Book excerpt III- The Berg of Tempelhof

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The following is an excerpt from the book Berlin-matter of memory

Once in a while, the vision for a structure becomes so engrained in the collective mind that its virtual existence can almost be mistaken for concrete. This is the case of the Tempelhof Berg; the image has become a virtual relic, even available as postcards and prints.

During the debate on the future of Tempelhof, an illustration where Tempelhof has been transformed into a 1000 m tall mountain suddenly started appearing everywhere. The creation of architect Jakob Tigges, the mountain was entered into – and quickly eliminated from – an idea competition as a politically critical, tongue-in-cheek proposal. Nonetheless, the strong illustrations found their way into newspapers, into the minds of Berliners, and on to the postcard pictured below. It can be found in the strangest of places: I recently saw it hanging framed in a bar among photos of historic images of the city. The idea simply resonated very well with Berliners, and it was viewed by many as an ideal solution for the old disused airport.

The only problem is its construction; the newspaper Tagesspiegel calculated that in order to construct the mountain, 47 000 trucks would need to deliver 20 tonnes of construction debris daily for a period of over five years in order to build the enormous mass. And then there’s the question of whether the notoriously unstable ground could take such an enormous weight. Even so, the traffic of trucks would clog the Berlin traffic apparatus for years, release untold amounts of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and create endless problems for the city and the planet. Not to mention the costs for a city so famous for its empty coffers that for a long while the city slogan, coined by former mayor Klaus Wowereit was: “arm aber sexy”, poor but sexy. The mountain is a pipe dream, and everybody is well aware of this.

Relics often have a place in the collective mind even if they no longer exist; Crystal Palace is one such relic. Planned, future relics can occupy a similar position in people’s minds. The Tempelhof Mountain, however, is a strictly virtual relic with no relationship to physical reality. It is the virtual world blurring the borders with the physical world.

The virtual relic is a product of digital culture. Photomontages and other credible visual evidence can easily be manufactured. Computers and digital culture also make it possible to disseminate convincing illustrations into the collective mind. By presenting that illustration in various ways, it starts to inhabit the mind, much in the same way effective advertisement places products in our minds. The digital culture allows the collective mind to separate from the physical world and enter the virtual world. The virtual world of our collective mind then interlaces with the physical world, creating images in our minds of things that never were, producing entirely virtual relics.

The connection between the virtual and the collective mind allows the virtual to seep into reality in unexpected ways. It creates a situation where the virtual and the physical approach each other and merge. When the virtual leaks into the physical world, we are seeing something entirely new. In a way, it is as if the collective mind of Berlin created its avatar, the digital alter ego that is all Berlin wishes it was, and that avatar then started showing up on postcards and walls.

The collective mind has previously produced hyper-realities, which have then been realized into physical forms. Hyper-reality is the authentic fake, as Umberto Eco put it – the collective image of times past, for instance. Often this image bears little resemblance to what’s beyond the surface.

In a sense, the postcards are from a new Berlin, where physical reality and the virtual reality are interlaced. It is not only the physical reality that merges into the virtual reality, but also the virtual invading the physical space.

The future of Tempelhof is still open, but it should be interesting to see for how long the virtual history will run parallel to the actual history, at which point these again will be detached from each other and the mountain reduced to the relics of the dream in forgotten images and dead pixels.


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