Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand – a Space of Contemplation

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by Reka Holman

The first time I visited this building was by accident, I was just discovering the Kulturforum as a tourist when I probably noticed a sign pointing toward this museum. I am uncertain about this because although the building is located right next to the Kulturforum it is actually quite hard to find it. During this first visit I focused largely on the exhibition itself and I thought it was quite a smart exhibition, going into the details of the resistance, not trying to simplify of glorify the events that happened in the building where the exhibition is held. When I revisited the building a few years later I was more interested in the urban context itself, the way the building is integrated into the area around the Kulturforum and how it is made visible or referenced to in city space, but later I had to change my initial question to whether it is integrated at all or is referenced to in any way at all.

The German Resistance Memorial is situated in Stauffenbergsraße, the rear end of the Gemälde Galerie is really close and after walking a few steps along the street the Philharmonie also becomes visible – it is a truly stunning sight in the sunset when the golden parts are shining. Despite the representative buildings of the Kulturforum being nearby the Maritim Hotel right across the German Resistance Memorial, the Egyptian Embassy just a block away or the military buildings basically adjacent to the building are probably more characteristic of the Stauffenbergstraße. In general it seems that this historical building is in no way connected to the modernist space of the Kulturforum and there is also no sign of historical continuity in the architecture of the area; the building is completely isolated from its surroundings.

After entering the courtyard of the building it becomes obvious that there is clearly an emphasis on the significance of the place itself. Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators from within the Wehrmacht were executed in the courtyard the day after their plot to assassinate Hitler failed on 20 July 1944. There is a memorial in the courtyard with the names of the conspirators, a figurative statue and a metal lane representing the line where the conspirators stood in front of the firing squad. The memorial site was established at the actual place of the execution in 1980, the former Bendlerstraße was then renamed Stauffenberstraße and a permanent exhibition is held in the building ever since. The former Bendlerblock still hosts the offices of the German Ministry of Defence and based on the number of plants in the windows some people might actually be living there with a view over a courtyard where executions were held.

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When I visited the building I approached it along the canal and I was able to see Potsdamer Platz, the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie until I finally reached my destination. In the Stauffenberstraße itself I passed by some buildings with signs warning of the high security military area and surveillance and when I entered the building itself all I saw was a memorial of military resistance. The memorial plaque is simply a heroic interpretation of a complicated and multidimensional historical event and the bronze figure meant to resemble Stauffenberg himself is living proof of why many have a phobia of figurative memorials in general. Adding to these surroundings to the space of the Kulturforum as a whole the German Resistance Memorial Center just seemed to be out of context and hard to integrate into any valid spatial narrative.

After entering the exhibition I realized that although the second floor with the historical rooms is currently not accessible due to renovation the exhibition narrates the story of the German resistance avoiding simplifying interpretations using a great number of sources, making the visitors read relatively long texts turning the space of the exhibition into a space for contemplation, which requires patience, but it proves to be a rewarding experience. The exhibition doesn’t just deal with resistance within the military but focuses on various forms of resistance movements, smaller groups and individuals trying to provide political alternatives to the National Socialist regime. Walking through the exhibition makes the visitor aware of the brave actions and sacrifices of people living in the Nazi period without reducing history to simple narratives of heroism.

The entrance to the exhibition is free but despite the Maritim Hotel just across the street I hardly noticed any tourist when I visited the exhibition which might also be due to most of the texts being available only in German in the exhibition space. The German Resistance Memorial is situated in a space lacking cohesion with no connection to the nearby Kulturforum whatsoever and entering the courtyard itself only gives the impression of a heroic military memorial site. The exhibition, however, is interesting and makes considering the idea of integrating the German Resistance Memorial into the scattered and incoherent modernist space of the Kulturforum worthy.

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