Hans Joachim Neidhardt

The public discussion about building a modern Gewandhaus on the Dresdner Neumarkt touches upon fundamental questions. Indeed, although today the historical reconstruction of this history -laden center has been largely accepted, some architects and architectural critics believe that now finally also "our modern times" should be given the opportunity to find expression. From their standpoint, a modern contrast to all of the resurrected patrician houses from the baroque period must come forward even if it is in the form of a crosswise lying cube directly opposite the Frauenkirche. We are urged to have the courage to be provocative.

However, is this sort of provocation at all sensible in this location and who wants it? Would it not be more consistent to support, in this truly small area, the reconstruction of a unified core piece of old Dresden without any ifs, ands or buts? Isn't it more responsible, more sensitive and indeed also smarter here to make an exception in favor of modesty and renounce "contrast" and "provocation"?

This schizophrenic attitude as well as the city planing, is making out of the Neumarkt (over whose approaching historical identity so many are troubling themselves) a kind of hermaphrodite. The concept of rehabilitating the old cityscape on this single, unique spot should not be put in question. The reconstructed Neumarkt is a widely understood symbol against the ever more pervasive cultural globalization, which, in the case of city architecture, expresses itself as a form of esthetic leveling out. The proposed modern Gewandhaus is certainly an interesting, high quality structure. Yet its form has no special relationship to Dresden, and could be built everywhere in the world. Here the courage to abstain should be valued more highly than a questionable courage to adopt global fashion. We prefer to see "modern contrast" with the historic Neumarkt on the Postplatz Square.

The criticism regarding the lack of modernity, as well as of the lack of architectural quality largely falls short because it is frequently based on an understanding of the problem which is too narrow. What , after all, are we talking about? The architect, Wolfgang Hänsch, who speaks disarmingly of a "spiritual problem of the Dresden inhabitants" is thinking actually in the right direction, but yet does not recognize the broad, deep rooted relevance of the matter which is being fought out in Dresden as a representative example, but which goes far beyond this single instance. It is therefore necessary, to take the question of the "Why" and "How" of the new construction of this historic location and place it on its feet, not its head. Only then will the actual task at the Neumarkt be apparent. And it reveals itself to be a social problem in the first instance with a thoroughly philosophical background, which has long since shown itself to be Europe wide in nature and which, in this rapidly changing world, is putting strong pressure on our understanding of history and culture.

Flight from History
The question of the spirit and form of the reconstruction of our cities, which were destroyed in the war 1939/45, vehemently occupied the Germans in the 1950s. For differing ideological reasons, it was answered in both East and West overwhelmingly with a veto [of the old] and a decision for new building, which implied the demolition of the most severely damaged historical city centers. In this connection, Theodor Adorno speaks in his lecture of 6 November 1959 in Wiesbaden on the theme: "What does renovating the past mean?" of the shrinking consciousness of historical continuity in Germany, a symptom of that societal tendency toward the weakening of the "I", and of the "suspicious attitude towards the loss of history". This German development after the Second World War corresponds with the observation made in the USA of the lack of acquaintanceship of Americans with history, and leads to the frightful picture of humanity without a memory. Adorno sees in it a symptom of an unstoppable development of the capitalistic trading society for which history merely means ballast and nothing more. In terms of exchange value, the dimension of time does not apply to something which is timeless. Time and remembrance are eliminated as useless irrational leftovers of an outmoded society. For Germans 1945 means the extinguishing of time and memory and also the relief-bringing refusal to work out their history. This was expressed in the reconstruction of our cities - at least in West Germany - in a flight to the purely functional and unhistorical modern, which as an architectural style in western architecture, initially threw out every connection with tradition. Today the shocking lack of interest in history, especially of the younger generation, is also bound up with the putting aside, indeed the condemnation of every kind of tradition by the so-called 1960s movement.

Loss of historic Architecture as "Phantom Pain"
Never before has a war caused such all-embracing loss of architectural monuments as did the Second World War. The 'eradication" of entire cities, especially however their historic centers, was aimed not only at the population but also at the same time at extinguishing their history which was analogous to the castration of their self-image as political/ethnic communities. As can be seen, the consciousness of the losses suffered disappeared at the latest in the generation of the grandchildren of the participants. With the modern reconstruction of the historical city areas, the memory of the old structures was rapidly lost and with it the remembrance of the material testimony to one's own history and culture, which Hermann Hesse spoke of as "a great, noble possession" whose destruction, " robbed the upbringing environment of future generations , and thus the spiritual world of these descendents, of an irreplaceable educational and strengthening influence, without which a human being can indeed lead an impoverished life, but one which is a hundred fold reduced and cramped. " There can be only one alternative to this: namely, to win back these city areas and cityscapes in order to again take possession of them for ourselves and future generations." This is especially evident in the case of Warsaw, which in 1944 as the capital of the Polish nation, was leveled by SS units. The reconstruction of it historic old town and its royal palace was, besides being an enormous achievement of historic monument preservation, a political act of great existential symbolic power, which had absolutely nothing to do with maudlin nostalgia. The Poles knew full well what they were doing. They knew that their nation and its great modern capital would not be able to live without its centuries old heritage. And even if this history-weighted new Stare Miasto from 1951-56 is a copy, nevertheless it has long since acquired a patina and today is a very lively, much loved center of city life. In the meantime, it has been recognized and designated by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage location.

Many other cities in all other parts of Europe affected by the war have, in similar situations, taken similar decisions. As additional especially concise examples, one could name: Ypre in Belgium (after the First World War), French Saint Malo, Danzig, Stettin, Breslau and Marienburg in Poland, but also Münster and Freiburg in West Germany. The approval of these projects by the inhabitants was justified.

The Dresdner Neumarkt - A history laden Place
Dresden's destiny and its problems are comparable. After the radical destruction of the city in February 1945, the danger arose for a time that it would be rebuilt as a so-called "major socialist city" with the loss of it historic fabric sealed for good. Luckily, things turned out differently. Due to great efforts by courageous personalities, and not without a number of battles, parts of the famous old town in the vicinity of the Theater Square and the Brühlsche Terrace could be preserved and reconstructed. The preservation of the ruins of the Frauenkirche was a lucky accident as was the refusal to build in its vicinity, namely the Neumarkt. Here was once the very heart of the community. After the peaceful revolution and reunification, the unique opportunity was presented to restore its historic grandeur with the new configuration which has now been announced. For, indeed, this one half square kilometer of city area with the famous domed building at its center was once a world renowned architectural ensemble, stamped with the architectural style of the 18th century and heavy with history. The only sensible way to once again anchor it in the consciousness of the Dresdeners is also the most daring i.e. scientifically exact reconstruction. For how else can we convincingly keep alive the remembrance of the occurrences which this square has witnessed in the course of centuries, and of all the famous figures who have lived here or passed time here as visitors? What other place would remind us in the future of the Prince Elector's chancellor, Nikolaus Krell, the composer Heinrich Schütz, the painter Adam Friedrich Oeser, the archeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the senior court orchestra conductor Johann Gottlieb Naumann, the goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger, and the Russian prince Putjatin, who all lived in the Neumarkt and of Arthur Schopenhauer who dwelt in the Schlossstrasse? How splendid that the Salomonis apothecary shop exists once more which became famous because of the mineral water discoverer August Struve and his backer Theodor Fontane. In the former Hoymschen Palace there has existed since 1820 the social and music society known as "Harmonie" where Carl Maria von Weber and Gottfried Semper came and went. Another center of musical performances was the festival hall in the Hotel de Saxe. Here as well as in the Hotel Stadt Rom, the Hotel Stadt Berlin and the British Hotel prominent visitors to Dresden such as Frederic Chopin, Fyodor Dostoyewski and Karl Marx found lodging. How could we better conjure up the genius of these places than by rebuilding the houses and palaces in which this spirit was housed? No one seriously believes that rebuilding around the Frauenkirche a "little Rotterdam" would be the appropriate monument for this wealth of historical associations. The political parties sitting in the city council as representatives of the citizenry have long since recognized this and helped the decision makers towards the proper course.

Horror on The Neumarkt?
Thus, recently a critical essay about the current construction was delivered which was directed both against historical "stage scenery" and failed modern architecture. With justice it found fault with the contemporarily configured shopping passage in the Court of Quarter I (QF). Our "horror" about it nevertheless was held within bounds because it had already been used up in connection with the unsuccessful, indeed misplaced attempts at modernism around the Neumarkt with such buildings as Advanta-Riegel the cheaply made Cosel Palace, the underground garage entrance in front of the Kurländer Palace, the flight of stairs at the Landhaus, and the reduced structures on the Altmarkt. After these either banal or miscarried examples of the latest architecture in this sensitive city center, (the sight of which is unfortunately not hidden, as it is with Quarter QF, in an inner courtyard) our level of expectation was rather low. Whether a modern Gewandhaus would improve the total picture of the Neumarkt may well be doubted. As regards the reconstructed historic building, there are, as always, good, halfway tenable, and unacceptable solutions. The reasons for this are as different as the complexity of the building task. Since the so-called Charter of Dresden from 1984 regarding the very nature of historic monuments, there is hardly any doubt even among experts that, following the destruction of broad areas by the Second World War, the rebuilding of annihilated structures in a form true to the originals under specific circumstances is a difficult and serious construction project - as the above-mentioned examples demonstrate. Whoever, following the successful archeologically accurate reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche, still uses the stupid word "Disneyland" does not know what he is talking about. A reconstruction first becomes problematic when it is falsified and its location is changed. The degree to which this occurs increases unavoidably with the passage of time. The reasons for this are, besides advances in building techniques, above all new building requirements and legal regulations as well as new use concepts. The chief cause of the unsatisfying quality of the rebuilt areas on the Neumarkt is the result of the laws of the free market with its exclusive focus on rentability and the need to amortize invested capital. In the Neumarkt, this has expressed itself in the form of a trend towards cheap building methods and unacceptable limitations on materials in place of the solid construction of the historic models. The liberal "Laissez-faire" attitude towards investors who want above all here to build with an eye to profitability implicitly raises the danger that they will be indifferent to the interests of the community with respect to this special place. On the Neumarkt, in any event, it would have been worth it to proceed with a more decisive imposition of criteria on the contractors and their architects, most of whom were prepared to cooperate and discuss matters. Unfortunately, right up to the present, the city government has failed to grant the force of law to its meritorious Neumarkt regulations, with the result that the architectural advisory council and also the city decision makers have remained toothless tigers. The seriousness and the efficiency of city planning has to be questioned when it fails to impose strict directives for certain criteria and construction quality on the most sensitive place in Dresden , and when its motto is "the city cannot afford to antagonize potential builders through high quality requirements." (Minister for Construction Fessenmayr). "It is an unforgivable omission that the planned extension of the Leitbauten (key buildings) has never been seriously pursued." (Annette Friedrich, former city planner in Dresden).

One must thus be even more thankful for that which responsible investors have nevertheless done on the Neumarkt. Whoever has experienced the miserable steppe between the Johanneum and the Albertinum has to feel elation at the view from the Judenhof of the resurrected Frauenkirche and the beautiful curve of the façade fronts with the Hotel Stadt Berlin, the Hammerschen, the Weigelschen House and the "Golden Ring".

I think that the majority of Dresdeners are not anti-modern petit bourgeois for whom only the "creation of a homey feeling of wellbeing " (quote) is important, even if they would like to feel at home in their inner city area. They are absolutely capable of appreciating their historical center as well as their modern state parliament building, their new congress hall and their new synagogue. But they have always had the feeling that not everything is possible at one location. The new Dresden is open to many things, but the city must show character and image. There, where contemporary buildings belong, as for example on the Postplatz, daring , a rich imagination and quality should reign. There, where history should dominate, it should be carried through with strength and decisiveness. Only in this way can excitement be created and the desired dialogue come into existence.

The "Gesellschaft Historischer Neumarkt" (Society for the historic Neumarkt)

Given the fact that the (governmental) historic monument protection office has largely held itself aloof from the discourse about the high level which should be required of construction on the Neumarkt, and the city government does not trust itself to do anything, the tenacious warnings and demands of the Neumarkt Society regarding conscientious dealings with the historic predecessors and their high quality transplantation are of especially important status. Ten years ago that small initiative group coalesced within the Dresden Historic Society and in 1999 it reconstituted itself as the Neumarkt Society. The goals which it espoused at that time when only the Frauenkirche construction site dominated the otherwise unreconstructed area, have long since be realized. Today, as before, the Society is dedicated to a view of the Neumarkt in which, out of the former quarters and streets, there should newly arise once again structures decorated with oriel windows, as well as culturally significant lead buildings, but also buildings in the present day architectural vernacular. (Gunter Just, former Minister for Construction). The Society now has over 600 enrolled members and unnumbered sympathizers throughout the world. When, in 2002, a plebiscite sponsored by the Society for the historic Neumarkt and a legally binding building code resulted in an overwhelming 63,000 favorable votes, it was declared invalid because of certain formulations in the documents and was ignored. However, the Frankfurt journalist, Dankwart Guratzsch, called the Dresdeners and their city, thanks to the "unshakeable farsighted thinkers in the Neumarkt Society, a model and the avant garde advance guard for all of Germany", the "young movement" for the rehabilitation of the historic Neumarkt and he described the plebiscite as one of the most unusual ever. When the German-American world citizen and Nobel Prize winner, Günter Blobel describes the Dresden initiative as revolutionary, he refers to the courage to break through those conventions which in the last 60 to 80 years, have reigned as an uncompromising dogma and credo favoring an anti-historical, contemporary city core concept in city planning, especially in Germany.

City Planning, Monument Protection and Changing Values

Many cities which in the 1950s and 60s of the past century cleared away their heavily damaged historic centers and then allowed them to be replaced with new structures in the contemporary style of the times, today regret their decisions. The "Modern" of those times has long since become unmodern and unsightly, because it wears out quickly and has a short half life. The reasons for this failure lie not only in the emotional coldness which exudes from absolutely cube-like edifices. They are also unable to reconstitute "the complexity of city structure which has evolved over centuries. Clearly, the vocabulary of modern architecture is simply insufficient for this" (Architect Dieter Schölzel). In contrast, tradition has again become authoritative and the model," because it has a better and more experienced understanding of how to meet the needs of human beings, than does the hubris of ivory tower visionaries." (Friedrich Dieckmann). For some years now a change in thinking is in progress throughout Germany. The tendency of globalization towards uniformity is being opposed by regional idiosyncrasy. The city of today wants once again to be unmistakable. However, the material witnesses to its history are indispensable for this purpose. "Constructions of urban Identity" is the title of a contemporary research project. In the meantime, the need to resurrect lost cityscapes has reached cities like Potsdam, Braunschweig, Mainz and even the skyscraper city of Frankfort am Main. Its lady mayor, Petra Roth, supported by all political parties in the city council and by the major business associations, has placed herself at the head of a citizens' initiative, consisting mostly of young people, for the rebuilding of lost half-timbered houses and the Palace of Thurn and Taxis. The call for a modern center in contemporary taste at any price is an idea from yesterday! Recently, at a meeting of the faculty for art history of the Technical University of Dresden, the demand was made that the Office of Historic Monument Protection also pay attention to this general rethinking. More and more often materialistic fetishcism, which was justifiably theoretically founded over one hundred years ago by learned men like Dehio, Riegl and Dvorak, is being called into question.

Today there is a broad dispute among experts going on over the question of what really represents the identity of a building monument and whether its essence amounts to nothing more than its materiality. The Polish monument conservator Andrzej Tomaszewski, in his essay about " Intellectual and Material Worth of Cultural Monuments" names many examples of another sort from the dogmatized European concept. His conclusion for us is this: If the preconditions for broad ranging identical reproduction of a cultural monument in the same location are present, moral, cultural and social reasons can justify its reconstruction. However, the decision about it must be made at the political level. So it happened in Warsaw and likewise in Dresden. I am sure that the Neumarkt, just like the Stare Miasto of the Polish capital, will go down in history as an important urban achievement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.


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