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Officials finally break ground on Berlin’s ‘seesaw’ reunification monument

A "Moving" Tribute

Officials finally break ground on Berlin’s ‘seesaw’ reunification monument

A bird’s eye view of the National Monument to Freedom and Unity, a kinetic sculpture in Berlin that just broke ground. (© Milla & Partner)

After significant delay and no shortage of controversy, work commenced last month on an interactive monument in Berlin that honors the protestors who, in 1989, led the charge in ushering in a new, unified Germany. Designed by Milla & Partner, an architecture firm with offices in Stuttgart and Berlin, the monument, the first to commemorate Germany’s reunification, takes the form of a colossal glass and steel serving platter designed to slowly shift up and down—much a seesaw or teeter-totter—when clusters of people stand on either end. Oversized lettering within the gently sloping bowl will read: Wir sind das Volk. Wir sind ein Volk (“We are the people. We are one people”). The 164-foot-long monument is being erected atop a plinth that once supported an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhem I that was removed in 1949 by the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The project, dubbed the National Monument to Freedom and Unity, was first given the go-ahead by the German parliament in 2007 but, per BBC News, has faced lengthy setbacks due to “budgetary reasons and also because bats were found to be sheltering at the site.”

Bats and budget issues aside, public mockery and security concerns have also plagued the long-awaited, roughly $19 million monument that will serve as the vacillating centerpiece of a sweeping pedestrian plaza in the heart of Berlin opposite the reconstructed Stadtschloss. In 2011, Reuters reported that Uwe Hameyer, a director of the Berlin Architects and Engineers Association, expressed concerns about tourists overloading atop the wobbly-by-design monument.

“The proper engineering is apparently finished, but it’ll be a tourist magnet and there must be enough security to make sure that not too many people climb on it, which could result in a panic reaction,” he said.

a conceptual rendering of a planned national monument in berlin.
Per the architects, the monument will be ‘shaped every day through the participation and interaction’ of visitors. (© Milla & Partner)

As seen in conceptual illustrations, the concave structure will be fenced in so that visitors don’t stumble on and out of the monument while it’s in motion. Reuters noted that the irony of a new monument to reunification that involves fencing and security elements isn’t lost on Berliners, many of whom, like all Germans, have a fraught relationship with public memorials.

Reads Milla & Partner’s description of this “true social sculpture:”

The monument invites visitors to communicate and to act together. The movement will be achieved by visitors working together as a group: by the strength of their movement, it will come alive. It will be animate and not merely an object for contemplation: an aesthetically ambitious, continually changing expression of the peaceful revolution in Germany of 1989.

Freedom and unity aren’t static conditions, they require participation and interaction. As with the peaceful revolution of 1989, people need to communicate and decide on joint action, in order to create the motion. It shows the strength in numbers: when there are at least 30 more people standing on one half of the bowl than on the other, the bowl will start to move, slowly and gently. New perspectives open up. The performative, changing nature of the monument is something to be seen and personally experienced

Now that is has broken ground, the National Monument to Freedom and Unity is expected to be completed and opened to the steady-legged public by the end of 2021. The monument was originally set to be inaugurated in November 2019 to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.