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Fading Scars of World War II on The Face of Berlin

Ever since I visited Berlin I found an intriguing interest in the amazing history of this city. So I decided to explore while I am here, I discovered many traces of the Second World War. Therefore later I had the idea to make a photo series documenting Berlin's existing damages from the war, and in particular, the bullet-holes left in the city's architecture. The search for these motifs brought the war alive for me and gave me a better impression of what scars remain to be found, 66 years later.

During my research, I discovered an article in the Berliner Tagesspiegel. It reported that in December 2005 an historian attempted to collect "touristy valuables" — meaning war damaged façades from the Berlin city region. Their initiative met with little enthusiasm. There were very few interested in preserving war-damaged houses in order to provide the tourists or locals with a post-1945 view of the city, as they strolled through renovated neighbourhoods.

Six years later, I realized that less and less evidence remains to be found from that period. Entire neighbourhoods, such as Prenzlauer Berg, are almost completely renovated. Houses and courtyards like Rosenthaler Straße 39 in Mitte, are the only islands remaining in Berlin which were preserved and restored in their original condition.

Nevertheless, there are still bullet-holes and remains of mortar fire to be found— especially in Mitte's war-torn centre where the fighting was most intense right before the war ended— if you keep your eyes open and look properly as you pass through the city.

I encountered an un-renovated façade in the courtyard of St Sophia's Church and found war damage preserved in the grey columns of the colonnade in front of the New Museum and Old National Gallery, standing out clearly from her newer sandstone sisters.

Despite the renovations, traces of the war remain here and there, as not all the holes have quite been plastered or concreted over. Finally, the different colored patchwork of metal-plates on the Berliner Cathedral show where previous damage has been covered over.

During my tour through the city collecting photos, I was accompanied by many thoughts and unanswered questions. These scars of the war prompted me to reflect on the transformation of the city and to think of the many wars that have occurred, and still occur, around the world.

Are there any such criteria higher than the interests of the buildings' owner, that by which the fate of the war damage in Berlin is decided? I get a strong impression that there are none.

The people who survived the war or had to see the rubble of Berlin, certainly have no interest in having to see these scars of war, let alone to live in such a city. Not even the people affected by recent wars in other countries, should years later, still have to live in war-torn cities. And even those who have seen war today, as their home is destroyed by a bomb.

In a few years the bullet holes in Berlin will be gone except for those who have a relatively secure future, such as those on the buildings on Museum Island.

This brings me to the question of whether it comes down to the historical value, as usually considered by museums, or the value of the bullet holes as a staged attraction for the tourists. All other war wounds disappear forever, like the gaps or houses in the city who bring in no money and therefore mostly become office buildings.

After the long search required to take the photos in this series I wondered why the Berlin wall is kept as an historical testimony, with all it's consequences for the population, yet the consequences of the war have largely been erased from the urban landscape? Trying to see a connection between these two facts may perhaps seem absurd, but the extent to which the traces of war have been erased in recent years, is not to be overlooked.

Without real evidence, how do you present a picture of war to those people fortunate enough to have never lived through one? In other words: Do we really want to erase all traces of war in Berlin?

By Aina Climent & Jan Steffen
Photos Aina Climent

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