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Campus Pick - Photographs take the wraps off Berlin's transformation

BERLIN FACADES

Photographs by Camila Chaves Cortes.

Rotch Library.

By Craig K. Chang

Berlin has remained a city of dynamic symbolism, torn and remodeled by the imminence and actuality of overthrow. Now capital of a united Germany, Berlin of the the 90s looks back at the burning of the Reichstag by the Nazis in 1933 and the recent fall of the Wall with both regret and anxiety. The gates of the once divided city have dropped and by 2000, more than 47 percent of the city will have completely changed.

Camila Chaves Cortes, a research fellow in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, spent last summer in Berlin capturing the images of a city under virtual reconstruction. From over 2000 negatives she compiled a set of photographs that are now featured in Berlin Facades, an exhibit that has been on display for some time in Rotch Library. These photos deserve immediate attention before June, for much of the exhibit has already been dismantled, and the rest will be gone completely near then.

It is almost easy to miss Cortes' series of black and white photographs. Unlabeled and cleanly framed, they match the library's sleek architecture. But in the proper context, Cortes' eye for geometric shapes and spatial organization reveals the various layers of Berlin's constantly evolving face.

Modern Berlin as depicted by Cortes is much more complex than the East-West division introduced by the Wall in 1961. In several photos, industrial cranes appear as curtains to historical monuments. In an intriguing photo called "The German Dome," Cortes puts great care into framing the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Nikolai dome, and the Television Tower together, and thus emphasizes the interface of past and present.

On the column besides the circulation desk is a vertical montage called "Architectural Progress." From top to bottom, this work creates the illusion of traveling time by stitching together the traditional and modern aspects of Berlin architecture. Other pictures express the merging of culture, where media icons like Marlene Dietrich juxtapose vestiges of Berlin's Nazi past.

Much of the remaining exhibit focuses on the wrapping of the Reichstag parliamentary building last summer. Christo, the same controversial artist who lined California and Japan with umbrellas, chose to wrap the building with a silver metallic cloth. Yet, he and his wife Jean Claude are not the only ones responsible for the dressing of this political center (the Bundestag plans to move in soon). Sparkling and flapping in the wind, the sensual wrapping was authorized by the government and its people. According to Christo, the wrapping is about freedom. In addition to bringing millions of visitors and various festivities, the wrapping signifies that Berlin and Germany are willing to don a new identity, whatever it may be.

Visitors may check out Legend of the Reichstag, a short video by Cortes, at the circulation desk.

The video together with a slow, steady walk past the photos makes for an informative break.