The cheering of the enthusiastic patrons roars around me in the “Schuetzenzelt” tent at the Munich Oktoberfest. My gaze wanders from the gallery over the party makers, almost completely decked out in traditional costume. There are thousands in this tent alone. My Bavarian host is also surprised at so much global devotion to the lederhosen traditions of the region and enlightens me, “in the seventies, in our youth, we were all here in jeans.” Today, he regards this traditional costume show as a masquerade. Is it simply a kind of carnival and the joy of slipping into another identity? Dressing up as a Bavarian girl today, and as a Northern girl tomorrow? But on the “Wiesen”, at the Munich Oktoberfest, everyone is dressed in similar costume, and that as traditional as possible. This is about being part of a community, about cohesion strengthened by traditions and belonging to a group. This does address me emotionally.
The cheering masses in their traditional uniform occupy my mind while I visit the new Old Town in Frankfurt. Seven years have passed since the brutalist new town hall in Frankfurt was demolished. Nobody misses it. Just as much dedication and controversial discussion has gone into the planning and construction of the new Old Town as into the reconstruction of the Berlin Palace. In the meantime, 35 shiny gabled houses with shingle roofs have been built in Frankfurt between the cathedral and the “Römer” square. A design advisory board with its own statutes and a municipal development company are responsible for the quality of the 15 reconstructions and 20 new houses in the Altbau style. Beautiful, irrational spaces have been created on the subway station and the underground car park. The development is based on the historical city plan with its narrow alleys and squares and the old town houses standing on small plots. It's nice how the little houses are moving closer to the cathedral. And suddenly the small cathedral with its mini tower no longer seems too small. Even if a pergola juts out annoyingly, narrow, urban spaces were created around the “Schirn” exhibition hall. This intricacy leads to great formal diversity and varied spaces. Hardly any other project in Frankfurt has aroused as much enthusiasm and affection among the population as this miniature mixture of 6,000 sq.m of commercial, 12,000 sq.m of residential and 3,000 sq.m of cultural space. The 80 apartments in question were raffled off to a broad field of applicants at 5,000 to 7,000 euros per square metre.
Unfortunately, especially the new designs don't convince me. A few rainwater downpipes on the façade are no substitute for sophisticated, contemporary architecture. Now the façades are fitted, the project is to be expanded and become a model for other projects. Once you have tasted the sweet porridge...
But why? Many discussions are about the middle of civil society, the Grail of Democrats; they are about the campfires of global society around the perceived warmth and homely security in a world perceived as cold. The longing for the well-known and the familiar. This can be achieved immediately with historical, nostalgic and traditional forms and the aura of authenticity. Contemporary architecture takes longer to be loved so warmly and understood.
Two days later I sit on a jury in Nuremberg. The Altstadtfreunde e. V. (The Friends of the Old Town) are also present. They keep close and audible tabs on urban planning. In 1996, they defeated Helmut Jahn's draft, discredited as a "cut-up bratwurst", by referendum. Today, its chairman calls for a "local design" and a "respectful further construction". Walking through Nuremberg's city centre, it is hard to believe that 90% of it was destroyed. In Nuremberg, it is also about the need to be proud of one's own history. It is about home and identity in harmony with the past. Once that was quite different. Throughout the 20th century, every restoration of completely or partially destroyed buildings was fiercely contested. Modernity looked at the historical cities with contempt. Le Corbusier seriously proposed the total demolition of downtown Paris. The remains of the Stuttgart castle were to be blown up and replaced by a provincial Mies van der Rohe blend before it was rebuilt after all. The pivotal turning point was the rediscovery of the city plan, which had never been taken seriously by the urbanists in the wake of Le Corbusier. This rediscovery is connected with Josef Paul Kleihus and the International Building Exhibition (IBA) Berlin 1984/1987. Klaus Humpert had already pioneered his Konviktstrasse in Freiburg in the 1960s. First the dilapidated houses were to be demolished and a parking garage built. But things turned out differently and new, three-storey steep-roofed houses were built on the historical plots, in consideration with what was destroyed. This does not represent any significant architecture in detail, but as a whole, it is an influential role model.
In Berlin, the Federal Republic of Germany is currently making a big play of re-erecting the Prussian palace on Museum Island. The “Förderverein Berliner Schloss” foundation has already collected 80 million euros in donations (in addition to the 500 million from the federal government). They are working to complete the historical centre and to historize the cityscape. The reconstruction is to turn Berlin back into the beloved “Athens on the river Spree” again. The old town is to follow. Re-enactment is the new staging of concrete historical events in the most authentic way possible. Mostly it's about re-enacting battles of the great wars. History, which lies in the hands of directors, becomes a mixture of "found and invented". In this way, false views of history are conveyed, which usually correspond to a fashionable, intellectual or political zeitgeist.
I do not mind taking up the historical plot structure. I also have nothing against a correspondingly small-scale urban planning. Especially not in the centres, on historical ground. I also think it is logical to continue to use the established system of routes that has evolved over hundreds of years. However, I have my doubts about a nostalgic strategy based on historical forms and a pre-modern urban development that is inadequate today. And operating with images that reflect our own glorified view of the past. Rebuilding an old town here or reconstructing a castle there do not pose a problem for society. Perhaps they also contribute to how some citizens identify with their city. Maybe they are able to bridge the gap between those in the bank towers and those in the streets. Perhaps it's some kind of populism, a traditional costume parade with a local poet.
There is a lot of contemporary construction in other places; and also in good quality from time to time. But it worries me when, in the central, important spaces of society, the notions of tradition and nostalgia take precedence over curiosity about what is to come. And there is so much coming. With full force. Unavoidable.