“Why?” That’s the question I keep asking myself as I visit the new Mall of Berlin at Potsdamer Platz. There’s 270 shops to look at, but all I can think is: why would anyone build this thing?
It clearly wasn’t built for shoppers – the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden is just around the corner and has close to the exact same shops. And it wasn’t built to create sustainable jobs, since most people who work in retail have to make due with low-wage, part-time contracts. Some of the Romanian construction workers who built the thing didn’t get paid at all.
So why would anyone build it?
Looking for clues, first I noticed the Reichsluftfahrtministerium of Hermann Göring on the opposite side of the street. This gray Nazi behemoth now houses the Federal Ministry of Finances.
The day before I had been to the fascinating exhibition on the Welthauptstadt Germania. They have a model showing Hitler’s architectural plans for post-war Berlin: besides the ridiculously large dome, it was just a bunch of drab neoclassical lumps, entirely uniform.
So looking at the Mall, a giant building with stone columns stretching down the Voßstraße in Mitte… All of a sudden it hit me: Isn’t this a copy of Hitler’s Neue Reichskanzlei?
The New Reich Chancellory, opened in 1939 after numerous delays, at a cost of 90 million Reichsmarks – that’s about €1 billion in today’s money.
The Mall of Berlin opened in 2014, after numerous delays, at a cost of about €1 billion. Both buildings were opened partially completed, with plans to expand them even more.
Is this a coincidence? Obviously, the idea of the movie Iron Sky, that Nazis have been hiding on the dark side of the moon, is ridiculous. But could Hitler, before his death, have made preparations for his city planning ideas to continue?
Nazi architectural ideas about filling the city with identical monoliths seem to be more popular than ever. Instead of state offices, they’re building shopping malls.
From the atrium of the Mall of Berlin, there’s a great view of the Bundesrat. In fact, the mall’s roof nicely frames the upper chamber of Germany’s parliament – a symbolic gesture of who is in charge.
In fact, neoliberal capitalism has a totalitarian touch to it: How else could you get people to spend their free time in different malls with exactly the same shops? This system can even channel any form of protest back into the system itself. So feminist shirts are sewn in a sweatshop in Mauritius, while Anonymous masks are made by children in Brazil.
I know it’s not cool to compare people to Hitler and yada yada yada, but I’m clearly still bitter about the fact that a significant part of my youth was spent in these consume-temples. I could think of one or two things Berlin needs besides another mall. With the unending housing crisis, a billion euros and a full block of space in Berlin might be better spent on affordable housing.
The Romanian construction workers who built the mall were promised €5 an hour for 10 hours a day, six days a week. But they didn’t get anything. Now they are protesting, together with Berlin anarchosyndicalists, against this Mall of Shame. They are handing out flyers every day, and this Saturday there will be a demonstration. So when I ask myself “why?”, at least now there is a reason to visit the mall.