Pfaus, aka Rigoletti, is not worried: The Baden-Württemberg native knows her history well enough to rest assured that the castle-to-be won’t be around for long. Pfaus has been busy raising money for its demolition in an enlightening short film, Humboldt 21, which has already been honoured at several film festivals.
What prompted you to make that five-and-a-half minute film about Schlossplatz?
Well, the Humboldt Box is an incredible building!
It’s really absurd: the colour, the outline… everyone seemed very concerned with what should be built in the historical centre of Berlin, and then they built something that is the opposite of these historical concerns. From there, I began to look around: that square has an amazing history of building and of demolition; construction/deconstruction. That’s my theme.
So can you give some examples of the construction and deconstruction on this spot?
The most famous deconstruction is the demolition of the Schloss in 1950. And then, everybody remembers the Palast der Republik. But actually the original Schloss was a 15th-century medieval building. It was demolished too.
One of your films addresses the Berliner Unwillen, a mini rebellion against the first castle.
When the Hohenzollern came here to build their first Schloss in 1443, Berliners rebelled. They didn’t want the castle. They flooded the building site with water from the Spree! Then came the second Schloss, a copy of a renaissance palace in Torgau. The following one contained leftovers from the Renaissance castle on the east side with little towers. Then in the 1690s, the architect Andreas Schlüter demolished big parts of the Renaissance palace and built the new baroque palace instead. Still it was only half of the size of what it would be later.
And then there’s the story of the ill-fated tower on Schlossplatz.
Yes, in 1760, Schlüter was supposed to build a 100m tower next to the castle. The king bought some bells for it. But the Schlossplatz was a swamp and his tower started to sink on one side and lean dangerously. People said the costs to save the tower were higher than the whole palace. It was a big scandal. Schlüter had to ‘unbuild’ his tower. He lost his job and went to St. Petersburg. It’s his successor Johann Eosander von Göthe who completed the palace and doubled its size. The Schloss’ dome was completed in 1850, so the palace they want to have back again existed for only 100 years.
So what would you like to put there now?
I would leave it like it has been over the last few years: a big square. A big empty square tells more about the history of this place and the history of Berlin than an old-new palace. They should also keep the concrete foundation left over from the Palast der Republik. I like the concept of landscape architect Gero Heck – the green lawn, the wooden walkways. They delineate the location of the Schloss and the Palast der Republik, so you can imagine where they were. It tells a lot of history.
You’re very deadpan in your film, but what did you really think when they demolished the Palast der Republik?
I was against it. It belonged to the history of this special place. They should have let it be. It was a great building: the technology inside, the big stage. It could have been turned into a great venue for art or performances, as they did before it was destroyed.
Why do you think they destroyed it?
What I say in my movie is that it was revenge because the Schloss was blown up by the communists. If the Allies had destroyed it in 1945, then nobody would have wanted it back!
In your film you ask people to donate money to support the demolition of the future Schloss. You even provide an account number. Have you actually raised any money?
The palace they want to have back again only existed for 100 years.
I collected nearly €300! In May there will be a follow up to Humboldt 21 in which I intend to announce what I’ll do with the money. Maybe, like Wilhelm von Boddien, I’ll give money to my friends! That could work for me!
So you’re aspiring to be Von Boddien’s nemesis. Have you ever met the man?
We met each other at an urban planning symposium in Hamburg. They invited Mr. von Boddien, Gero Heck and me to discuss the future of the site.
What did you tell them?
I told them about the place’s history of demolition. Nothing will be forever. People like Wilhelm von Boddien think that buildings are forever. But they are not!
Which makes the €600 million and growing price tag even more absurd.
The money for the façade and the dome was supposed to come from private donations – they need €80 million, but they have only collected €25 million or so. So most of the money will have to come from the Federal Republic – the taxpayers!
You identified a pattern of demolition and reconstruction every 100 years or so. What will replace the new old Schloss 100 years from now?
Maybe a Chinese building. Or a mosque. Who knows? I made a Facebook event, a party for the 100th anniversary of the 1950 demolition of the old Schloss. I will throw a huge fiesta and blow up the new old Schloss. Maybe in 2030 we’ll already start de-constructing the façade to have it look like the Palast der Republik in 2006. And we will blow up the rest of it in 2050!
Did you send a Facebook invitation to Von Boddien?
Of course I should invite him, but I’m not sure if he’s on Facebook.
Marion Pfaus will show her films and discuss the Schlossplatz at Exberliner‘s SAVE BERLIN night at Lichtblick Kino on April 29, 20:00.