Berlin's Baffling New Seesaw of a Monument to German Reunification

Berlin's Baffling New Seesaw of a Monument to German Reunification
It's been embraced as a brilliant symbol of collective action — but it's also been denigrated as a dangerous gimmick for tourists. After ten years of debate, Berlin has announced plans for a monument to German reunification: a giant see-sawing disk, titled "Citizens in Motion," which will measure 180 feet long and weigh 360 tons. The monument is planned for a square in the former East Berlin, where the Berlin Palace will soon be rebuilt.

Designed by choreographer Sasha Waltz and architectural firm Milla & Partner, the monument is intended to accommodate up to 1,400 people, though only 20 are needed to make it rock back and forth, the Guardian reports. In a statement, the designers said that "the spirit of the proposed work is the contribution of each person to the well-being of the community by a creative act. This gives weight to citizens." Two slogans of the so-called Peaceful Revolution that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall will be inscribed on the monument: "Wir sind das Volk" ("We are the people") and "Wir sind ein Volk" ("We are a people"). The monument's construction is expected to take two to three years and to cost €10 million ($14 million).

While the idea that people will have to work together by moving in groups to make the monument rock back and forth is intended to have symbolic significance, critics have compared the design to a giant seesaw or a fruit bowl. Uwe Hameyer, director of the Berlin Association of Architects and Engineers, told Reuters that the monument would be a tourist magnet and that overcrowding could cause panic to break out. The designers have planned security barriers to prevent visitors from falling. But questions remain. Frankfurt's Allgemeine Zeitung pointed out that restricting visitors' freedom inside a closed-off area could be an unpleasant reminder of the former East Germany, which valued unity over freedom. On a practical level, the German newsmagazine Der Stern asked, "what happens when skaters take the thing over?"

Other Berliners see the idea as a joyful counterpart to the somber "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe," a five-acre maze of simple gray columns, which itself encountered criticism and opposition during its construction. "We wanted a monument to express our joy, to express our happiness," Günter Nooke, a member of parliament who grew up in the former East Germany, told the Guardian. "There are other places in Berlin where you can remember the victims of the Berlin Wall. This is about celebrating the revolution and reunification."