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The Afterlife of Bunkers: Nazi Frisson, Creative Capital, and the Branding of Berlin

Thursday Lecture Series, Supernatural

dateApril 5, 2018 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Maria Gonzalez Pendas
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].
Boros Foundation building in Berlin

In recent years numerous former Nazi bunkers have been converted into exhibition spaces for contemporary art. These cultural venues capitalize on the historical associations of these buildings, not as sites of memory, but as stage sets for fantasy and heroic regeneration. Vying for attention in an increasingly saturated experience economy, curators, collectors, artists, and gallerists commodify the popular fascination with National Socialism, exploiting its potential for erotic transgression, making “Nazi chic” fashionable and more socially acceptable. For the purposes of this talk, I will focus in particular on two recently renovated bunkers, the Boros and Feuerle collections, which are now among the most celebrated artworld destinations in Berlin.

The Boros and Feuerle bunkers are exemplary ambassadors for Berlin’s marketing platform as a “creative capital,” occupying a productive juncture between selling history, suturing memory, and stimulating the city’s troubled economy. They serve as centerpieces for major art fairs, and visitors regularly reserve months in advance to secure an entry ticket. The architectural and mainstream press exalt these rehabilitated bunkers as minimalist masterpieces, admiring their technical prowess as “engineer’s architecture.” At the same time, the bunkers are described as spaces of reverence, meditation and mystery. The paradox at the core of National Socialism’s reactionary modernism—the unquestioned synthesis of spirit and the irrational with technological superiority (stählernde Romantik)—has thus been resurrected in a neo-liberal and uncritical form. While securing Berlin’s reputation as a hub for creative industries and start ups, staging art spectacles in historically charged structures has also served as an ideal instrument for accelerating the process of normalization.