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Street Scene: Berlin's Strasse des 17 Juni and the Performance of (Dis)unity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2003


One of Berlin's most prominent streets, named after the East German workers' uprising of 1953 (in which Brecht was controversially implicated), serves as the performative location for Nicolas Whybrow's topographical interrogation of the politics of German nationhood. Particular attention is given to the new parliament building, the Reichstag, which has been out of action for the majority of its troubled history. The article considers attempts to perform democracy and unity since the fall of the Wall through various mediations, including Norman Foster's refunctioning of the Reichstag, Christo's facilitation of its rebirth, and a permanent installation by Hans Haacke which rewrites the building's prominent inscription of 1916, ‘For the German People’. Finally, Whybrow places the annual ‘Love Parade’ in the context of the long history of mass marches and demonstrations on this particular street, and analyzes its claims to be a unifying political event. Based loosely on the Benjaminian flâneur figure's practice of a first-hand experience of the street, incorporating both subjective immersion and detached observation of the revealing ‘detritus of modern urban life’, various tensions and superimpositions are rendered visible as the city undergoes transformation since reunification. Nicolas Whybrow, whose book Street Scenes: Brecht, Benjamin, and Berlin is forthcoming, is Senior Lecturer in Theatre at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Research Article
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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