Tuesday, March 10, 2009



Published by H-German@h-net.msu.edu (March, 2009)

Thomas Biskup, Marc Schalenberg, eds. _Selling Berlin: Imagebildung und Stadtmarketing von der preußischen Residenz bis zur Bundeshauptstadt_. Beiträge zur Stadtgeschichte und Urbanisierungsforschung. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2008. 356 pp. ISBN 978-3-515-08952-4; $100.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-515-08952-4.

Reviewed for H-German by Emily Pugh, Art History Program, Bard College

A Long History of "New" Identities

Most of us think of the marketing of cities as more or less a modern trend, concomitant with the rise of economic globalization and the technological advances that have made international travel relatively easy and economically accessible. However, as Thomas Biskup and Marc Schalenberg point out in their introduction to this essay collection, the effort to craft cities' public images--to "brand" cities"--is anything but a modern innovation. In fact, as Biskup and Schalenberg argue, municipal political and economic leaders have long been concerned with how their cities are regarded both on a regional and international scale, and have moreover recognized that such identities, however informally formed or held, have measurable political, economic, and social impacts. The collection represents an important contribution to the history of the city in part because it covers a large historical arc.

The essays, originally presented as part of a February 2005 conference, attempt to explore not only the roots of city branding or marketing but how these practices have developed over time in the specific context of the city of Berlin.[1] Berlin is, in fact, a particularly appropriate city for the subject of such an investigation. A major focus of city branding efforts is, after all, the creation of a distinct identity both for the city in question, and this effort takes on a particular national significance in a capital city, which is charged with communicating national values and identities via its own. Berlin's designation as the German capital has been repeatedly questioned, and its relationship to any sense of unified "Germanness" has been an uneasy one. Indeed, historian Andreas Daum argued recently that Berlin's importance as a city that represents German culture and identity has been to some extent a myth rather than a reality.[2] He is by no means the first to state this claim. At the same time, Berlin's relative youth in comparison with other European urban centers has, at times, resulted in a kind of heightened tension in efforts to establish a definitive identity and historical lineage for the city, an effort complicated by the city's association with several different regimes and its Cold War division. In light of such ambiguity, Berlin's identity is often explained through Karl Scheffler's famous 1910 declaration: "Berlin is a city condemned always to become, never to be."[3] How Berlin's leaders and citizens have, from the eighteenth century to the present, attempted to both understand and represent their city is thus a question of considerable richness and complexity.

To answer it, the contributing authors of _Selling Berlin_ present a series of case studies of specific examples of image-construction and marketing in Berlin. The essays are divided into four sections, arranged more or less chronologically: "Ambitionen in der Residenzstadt," covering the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries; "Repräsentation und Eigensinn in der Metropole," which examines the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries; "Profilierungen in der geteilten Stadt," which deals with the period of the city's Cold War division; and "Visionen und Erinnerungen," which takes on the legacies of division and efforts to (re)create post-1990 Berlin. As Biskup and Schalenberg explain in the introduction, these essays together explore attempts to "sell" Berlin, by asking the questions, "'who is selling?', 'what [are they selling]? (that is, which Berlin-image)' and 'to whom?'" (p. 15). Or, more specifically, who gets to define what is "Berlintypisch" both locally and for "outside"audiences? (p. 15).

To do this, Biskup and Schalenberg focus less on "actual urban practice," choosing instead to emphasize both formal and informal "negotiations of the city-image" (pp. 12, 15). Their analysis is furthermore understood in terms of three subject areas: the "official," political level of city-branding or image-making; the efforts of citizens' groups and/or economic interests to create a positive image for their city; and the critiques of these institutionally defined city images by opposition groups. Indeed, many of the essays fit neatly into one of these three categories. For example, essays by Melanie Mertens ("'Unsern hiesigen Residentzien ... in mehreren Flor und Ansehen zu bringen': Zur späten Bau- und Kunstpolitik von König Friedrich Wilhelm I"), Daniel Schoenpflug ("Hymenaeus und Fama: Dynastische und stadtbürgerliche Repräsentation in den Hohenzollernhochzeiten des 18. Jahrhunderts"), Robert Graf ("Die Inszenierung der 'Reichshauptstadt Berlin' im Nationalsozialismus"), and Alexander Sedlmaier ("Berlin als doppeltes 'Schaufenster' im Kalten Krieg") all deal with various attempts by political leaders of various eras and regimes to fashion a Berlin that corresponded with their own ideals and aspirations. Mertens, an architectural historian, describes how Friedrich Wilhelm I, despite his reputation as a parsimonious "soldier king," attempted to re-shape Berlin's identity in the late period of his reign, away from its reputation as the "largest barracks in the world" through the use of architecture and the arts (p. 44). Schoenpflug describes how Berlin became a "stage set" for the public expression of the dynasty's political power in the context of Hohenzollern weddings, but also how such occasions became an opportunity for citizens' self-representation; that is, a way to situate themselves in relation to the political identity and leadership of Berlin (p. 45). Similarly, Graf, a historian and theater scholar, focuses on Berlin's configuration as a theatrical set, this time to advance and impose the ideals of the Nazi regime. Dealing with the Cold War era, Sedlmaier considers how the governments of both East and West Berlin, as well as the United States and Soviet Union, used images of affluences and prosperity to make arguments about their own political legitimacy vis-à-vis Berlin.

So-called "boosterism" on the part of civic and economic groups to is the subject of essays like Tilmann von Stockhausen's "Markenpolitik im 19. Jahrhundert: Die Berliner Museumsinsel als Public-Relation-Idee," Daniel Kiecol's "Berlin und sein Fremdenverkehr: Imageproduktion in der 1920er Jahren," and Hendrik Tieben's "'Hauptstadt der DDR', 'Zukünftige Bundeshauptstadt', 'Europäische Stadt', 'Stadt der Avantgarde'--Berlinbilder im Umfeld des 750-jährigen Stadtjubiläums 1987." Von Stockhausen, art historian and marketing director for the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation, explains how the museum island was fashioned as a cultural and historical but also "branded" center in Berlin from the early nineteenth century to the turn of the twentieth.

The creation of "new identity" for Berlin is the focus of Kiecol's discussion of Weimar-era marketing efforts, which attempted to define the city as a center of "urbanity, internationality and modernity" (p. 161). A similar attempt to create "new" East versus West identities is discussed in Tieben's essay on marketing in East and West Berlin around the 1987 celebration of the city's anniversary.

Also included are critical responses to such efforts at creating a positive public image for Berlin. "Die Doppelbödigkeit des biedermeierlichen Stadtbildes: Heinrich Heines Briefe aus Berlin," by Esther Kilchmann, explains how Heine's account of his experiences wandering the streets of Berlin reveals the contradictions inherent in the governments' attempt to define their city. In her essay on representations of East Berlin, "Bild-Störungen: 'Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR' als Ort Staatlicher Repräsentation und Kritischer Gegenbilder," political scientist Angela Borgwardt considers not only officially sanctioned images of the "Hauptstadt der DDR," but critical "Gegenbilder" originating from the city's population of dissidents and underground groups.

On their own, these three ways of understanding efforts to define and market Berlin are indeed illuminating, but the collection is most compelling when these discussions are in direct or indirect discourse with one another. For example, reading Kilchmann's essay on Heine's _Briefe aus Berlin_ is particularly interesting in the context of the preceding two essays by Biskup and Schalenberg: "Auf Sand gebaut? Die 'Boomstadt' Berlin in der deutschen Öffentlichkeit um 1800" and "Berlin auf allen Kanälen: Zur Außendarstellung einer Residenz- und Bürgerstadt im Vormärz." After reading these essays, which describe efforts on the part of Berlin's municipal political and cultural authorities to define Berlin's public image, Kilchmann's contribution provides an interesting counterpoint by offering a critique of the institutionally defined images of Berlin that Biskup and Schalenberg outline. Likewise, the essays by Sybille Frank and Thomas Albrecht are presented as two alternative understandings of the complex of buildings constructed on Potsdamer Platz from the late 1990s to early 2000s.

In "Mythenmaschine Potsdamer Platz: Die Wort- und Bildgewaltige Entwicklung Des 'Neuen Potsdamer Platzes' 1989-98," Frank, an urban sociologist, offers a critical view of the development of Potsdamer Platz, suggesting that the focus this area of the city was fueled by a semi-fictionalized myth of the area's pre-World War II importance. In contrast, Thomas, in "Die Neugestaltung Berlins zwischen Planungsprozess und Städtebaulicher Vision," presents a more positive view of the development informed by his role as an architect and urban planner involved with its execution.

The long span of time covered in the book allows the reader to see individual developments in a broader context, allowing for connections between historical eras and even regimes with seemingly nothing in common.

One thing that becomes clear in reading the essays is how many times Berlin's civic and political leaders have attempted to create a "new"identity for the city in the past one to two hundred years. The book not only extends our knowledge of Berlin history, it provides new ways of practicing urban history more generally. It does this by engaging in the important work of bringing image together with reality; that is understanding representations of the city--whether visual or less tangible, whether informal or formal--as more than "mere" images. These essays help to illuminate the connections between popular notions of a particular city and how such notions are actively formed or capitalized on by institutions. The book's interdisciplinarity is part of how it achieves this. Different fields and points of views are offered, resulting in a wide scope of perspectives on the issue of city branding. Though the essays work best together as a whole, individual essays do provide valuable insight into particular time periods. In particular, the essays on the Cold War era by Sedlmaier, Tieben, and Stephanie Warnke ("Mit dem Bädecker nach Ost-Berlin? Baustellen-Tourismus im Kalten Krieg [1945-1970]"), take the welcome approach of comparing and contrasting East with West Berlin, rather than dealing with one or the other in isolation. I would recommend this volume of essays for any scholar of Berlin.


[1]. All but two of the essays are in German, though English abstracts are provided for all of the essays.

[2]. Andreas W. Daum, "Capitals in Modern History: Inventing Urban Spaces for the Nation," in _Berlin-Washington, 1800-2000: Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities_, ed. Andreas W. Daum and Christof Mauch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 3-4, 14.

[3]. Karl Scheffler, _Berlin, ein Stadtschicksal_ (Fannei & Walz: Berlin, 1989), 219.

1 comment:

  1. Discover how to book any flight for $100 instead of $1,000 with Travel Hacking.