Berlin Cathedral Skyline, by Jean Claude Castor
A story about a person in a city inevitably becomes a story about the city itself. The places he goes, the people he sees, the language he speaks, and the coffee he (tries to) drink are so particular to the time and place that we are compelled to think of a city as a flowing river, to invoke Heraclitus’s famous saying that one can never step into the same river twice. A city is the integral sum of these infinite idiosyncratic moments.
But though the currents incessantly rush, the banks of the river more or less stay where they are. The city of Berlin has physically existed at approximately 52°31'M 13°23'E since the 1200s, and for centuries has remained the cultural, economic, and political center of its surrounding lands.
A story about the city Berlin thus inevitably becomes a story about Germany, for it stood at the helm of—and both witnessed and shaped--some of the most significant developments in European and world history, serving as the capital city of such critical entities as the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, post-WWII occupied Germany, and now the reunified Federal Republic of Germany.
To encapsulate these paradigms of both the individual within the city and the individual city within history, this exhibition chooses to tell the story of Berlin, Germany, and its people on the scale of districts and neighborhoods. Whereas the Berlin of today can be broadly characterized as progressive, diverse, creative, and an active memorial to the city’s varied past, these characteristics manifest to different extents in different regions: from Mitte, the geographic and historical center, to Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain, the leader in political activism and social liberalism; from Charlottenburg, an affluent region of intelligentsia, to Neukölln, a bustling district of diverse immigrant populations; and from Prenzlauerberg to Schöneberg, both increasingly gentrified districts with their own important historical artifacts.
The exhibits were created using Neatline, a digital mapping tool for the humanities. As you click through the curated waypoints, imagine that each district is a face of a riverbank uniquely carved by the streams of people and history that passed through it. It is hard to say what force is directing this current. Why did one district fall to the west of the Berlin Wall, and others to the east? Why did certain peoples choose to collectively live in one or the other? Which features of the city have been eroded, have persisted, or have been revived? And where will the current take Berlin next?