Sunday, July 09, 2006

"On the 31st floor, your gold-plated door won't keep out the Lord's burning rain..."

"The construction of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is making such very good progress, the ignorant populace never cease to be amazed."

How charmingly-put by architect Franz Schwechten, writing in 1894 of the stately centrepiece of a vast church-building programme, lofted in unbashful tribute to the late Kaiser Wilhelm I on the orders of his grandson Wilhelm II.

And yet, after being battered by Allied bombs in 1943, the still-just-about-standing ruins have been transformed into a symbol, not of vainglory, but of humility - a ravaged reminder of the horrors of war, set in a self-sufficient square at the tip of the department store-dominated Kurfurstendamm.

The "broken tooth", as it's now nicknamed, is quite a sight - more raggedly beautiful now than in its once-epic glory, pictured in stills which suggest a neo-romanesque masterpiece suddenly plonked in lonely yet awesome isolation on a roundabout.

Inside stands a tiny, gleaming cross gifted by the similarly ill-fated, similarly defiant Coventry Cathedral - while the same cathedral has donated a cross made of nails to the now-next-door squat, decahedronal "replacement" church - where iris-dazzling cyan streams through tiny squares of stained-glass, and a grim-eyed, golden Christ tips awkwardly above the altar.

The brief must have been: build something as different as can be, from what once stood - now totters - alongside. The effect of both is unnerving - yet touching too.


overnighteditor said...

The contrast is certainly strong, and deliberate.

I think we Londoners could learn something from the way Berliners give their iconic buildings colloquial names - if I remember right, "lipstick and powdercase" for this unlikely pair on the K-damm.

I suppose "the Gherkin" is a start. But we must be able to find more.

Aidan said...

"Lipstick and powdercase" - hadn't heard that - that is good.
Though I was also reading that early attempts at nicknames for the TV Tower just hadn't caught on at all.

Sadly, Frank Gehry's bizarre plans for a new development down in Hove look unlikely to overcome the Nimby opposition on the seafront, so posterity may miss out on Gehry's suggested nickname of "Four Maidens" - or the more widely-used alternative, "Trashcan Towers".