Unveiling the Czech Embassy in Berlin

A Berlin Building Which Damns the Past and Gestures to the Radiant Future

When you visit Berlin, you might be in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer variety of things to do, and places to see. To add to the appeal, keep in mind that some of the city's most striking buildings have layers of contrasting and often contradictory stories to tell. The Czech Embassy's history is even more interesting than most, in that its prehistory in some ways IS its history.

Let's unpack that.

First, head to Wilhelmstrasse 44, right in Mitte, the city center. What you'll find is a building that looks like it jumped out of a 1970s science fiction film, as in "the mothership has landed." It's the ultimate sci-fi fan's dream, all futuristic lines and cubes. Moreover, ever mysteriously, few if any people ever seem to go in or out. Prepare to geek-out, if this sort of thing appeals.

The building's actual history, while not extraterrestrial, is still from another, lost world. It's a great example of an architectural style known as Socialist Modernism, which used modern materials and geometric shapes to emphasize socialist values of equality. It made a strong statement, declaring the utter rejection of the old world order and the introduction of something radically new and better. As a harbinger of the "radiant future," few buildings in Berlin can compete.

And the old world that the Czech Embassey's architecture was meant to negate was ever present, and still lethally dangerous, for Hitler's old offices were diagonally across the street. In fact, the Embassy stands partly on what used to be a vast open square where people gathered to hear the Fuhrer speak from the balcony. By building the embassy in this place (and all the buildings you see around you here), the new government was essentially damning the memory of the old by erasing its geography and replacing it with its own.

So when you stand there and take all this in, please don't see merely bizarre buildings. What you're looking at is the pulse of history beating, writing its heartbeat in architecture, in the memory of vanished squares and in ideologies expressed in steel and glass. Seen in this light, the place you're in suddenly becomes sinister and fascinating by turns.

Photo: Hynek Moravec, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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