It’s been hard to go on with your daily business when there’s a war raging. Everything seems minuscule compared to the suffering of the Ukrainian people after the invasion of the Russian regime. “The unthinkable has become reality,” many commentators were quick to say. And yet, for many Germans born before the 1980s, the possibility of a war against the Soviet bloc and respective NATO counter-measures meant they have been here before. In his essay, Hendrik Lakeberg reflects on attending anti-war protests as a child and how the peace movement’s symbols took hold of his generation’s collective psyche. The power of applied utopian thinking is also visible in Inken and Hinrich Baller’s architecture. An exhibition at Deutsches Architektur Zentrum celebrates their approach of putting the well-being of their buildings’ inhabitants before profits. We urge you to visit their show – perhaps after attending a protest, organizing help or welcoming refugees here in Berlin.
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MAKE PEACE NOT WAR: SEARCHING FOR NEW SYMBOLS OF HOPE
By Hendrik Lakeberg
It is one of my earliest memories: I am sitting on the grass beneath a clear blue sky. The smell of barbecue is in the air and the Rhine calmly flows through Bonn. The river is wide, and I remember somebody urgently pointing at the opposite shore, to the residence of the German Chancellor. A voice echoes from a nearby stage – a voice which seems to speak not only to the crowd of 300,000 on this side of the river, but to the Chancellor himself. Is he listening? I wondered. I must have been 4 years old, but I remember the feeling of warmth, the notion that this was meaningful, and that somehow the NATO-Doppelbeschlüsse were not a good thing because we needed fewer weapons, not more. I remember the Friedenstaube symbol – a blue circle with a white dove at its center – on a flag fluttering above the crowd. From that moment on I made a connection between the symbol and the atmosphere on that beautiful afternoon.
During the pandemic this memory kept coming back. Isolation is the perfect soil for nostalgia. Reading about the demonstrations, which lasted until the mid ’80s, a quote by Petra Kelly stuck with me: “We want to break out of this gun-filled, world-spanning madhouse.” Kelly had become the glamorous symbol of the German peace movement, married to a retired army general and a founding member of the new Green party, which was about to enter parliament for the first time. Yet the demonstrations were a crucial moment for the German peace movement because everybody was there: alongside Harry Belafonte and Loretta Scott-King (Martin Luther King’s widow) there were the unionists, members of the Social Democratic Party, women’s groups, Christian groups, Communists, liberals, even uniformed soldiers. The appeal of the movement reached far beyond the leftist student protests of the ’60s and ’70s – there was a consensus in German society that neither war nor fascism should ever happen again.
I was at the demonstration because my father was an active, left-leaning member of the Social Democratic Party. He also joined the teachers’ union, the GEW, which back then not only looked after worker’s rights but also took a stand on social, environmental and political causes. I was surrounded by the symbols of the peace movement. My father had books with sheets full of them, so they could be copied and used for your own flyer or poster. The Friedenstaube was omnipresent. Almost a decade later I found another sticker, which read Weapons Are Not Toys, and which showed a teddy bear being stabbed by a bayonet. I stuck it on my acoustic guitar, which was, by that point, an ironic statement on my part. I dismissed the bourgeois self-importance, along with the hostility toward pop culture and media violence. Its purpose became stale and self-referential; the hippie-generation became the new establishment.
But times change. Now, I miss the sincerity and seriousness of the era. In the ’90s the Cold War was over and the Soviet Union gone. The peace movement had lost its purpose. Politics were starting to become privatized and personal. With that the symbols changed: The Love Parade organized in the name of peace (the motto being Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen) but the participants were more interested in having fun than truly changing the world. For Germany, war became an almost unthinkable possibility.
During the pandemic we have developed a different relationship to our memories. The past has become an anchor, something to rely on and relate to. The sudden eruption of violence against Ukraine came as a shock. The old world returned at rapid speed. The post-Cold War era was clearly over, as was Germany’s approach to war: The new government of social democrats, greens and liberals – who once brought the peace movement to the masses – announced an increase in military spending of 100 billion euros.
This is a message Putin will understand better than the demonstrations of well-meaning people under blue skies. But still, I feel there’s something to learn by looking back at the peace movement from today’s perspective. The war in Ukraine has caused outrage over the atrocities committed by Russia, the hardships and the deaths. Social media has further intensified our emotional responses, as has the proliferation of propaganda. Truly, there seems to be no alternative to war at the moment. But what will stay in our collective memory once the war is over? The biggest hero of the Ukraine story, Wolodymyr Selenskyi, has became a symbol of justice, of fighting against all the odds – not only for Ukraine but for the rest of the world, for those of us who believe western democracy is precious and needs protecting. Because we in Germany could be next, flooding Instagram feeds with guns in our hands.
But we’re still missing those symbols for peace, because the war has to stop. The images that have formed – Selenskyi, soldiers, ironic TikToks of Ukrainian influencers trapped in bunkers – all stand for war. But war shouldn’t be something to aspire to. The collective unconscious of a young generation is being formed right now. It will shape our future. Once the fighting has ended we will need new ideas, new goals and perspectives. We can only hope this war will spark a new peace movement, because the nuclear threat I first become aware of at that Bonn demonstration looms as large as ever. When I think back to that day I remember that flag waving above the crowd – the white dove in a blue circle, billowing in the wind. Some things you just don’t forget.
When Hendrik Lakeberg is not reminiscing about the anti-war protests of his youth, the former editor of Numéro Berlin can be found taking walks in the city’s Grunewald neighborhood.
VISITING THE BALLERS’ PO-MO UTOPIA
We at No News News have long been fans of Hinrich Baller’s fantastically futuristic architecture (dive into the Baller universe with ‘BALLER’S PO-MO UTOPIA,’ No News News #3). Never working alone but always in tandem with his life partners, the exhibition ‘Visiting Inken and Hinrich Baller’ at Berlin’s DAZ shines light on the architects’ joint creative period between 1966 and 1989. Together the Ballers designed striking buildings in former West Berlin with an independent, expressive and distinct architectural language – mint green metal ornaments + biomorphic concrete structures, anyone? While these buildings continue to polarize architectural purists, their projects were accepted by Berliners and remain an expression of unconventional housing construction to this day. The exhibition, curated by the collective ufoufo, stages a sensual revisit to the inhabited spaces: recent interior photographs show filigree, permeability, the integration of common areas into the residential buildings and their unusual floor plan solutions. In short, it’s the perfect chance to take a peek into some of Berlin’s most exciting dwellings and discover how their inhabitants have made the Ballers’ vision their own.
‘Visiting Inken and Hinrich Baller’ runs until April 24 at DAZ in Berlin. The exhibition is supplemented by an extensive tome on Inken and Hinrich Baller’s shared œvre, published by Walther König and available here.*
Editor: Hans Bussert (V.i.S.d.P.)
Art Director: Enver Hadzijaj
Copy Editor: Redfern Jon Barrett
© 2022 EX LIBRIS Hans Bussert
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