Potsdamer Platz. These mixed media paintings are inspired by the architectural structures at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany. They reflect the overall dominance and ambivalence of grids in our modern life.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Potsdamer Platz has been a place of being a symbol for the rising metropolis Berlin. During the Roaring Twenties, Potsdamer Platz developed into one of the busiest traffic centers in Europe and acquired a legendary status with its vibrant atmosphere of famous cafés, restaurants, beer palaces, and nightlife options. It represented the fast and modern lifestyle of a cosmopolitan city. I join painters like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Lesser Uri, who have also picked up on this very theme in their paintings.
This fascinating place in the heart of Berlin connects to my life in many ways.
Between 1987 and 1991 I lived in Berlin and as a student I often visited the Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek) on Potsdamer Straße in the immediate vicinity of the former Potsdamer Platz. Until 1989 the area was almost entirely void, a large waste land, intersected by the death zone of the Berlin Wall. The movie Der Himmel über Berlin, made in 1987 by Wim Wenders (English title: Wings of Desire) conveyed an excellent impression of the melancholic and somehow surreal atmosphere of this place.
After 1995, I had occasion during a few business trips to return to Berlin and Potsdamer Platz. I was able to see new structures arise out of the former no man’s land. That was an exciting experience for me!
For some years now, I have been traveling regularly to Berlin in order to enjoy the stimulating cultural life and to get new inspirations from the city’s freshness and spontaneity, as well as draw enjoyment from the dry Berlin humor.
Potsdamer Platz attracts and inspires me time and again with its various facades and many types of buildings. To me, the site appears both fascinating and inhospitable. I do not experience it as a welcoming place but rather in an unpleasant way, with its permanent rush of traffic and the cold winds blowing through the streets. Then, in the twilight, the ambitious metropolitan architecture can appear aggressive and artificial.
The grid as a fundamental structure
When I was searching for a symbol representing modern urban construction, I discovered the grid. This universal structure has been used by mankind as a principle of design and order since Neolithic times as has been pointed out by Hannah B. Higgins in her Grid Book (Hannah B. Higgins, The Grid Book, Cambridge, MA, 2009). In this informative book, Hannah B. Higgins examines the organizing principle of the grid throughout cultural history from Neolithic times until today’s digital age. In the following passage I refer to one of Ms. Higgins’ explanations.
Our cities are characterized by grids in at least two ways: the street map and the boxlike structures of modern buildings with their glass and steel facades.
In my paintings I concentrate on the aspect of the grid as an architectural structure: My intention is to visualize the grid as a symbol of the modern lifestyle based on the principles of mass production and efficiency. I want to show both the beauty of this architecture and its latent unfriendliness.
Although the grid-based concept of the skyscraper is more than 100 years old, the values and principles behind that concept – efficiency, formal minimalism, transparency, modern mass society, and rationalization – still influence our everyday life in almost every aspect.
The overall presence of grid structures in our lives seems to be so natural that we normally do not notice it. Sometimes we vaguely feel a loss of individuality and a lack of hospitality.
Standing at Potsdamer Platz we can at times become aware of our situation and reflect on the pros and cons of the grid.
In the Grid Book, p. 275 Hannah B. Higgins writes:
The grid seems to flatten out the world, controlling virtually everything and diminishing the human and social world’s natural variety.
But this is only one side of the grid. As Hannah B. Higgins continues on p. 276:
Grids […] should not be seen merely in terms of the spaced, parallel bars with their attendant association with penal codes and social regulatory systems. Each grid has its own texture, uniqueness, individuating features, capacities for creative enactment, and relationship to other grids, as much as each person combines and utilizes a grid for him- or herself.