Almost 500 artists, curators, collectors, academics and gallerists in Germany have signed open letters to German politicians and administrators, including the country’s president Frank Walter Steinmeier, taking issue with the loaded reconstruction of Potsdam’s Garrison Church. Signatories include gallerist Gisela Capitain, curator Kasper König, artists Alice Creischer, Thomas Demand, Simon Denny, Hans Haacke, Judith Hopf, Henrike Naumann, Gregor Schneider and Andreas Siekmann, the Ludwig Stiftung’s Brigitte Franzen and collector Harald Falckenberg.
Despite protests, a reconstruction effort at the site has been underway since 2017. A new open letter and petition, which was initiated by architecture theorist Philipp Oswalt, accuses the reconstruction of obfuscating the site’s loaded history. In 1933, Adolf Hitler met with then-president Paul von Hindenburg there to celebrate the opening of the new Reichstag during the so-called Day of Potsdam, an encounter widely seen as setting the stage for Hitler’s rise to power.
Plans are in place to restore the church to its state before its bombing in 1945, including militaristic details. As Oswalt points out, the site is a ‘symbol of unity between the church, state and military’. Additionally, it is associated with the German colonialism that contributed to the genocides of the Herero and Nama peoples in Namibia.
In 2018, the German Architecture Museum’s Oliver Elser wrote in frieze about the politicisation of historical architecture reconstructions in Germany: ‘The rebuilt Berlin Palace, site of the Humboldt Forum, which will house the collection of the city’s ethnological museums, is set to open its doors next year. Soon, too, will Potsdam’s Garrison Church. Destroyed by the German Democratic Republic in 1968, the church is imbricated in a history of militarism: Adolf Hitler was introduced as chancellor there by President Paul von Hindenburg in 1933, legitimizing the Nazi’s rise to power (historicized in Nazi propaganda as the Day of Potsdam). Despite the protests prompted by this shameful legacy, the first part of its reconstruction will open its doors in 2020.’