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Paisajes de guerra

 | 
Stéphane Michonneau
, 
Carolina Rodríguez-López
, 
Fernando Vela Cossío

II. — Discursos y realidad de la reconstrucción

The Reconstruction of Destroyed Architectural Monuments in Central and Eastern Europe

Professional Discourses and Political Attitudes (1940s-2000s)

Arnold Bartetzky

Texte intégral

1After World War II, architectural reconstruction was much debated in several European countries. The devastation suffered by numerous European cities prompted fundamental questions about how best to deal with ruined historical buildings and urban structures. Although comparable debates had taken place in the wake of World War I, given the unprecedented scale of destruction in World War II, the matter took on a new urgency, which was reflected in professional discourse and political attitudes towards reconstruction. Is faithful reconstruction —true to the original— feasible? And, more importantly, is it desirable? Or is rebuilding in contemporary forms a proper response to the irreversibility of history?

  • 1 This text is largely based on several chapters in the author’s book Bartetzky, 2012. Some aspects a (...)

2Hotly debated by experts and politicians in the post-war period, questions of this nature have arisen again in the face of a new wave of reconstruction campaigns in recent decades. This paper looks at the different approaches taken by examining cases in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Rather than the development and execution of individual projects, it focuses on the motives behind them and the political contexts in which they were rooted1.

3There has been and still is a wide range of responses to the question of how to deal with buildings which have been destroyed. They have technical, economic, political, cultural and not least moral dimensions, and they depend on various factors. For the political, cultural and moral assessment of reconstruction ideas after 1945, the role which a country had played in the war was crucial. This can be illustrated with two statements from Poland and Germany.

  • 2 «Nie mogąc zgodzić się na wydarcie nam pomników kultury będziemy je rekonstruowali, będziemy je od (...)

4On seeing the ruined cities in his country, particularly Warsaw (fig. 1), Poland’s General Conservator Jan Zachwatowicz pledged in 1946 in the heroic tone of his time: «We will not accept the annihilation of our cultural monuments. We shall reconstruct them, we shall rebuild them from their foundations, in order to hand over to later generations if not the authentic, at least the precise form of these monuments, as it is alive in our memory…2». He justified the reconstruction of destroyed historical city centres in the following dramatic statement:

  • 3 «Poczucie odpowiedzialności wobec przyszłych pokoleń domaga się odbudowy tego, co nam zniszczono, (...)

Our sense of responsibility to future generations demands that we rebuild what was destroyed, that we completely rebuild it, aware of the tragedy of the conservation forgery that we are committing. Because architectural monuments are not only for gourmets, they are suggestive documents of history in the service of the masses. Even if they are deprived of their antiquarian values, they fulfil a didactic and emotional function. […] The issue of monuments is a key issue of society it is an issue of national culture. We cannot apply to this issue a one-sided abstract theory, we have to consider the needs of the present3.

Fig. 1. — Warsaw, the market square of the old town after its destruction in World War II, photograph around 1945

Fig. 1. — Warsaw, the market square of the old town after its destruction in World War II, photograph around 1945

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Warsaw_Old_Town_1945.

  • 4 Regarding historical positions of modern heritage preservation theory towards the issue of architec (...)

5Zachwatowicz’s clear argument for society’s substantial needs over «abstract theory» is a polemic against the anti-reconstructionist principles of modern heritage conservation theory which had been established at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. «Conservation, not restoration» (Konservieren, nicht restaurieren) was the central postulate which rejected the recreation of destroyed buildings in whole or in part. Although the anti-reconstructionist conclusion was often contested and repeatedly undermined in practice, it continued to hold sway in professional discourse4.

6In post-war Poland, however, the professional recommendation against reconstruction stood no chance. In line with Zachwatowicz’s position, Warsaw’s old town and other destroyed historical city centres in Poland were reconstructed during the late 1940s and the 1950s for «the needs of the present» (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. — Warsaw, reconstruction work on the market square of the old town, photograph 1953

Fig. 2. — Warsaw, reconstruction work on the market square of the old town, photograph 1953

© Herder-Institut, Marburg, Bildarchiv [Herder Institute, Marburg, Image archive].

  • 5 «że cały szereg obiektów został zniszczony nie przypadkowo, w bezpośrednich działaniach wojennych, (...)

7For Zachwatowicz and other supporters of reconstruction, this was an imperative not only due to the unprecedented scale of destruction but even more so because Warsaw had been deliberately and systematically devastated by the German occupiers. Zachwatowicz emphasized that «several historical buildings were destroyed not by accident in armed struggles, but as a deliberate act by the Nazis to eradicate Polish cultural achievements5».

8Whether the destruction of a city or a building had been merely an «accident» was also used as an argument in discussions on reconstruction policy in Germany. However, in the «country of the perpetrators», this statement had a totally different meaning and contrary consequences. The most prominent example of this is the objection to the planned reconstruction of Goethe House in Frankfurt put forward by publicist Walter Dirks in 1947 (fig. 3):

  • 6 «Das Haus am Hirschgraben ist nicht durch einen Bügeleisenbrand oder durch einen Blitzschlag oder (...)

The building […] wasn’t destroyed in a fire caused by an iron or by lightning or arson; it wasn’t «accidentally» destroyed. […] Instead, this building was destroyed in a historical event which was clearly related to its nature. There are links between the spirit of Goethe House and the fate of its destruction. Some of them are tangible: if the nation of poets and thinkers […] hadn’t forsaken the spirit of Goethe, the spirit of moderation and humanity, it wouldn’t have embarked upon this war and provoked the destruction of this building. Consequently, the vast destruction is at the end of a path which led away from Goethe. […] In other words, there is a bitter logic about Goethe House being reduced to rubble. It wasn’t a mistake that should have been corrected, nor a mishap suffered by history. This downfall is justified and that’s why it should be acknowledged. […] Only one course of action is appropriate and noble: accepting the judgement of history, which is final. We must in any case have the courage to take leave of a great deal, not just the house of Goethe. […] The idea of being able to force something which was loved but lost back into reality is either an impotent revolt against that verdict or sentimental-both of which are questionable and dangerous6.

Fig. 3. — Frankfurt am Main, Goethe House after its destruction in World War II, photograph around 1949

Fig. 3. — Frankfurt am Main, Goethe House after its destruction in World War II, photograph around 1949

© Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main (ISG FFM), S7B Nr. 1998-937, Max Göllner

9Dirks and other opponents of the reconstruction project, which was accompanied by passionate debates that can be seen as paradigmatic for the early post-war period in western Germany, demanded from the nation the willingness to take its leave (Mut zum Abschied) from Goethe House as well as other destroyed monuments of symbolic and emotional value, and to accept their loss as a historical consequence of the guilt the Germans had heaped upon themselves under the Nazi regime.

10The motto of the supporters of reconstruction was «courage to be faithful» (Mut zur Treue), i.e. remaining faithful to the German ideals represented by figures like Goethe as a basis for a new beginning (fig. 4). Although the latter approach was successful regarding Goethe House, in many other cases of destroyed historical buildings, the West Germans did indeed demonstrate their strength by taking their leave.

Fig. 4.— Frankfurt am Main, Goethe House after its reconstruction, photograph 1957

Fig. 4.— Frankfurt am Main, Goethe House after its reconstruction, photograph 1957

© SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek, Walter Möbius.

11These two statements —Zachwatowicz strongly in favour of reconstruction as a political and cultural imperative for the nation, Dirks strongly against reconstruction, both ultimately for the same reasons— reveal, if not a rule, at least a tendency in the attitudes of the post-war period. Reconstruction was widely called for and more or less unquestioned in countries which perceived themselves as victims of aggression, whereas in Germany, the defeated aggressor, it was widely seen as an illegitimate attempt to reverse history.

  • 7 «Es war klar, theoretisch durfte man den Turm nicht wiederaufbauen, und es war klar, daß er praktis (...)

12This is of course an oversimplification, for the true picture is more complicated. For example, the GDR (East Germany) had no fundamental objections to reconstruction owing to the anti-fascist myth surrounding its foundation used in its official view of history to exonerate itself from guilt for the Nazi past. Then again, numerous buildings are to be seen in the towns and cities of western Germany that were rebuilt despite all the moral arguments against reconstruction. In the end, the demands of the public, who wished for many lost buildings and above all traditional cityscapes to be returned, often triumphed over the views of intellectuals as well as the tabula rasa dreams of modernist architects and urban planners. Even heritage conservationists, who were traditionally critical of reconstruction, were frequently unable or unwilling to thwart these wishes. Art historian and monument curator Hiltrud Kier described the situation retrospectively regarding the rebuilding of the tower of Great St Martin’s Church in Cologne: «It was obvious that, theoretically, the tower shouldn’t have been rebuilt, yet it was also obvious that it would in practice be rebuilt7». The same applied to numerous other buildings of artistic, symbolical und emotional value.

13Even in Poland, a victim of Nazi extermination policy more than any other country, attitudes were not as uniform as Zachwatowicz would have liked. There were also dissenting voices regarding reconstruction among both politicians and heritage conservationists. Even so, in Poland and elsewhere, a self-conception as a victim of aggression has undoubtedly been and still is an important factor behind the determination to reconstruct buildings.

  • 8 «Während des Großen Vaterländischen Krieges 1941-1945 hatten die faschistischen Barbaren die Absich (...)

14To mention another post-World War II example, several historical buildings destroyed by German troops were also rebuilt in the Soviet Union, including the residences of the tsars in Peterhof and Tsarskoye Selo near St Petersburg, as well as much of the old town and several churches in Novgorod. This reconstruction work was ordered by the central Soviet government and began even before the end of World War II. This is astonishing, for the Stalinist Soviet Union showed little appreciation for tsarist palaces and had demolished churches on an unprecedented scale. One of the reasons for the special treatment of monuments in the area of St Petersburg and in Novgorod was the circumstances and perpetrators of their destruction. A Soviet travel guide to Novgorod states: «During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, the fascist barbarians intended to level Novgorod to the ground. […] The Special State Commission for the Investigation of the Atrocities of the Fascist Occupiers assessed the damage to the city to exceed a billion roubles8». For the Soviet government, immediately repairing the damage by reconstructing the destroyed monuments was an effective means of propaganda to demonstrate the Soviet Union’s invincibility and triumph over Nazi Germany.

15Half a century later, post-Soviet states decided to reconstruct numerous buildings demolished for symbolic reasons in the Soviet era. An example of this is St Michael’s Monastery in Kiev. The building complex, which was founded in the 12th century and later extended in Baroque style, is regarded as a place of eminent significance for the pre-modern tradition of the Ukrainian national state. In the 1930s, it was blown up on the orders of the Stalinist Soviet Ukrainian Government. Its re-erection in the late 1990s was meant to roll back the act of destruction which had been perceived as a brutal attack on the Ukrainian church and Ukraine’s national culture.

  • 9 Hinterkeuser, 2008, p. 197. See also Dolinskas, Stepanovičienė, 2009, pp. 122-124.

16This perception undoubtedly tallied with the real intention behind the monastery’s destruction. Then again, an alleged symbolic dimension of destruction as a humiliating act of politically motivated aggression can be used to support reconstruction even if it is neither provable nor even plausible. This is the case regarding the Palace of the Grand Dukes in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, reconstructed between 2002 and 2013 (fig. 5). The former seat of Lithuanian power, which was medieval in origin and remodelled in the Renaissance period, had gradually decayed since the 17th century. A few years after the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, when the Lithuanian part of the former Polish-Lithuanian Union was annexed by Russia, the ramshackle building was torn down under the auspices of the new power. Today’s Lithuanian historiography emphatically interprets the demolition of the dilapidated palace as the deliberate annihilation of a symbol of Lithuanian statehood by the Russian occupiers9.

Fig. 5. — Vilnius, the reconstructed Palace of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes, photograph 2012

Fig. 5. — Vilnius, the reconstructed Palace of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes, photograph 2012

Picture: A. Bartetzky.

17Consequently, the controversial reconstruction of this building eradicated more than two centuries beforehand —a project often derided by critics— has been justified by its supporters as compensation for historical injustice. Yet in this case, the insinuation of political and symbolic intent behind the demolition seems to be based on a 20th-century mindset rather than an understanding of the time around 1800. As a matter of fact, the demolition of the palace ruins was, for its time, neither scandalous nor even exceptional, being fully in line with the general approach to architectural monuments which had lost their function. Until the late 19th century, it was common practice (not only in tsarist Russia) to demolish venerable ruins and even quite intact buildings which nowadays would be attributed great historical significance and artistic value. In most cases, the reasons for demolition were of a functional, economic or hygienic nature rather than iconoclastic. Nevertheless, the interpretation of the demolition of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania as a foreign act of aggression against Lithuania’s national identity was an important tool for the popularization of the reconstruction project.

18Only a minority of current reconstruction projects have such a strong political angle. Since the 1980s, numerous projects have resulted chiefly from growing disappointment with modernist urban design, hand in hand with a desire to recreate historic buildings —or rather their mere facades— and thus to regain urban situations and atmospheres destroyed by the war as well as by the post-war rebuilding of cities. The central aim is to create beautiful places serving as a showpiece for the city, not least in order to attract tourists.

  • 10 Regarding recent reconstruction projects and the accompanying debates in Germany, see: Maaß, 2015; (...)

19Besides the post-Socialist countries in East-Central and Eastern Europe, a particular commitment to architectural reconstruction is to be observed in present-day Germany10. This can be seen as a symptom of overcoming the post-war trauma of the historical guilt of the «country of perpetrators», which was so crucial for the debates, at least in western Germany.

20Most reconstruction projects are welcomed by the majority of the population for a variety of reasons. The most common of them, as was already the case in the 1980s, is discontent with the majority of post-war and present-day architecture, with its tendency to uniformity of shape, aesthetic banality and indifference or even hostility to tradition: in a word, its coldness. This experience of alienation is reinforced by a growing feeling of instability resulting from the accelerating change of cityscapes and urban social life. Both stimulate the need for the historical appearance of cities, which provides a source of urban identity and simulates a perception of continuity by neglecting the ruptures of history.

21In eastern Germany, however, there is also a specific political motive behind the wish to rebuild numerous monuments destroyed for ideological reasons by the GDR regime. It is the idea of a symbolic correction of history or a visual «compensation for injustice», to quote a slogan frequently used by politicians or citizens’ initiatives. This notion of the destruction of historical buildings as symbols of the injustice suffered by the population is related to the victim consciousness, which has been productive for so many reconstruction projects in various periods.

Notes

1 This text is largely based on several chapters in the author’s book Bartetzky, 2012. Some aspects are also included in the recent article Bartetzky, 2015. I am indebted to Chris Abbey for linguistic improvement and to Paweł Gorszczyński for editorial assistance with this text.

2 «Nie mogąc zgodzić się na wydarcie nam pomników kultury będziemy je rekonstruowali, będziemy je odubowywali od fundamentów, aby przekazać pokoleniom, jeżeli nie autentyczną, to przynajmniej dokładną formę tych pomników, żywą w naszej pamięci …» (Zachwatowicz, 1946, p. 48).

3 «Poczucie odpowiedzialności wobec przyszłych pokoleń domaga się odbudowy tego, co nam zniszczono, odbudowy pełnej, świadomej tragizmu popełnianego fałszu konserwatorskiego. Zabytki bowiem nie są potrzebne wyłącznie dla smakoszów, ale są to sugestywne dokumenty historii w służbie mas. Wyzbyte wartości starożytniczych, będą nadal pełniły służbę dydaktyczną i emocjonalno-architektoniczną. […] Sprawa zabytków jest podstawowym zagadnieniem społecznym —zagadnieniem kultury narodu—. Nie możemy wobec nich stosować jednostronnie abstrakcyjnej teorii, musimy umzględnić potrzeby dnia dzisiejszego.» (Ibid., p. 52).

4 Regarding historical positions of modern heritage preservation theory towards the issue of architectural reconstruction, see: Hubel, 2011; Nerdinger, 2010; Hassler, Nerdinger, 2010; Hanselmann, 2009; Braum, Baus, 2009; Störtkuhl, 2006; Dettloff, 2006; Huse, 2006; Dehio, Riegl, 1988.

5 «że cały szereg obiektów został zniszczony nie przypadkowo, w bezpośrednich działaniach wojennych, lecz jako świadomy akt likwidacji dorobku kultury polskiej, dokonany przez hitlerowców.» (Zachwatowicz, 1965, p. 44).

6 «Das Haus am Hirschgraben ist nicht durch einen Bügeleisenbrand oder durch einen Blitzschlag oder durch Brandstiftung zerstört worden; es ist nicht, zufällig’ zerstört worden […]. Sondern dieses Haus ist in einem geschichtlichen Ereignis zugrundegegangen, das mit seinem Wesen sehr wohl etwas zu tun hatte. Es gibt Zusammenhänge zwischen dem Geist des Goethehauses und dem Schicksal seiner Vernichtung. Einige von ihnen sind mit Händen zu greifen: wäre das Volk der Dichter und Denker […] nicht vom Geiste Goethes abgefallen, vom Geist des Maßes und der Menschlichkeit, so hätte es diesen Krieg nicht unternommen und die Zerstörung dieses Hauses nicht provoziert. Die große Vernichtung steht folgerichtig am Ende eines Weges, der von Goethe weggeführt hat. […] Mit anderen Worten: es hatte seine bittere Logik, daß das Goethehaus in Trümmer sank. Es war kein Versehen, das man zu berichtigen hätte, keine Panne, die der Geschichte unterlaufen wäre: Es hat seine Richtigkeit mit diesem Untergang. Deshalb soll man ihn anerkennen. […] Nur eines ist hier angemessen und groß: Den Spruch der Geschichte anzunehmen, er ist endgültig. Wir müssen ohnehin den Mut aufbringen, vielerlei Abschied zu nehmen, nicht nur vom Hause Goethes. […] Die Vorstellung, das geliebte Verlorene in die Wirklichkeit zurückzwingen zu können, ist entweder eine ohnmächtige Auflehnung gegen jenen Urteilsspruch oder sie ist sentimental. Beides aber ist bedenklich und gefährlich.» (quoted in Hanselmann, 2009, pp. 94-95). Emphasis in original.

7 «Es war klar, theoretisch durfte man den Turm nicht wiederaufbauen, und es war klar, daß er praktisch wiederaufgebaut wurde.» (quoted in Hassler, Nerdinger, 2010, pp. 327-328).

8 «Während des Großen Vaterländischen Krieges 1941-1945 hatten die faschistischen Barbaren die Absicht, Nowgorod dem Erdboden gleichzumachen. […] Die Außerordentliche Staatliche Kommission zur Untersuchung der Greueltaten der faschistischen Okkupanten stellte fest, daß der von der Stadt erlittene Schaden über 1 Mrd. Rubel betrug.» (Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1984, pp. 5-6).

9 Hinterkeuser, 2008, p. 197. See also Dolinskas, Stepanovičienė, 2009, pp. 122-124.

10 Regarding recent reconstruction projects and the accompanying debates in Germany, see: Maaß, 2015; Nerdinger, 2010; Hassler, Nerdinger, 2010; Hanselmann, 2009; Welzbacher, 2010; Braum, Baus, 2009.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. — Warsaw, the market square of the old town after its destruction in World War II, photograph around 1945
Crédits Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Warsaw_Old_Town_1945.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cvz/docannexe/image/8464/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 275k
Titre Fig. 2. — Warsaw, reconstruction work on the market square of the old town, photograph 1953
Crédits © Herder-Institut, Marburg, Bildarchiv [Herder Institute, Marburg, Image archive].
URL http://books.openedition.org/cvz/docannexe/image/8464/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 143k
Titre Fig. 3. — Frankfurt am Main, Goethe House after its destruction in World War II, photograph around 1949
Crédits © Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main (ISG FFM), S7B Nr. 1998-937, Max Göllner
URL http://books.openedition.org/cvz/docannexe/image/8464/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 145k
Titre Fig. 4.— Frankfurt am Main, Goethe House after its reconstruction, photograph 1957
Crédits © SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek, Walter Möbius.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cvz/docannexe/image/8464/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 278k
Titre Fig. 5. — Vilnius, the reconstructed Palace of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes, photograph 2012
Crédits Picture: A. Bartetzky.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cvz/docannexe/image/8464/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 279k

Auteur

Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO)

© Casa de Velázquez, 2019

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