Trummerflora: On the Topographie of Terrors, 1988

This four-part work proposes an interactive memorial that is not a monument. The first part is the trummerflora, or rubble flowers, made of the materials of the site itself and of those which find their way to the site without human agency. The second part is the signage which would tell the story of the history of the site during the Nazi period, location by location. The third part already exists in a small wooden Quonset hut on the site, called the Topograpie of Terrors, where the story of the activities of the Gestapo, from its inception in the early Nazi party, is told in word and image. The fourth part would exist in a room yet to be built next to the Topographie of Terrors building, which would duplicate the building’s shape but not its contents, serving instead as a memorial to the victims.

The site: The Martin Gropius-Bau, is on one border of the 11 acre site addressed by this work, the Berlin Wall behind it. Prize-winning architectural housing developments are on the other sides. The ruins of the former Central Main Railroad station, the Anhalter Banhof, is across the street. Most of the original buildings on this site were taken over by Heinrich Himmler as headquarters for his Gestapo, Storm Trooper and Secret Service (SS and SD) operations. Thus the place became the organizational and planning center for the Bureaucracy of Terror that enacted the Nazi ideology. This place was also the bureaucratic center for the Death Camps and the Labor Camps developed by the Third Reich to enact these policies of extermination during the period of its existence from 1933 to 1945.

Towards the middle of the terrain, visible in the work, are two large rubble piles, placed there long after the original ruins were removed. Trummerflora, or rubble plants and trees are a special phenomena unique to heavily bombed urban areas. The bomb acts as a plow, breaking brick, mortar, metal and wood into fragments and, in a single gesture, mixing these fragments with earth from below. This earth often contains seeds, dormant from the time of first construction on the site, that may have been buried for a century or more. These seeds come to light, and those that can live in this new and special earth, grow and flourish. Other seeds, dropped by wind and by animals, also survive in limited number in this new soil, this rubble. Hence the name rubble plants, Trümmerflora, or loosely translated, rubble flowers. They are a first succession ecology, the first step towards healing the wounded land.

Part I:  This work begins by proposing to use of certain of the rubble to outline the footprints of the original buildings in broken stone form. Thereafter, the rubble piles will be mixed and spread to a height of about 18 inches within these footprints.  Then, if the parking lot were removed, and the trummer trees were permitted to spread, they would from a partial canopy over the site.   The ground plain itself would be maintained with a decomposed granite mix on all areas not marked with trummer growth.    The gardener, by keeping the terrain clear if third growth, has the role if keeping the ecology as a scab, the early healing stage of a wound, letting the healing begin, but the past not be forgotten,  Then, trummerflora will grow from the rubble, delineating these sites, massing in heights of up to six feet, with the rubble symbolizing the end of the thousand year Reich and the trummerflora symbolizing the breaking apart and composting of their system of destruction. 
Part II: The memorial unfolds thereafter as an interactive narrative utilizing a complex system of signage and text that would be located at strategic spots around and about the building sites, naming each building and designating its function in the Gestapo bureaucratic scheme. As an ensemble, the signage would function as a reminder. They would differ dramatically from the present small existing signs and would inform the passers-by of the building’s usage in another narrative layer.

Part III: This existing building, Documentation Hall, becomes part of the work. It was erected in 1986 to tell the story of the Gestapo and its victims in graphic form. It tells how the bureaucracy of terror was constructed as a result if the Wannsee Conference. It explains the history of the site, starting several hundred years agi and then moving to the way in which Goebels first confiscated one of the buildings for his journal, “Attack”. The pictures and text range from Nazi atrocities to diagrams of the bureaucratic structure from images if the chief bureaucrats to copies of old newspaper articles or images of the chief enemies of the state such as Albert Einstein, and artists, writers and religious figures who were first pressured to leave and later terrorized if they didn’t

Part IV: The process of removing life began with the process of removing identity. As the Gestapo took away each victim’s name, it just as carefully gave him or her a number, then issuing each person a numbered ticket to an anonymous death. This room, therefore, serves for giving back the names. An extended installation of video screens is to be placed in a small building that mirrors the Topographie of Terrors adjacent to it. The screens are programmed to present the names of all the victims and the dates of their lives and other relevant retrievable information. The audio will alternatively speak each and every name in the person’s own native tongue, so that over a period of time all the names will be spoken. For those whose names are lost, or whose deaths have gone unrecorded, other forms of acknowledgement must be conceived. And like everything else on the site, nothing is static, so revisions and modifications can appear as new facts emerge. And even the memorial itself can be reclaimed and transformed by later generations. Therefore, the total physical site, although minimally changed, becomes a publicly available, ecologically lucid and historically comprehensible memorial addressing what happened here.

And the parking lot is repaced by the extension of the trummerforest.  And the trummerflora grows from the foundations of the third reich administration around the perimeter of the park, from the Gestapo headquarters in the former art buiding to Goebel’s Propaganda ministry.  And the cafeteria in the telepone building is noted as Heydrich’s office which was designing the deportation of 100 million slavs into the steppes of Asia.  And finally elsewhere vast storage places exist which are the records of all this activity soon to become a very odd place of study.

This work was done with the support of the Berlinischer Gallery at the Gropius-Bau and the Outlander Scholarship Fund in Berlin.  We were funded for two 6-month periods to be in Berlin before the wall came down and every day drove past a very distressing site entitled “The Topography of Terrors.”  We studied the history, finding amazing and distressing details about the complexity, depth, mercilessness, and destructive power of the Nazi bureaucracy.  This work was done as our response.  It was reviewed by Berlin Parliament, exhibited widely, initially in the exhibition at the Gropius Bauu entitled Gedenken und Denkmal.  The leader of the Jewish community turned down our proposal as he felt that the site should be covered by buildings that could virtually erase what happened there.  The younger Jewish generation liked the work.   There was no outcome.  Ultimately, a variation on the original intention for the leader of the Jewish Community was realized in part by the American architect Peter Eisenman.  The monument that Eisenman created, basically a work in concrete, stands in almost precise opposition to this work and its meaning.

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