ICan an architectural design be compared to a musical score? Once destroyed, can a building be “performed” again like a symphony when the design is presented? For at least two decades (not only) in the German capital, a passionate debate among architects, preservationists and the interested public has been spinning around this question. It is currently receiving new fodder through plans for the reconstruction of a monument that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed on behalf of the art collector and KPD member Eduard Fuchs and that was controversial even at the time it was created.
The revolutionary monument from 1926 in the Friedrichsfelde cemetery commemorated the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The newspaper “Die Rote Fahne” aptly described the “immense monumentality of the colossal cuboids that are piled on top of each other in an irregular manner”. In 1935 it was destroyed by the National Socialists. The Berlin architectural historian Carsten Krohn is committed to the reconstruction of this monument. As part of the “Mies Monuments” exhibition, which is to be shown in autumn in the Mies-van-der-Rohe-Haus in the Lichtenberg district, he will build a 1: 1 scale model of the top three layers of the monument. He is supported in this by the renowned architecture firm Kuehn Malvezzi.
If reconstruction is to be carried out in Berlin, the comparison with the external partial reconstruction of the Hohenzollern Palace in the center of the city is obvious. While in the case of the Humboldt Forum the criticism of the recourse to architectural history has not died down to this day, it is much more meek when it comes to the reconstruction of works of progressive modernism. It is not just bias that leads to this inequality. Rather, it is also explained by the fact that one of the highlights of Mies’ architecture, the Barcelona pavilion, has been a very successful replica since 1986. In Dessau, on the other hand, the famous drinking hall, which was built in 1932 based on a design by Mies, was rebuilt in 2013. With the reconstructed last Bauhaus factory in Dessau before the school closed, the architectural landscape in Saxony-Anhalt has received a jewel back.
The reconstruction is based on a precise study
As can be seen in Barcelona and Dessau, a reconstruction depends on the structural details and the exact knowledge of a design. In the case of the monument to Luxemburg and Liebknecht, however, the execution drawings are missing. But based on the building application documents including view drawings, a model collage and various photos, Krohn devised an intelligent reconstruction plan. He would now like to test his precise study of the stone formats and statics of the epoch-making clinker building in advance. “As a rule, planning is done in order to build. It’s about building in order to get a plan, ”he says of his approach.
The Revolution Memorial was an important work in Mies’ artistic career and featured prominently in the legendary exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1947 on modern architecture. In his book “The Monument to the November Revolution in Berlin-Lichtenberg”, the Italian expert Andrea Contursi showed the plan for a reconstruction of the 1977 monument with bricks in the Oldenburg format by the architect Günter Stahn. It remained a paper, as did other ideas for reconstruction.
The masonry impresses with its play of light and shadow
The most recent attempt could be successful: The dark hard-fired clinker for Krohn’s replica is provided by a manufacturer of peat-fired clinkers, and the model is being made by the Bildungsverein Bautechnik from Berlin, which had already rebuilt parts of the Schinkel’sche Bauakademie. The small-scale brick masonry of the 5.5 by 15.3 meter monument can also be read as large ashlar masonry. Its sculptural plasticity is created by light and shadow. Projections of the cuboids ensure that the volumes can be interpreted as monumental individual stones as well as a wall.
The effect and physical nature of the construction are not identical, but rather artfully separated. It is not entirely clear whether steel and concrete were used for the original construction or just one of both. In his other brick structures, such as the Esters and Lange houses in Krefeld and the Lemke house in Berlin, Mies used some of these laminated structures around 1930.
The foundations of the Berlin memorial have been preserved; a “memorial for the memorial” was erected above it in the GDR. It could be preserved if the reconstruction of the icon of 20th century architecture were designed in a “U” shape. The exhibition on the history of its origins and destruction aims to “provide the conditions for the reconstruction of the monument”.
The Left Party is also involved: The district mayor of Berlin-Lichtenberg Michael Grunst from the Left and the wealth fund of the former SED are sponsors of the project. It is not idealism of architectural history that makes them supporters, but rather their political worldview. The different motivations of the project partners for the reconstruction contain conflict. While the architects are concerned with regaining a masterpiece of architecture from the Weimar Republic for Berlin, the left-wing party politicians are concerned with the hero worship of two heroes of communism. Mies van der Rohe probably wouldn’t care: he was politically an opportunist and only interested in architecture and its theory.