Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The House Of World Cultures

Fifty years ago this month, an American government delegation officially opened the Congress Hall on the banks of Berlin's Spree River. The futuristic building, designed by the American architect Hugh Stubbins and located just a stone's thrown from the Berlin Wall, was a gift from the US government to Berlin -- a gesture of goodwill and commitment to the German people during the icy depths of the Cold War.

To reciprocate the trans-Atlantic gesture of goodwill, Germany has paid for a thorough renovation of the Congress Hall -- nicknamed the "pregnant oyster" by locals because of its curved form -- over the past year to coincide with the 50th anniversary. The much-loved building, which was re-named the House of World Cultures in 1989, re-opens Thursday with a festival dedicated to New York.

The festival, which features an art exhibition, a film series and a music festival, offers an intense consideration of the continuing cultural relevance of post-9/11 New York City -- motivated at least partly by the desire to patch up relations between Germany and the US, which are in need of some renovation themselves.

Despite the desire for trans-Atlantic harmony, the American artists represented don't pull any punches in their critique of the US. David Hammons' 1990 work "African-American Flag" is a cotton Stars and Stripes with the colors changed to green, red and black, while Jon Kessler's installation "The Palace at 4 a.m." is a disorienting, dystopian gauntlet of whirring video cameras and bloodied GI Joe dolls that is supposed to represent the loss of American innocence since 9/11. "The piece has been very well received here in Germany, but for whatever reasons a lot of galleries in America balked at picking it up," Kessler says.

For added resonance in his installation, Kessler has incorporated a picture of Berlin Zoo's celebrity polar bear Knut with a bullet hole in his head. "America is just like Knut," he says. "We used to be cute and cuddly, and now we're out of control."

And it does seem that the trans-Atlantic relationship is a shadow of its Cold War self. Though President Dwight Eisenhower presided over the opening of the Congress Hall in 1957, and President John F. Kennedy visited the building during his famous 1963 trip to West Berlin, no prominent American politicians are expected to visit for the duration of the current exhibition. Even German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's speech on Sept. 19, the anniversary of the building's opening, will fail to draw his colleagues from across the Atlantic -- despite being billed as a "major trans-Atlantic address."

But America's presence in Berlin is still strong. Scherer notes that John F. Kennedy concluded his 1963 speech at the Congress Hall with the line, "I will soon be leaving Berlin, but America is here to stay." In 1963, that earned an extended round of applause. Scherer wouldn't venture a guess as to what sort of reaction it would get from Germans today. Find out more about the festival at:

Research gathered from:

Now here's a poem with the excitment of a festival:

Or Just Contemplating More Legitimate Dangers

Delete all! Now, enter these novelty items onto your "wish-list" instead:

-An iron hot enough to get the wrinkles in eternity.

-A sidewalk that never quakes from a passing train beneath it.

-A map you can unfold & not worry about falling off the edge.

-Rain heavy enough to wash away any depressing headlines.

-A treacherous whirlpool that guarantees a great suck.

-An angel's reflection in the chrome of your coffee machine.

-A picture window with more than just an air shaft view.

-Two tombstones you can use as bookends.

-An automatic kissing machine activated by moonlight.

-Embalming fluid that's suitable for drinking through a straw.

Poem first published online at:
Visit my ezine:
and music blog:

No comments: