1968 in West Berlin: space, place and identity
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date07/04/2021
Due to the current politicisation of public spaces and the “reclaiming of the commons”, there has been renewed interest in historical protest movements instigated by the Left and particularly in relation to the idea of reclaiming physical spaces of the city. Literature has tended to focus on global and continental perspectives, with recent publications demonstrating an increasing trend towards memory studies and literary analysis. By contrast, this thesis will offer cultural analysis in relation to urban planning in order to present the experience of the protester in direct relation to their contemporary condition. This thesis attempts to illustrate this relationship through a focus on the politicisation of urban space and the symbiotic relationship between protester and city space. In contrast to studies of a global or transnational nature, this analysis focuses specifically on the case study of West Berlin. The city’s turbulent history had a profound impact on the identity of the city and its inhabitants causing post-war planning policies to become laden with political and ideological symbolism. As the first generation to seriously consider the impact of National Socialism, with the city a haven for the left-wing, with an education system which allowed for a lot of extra-curricular study and movement between disciplines, the movement in West Berlin operated under a different set of circumstances to other European cities and it is this specificity of time and place which is at the centre of this analysis. This thesis will be centred on a manifesto created in 1968 by a group of architecture students at West Berlin’s Technische Universität to coincide with an exhibition for the Biannual Berlin Construction Weeks Festival. Aktion 507, as the group named themselves, critiqued the urban planning of the city which they used to exemplify the issues they identified within society and this use of urban planning as a vehicle for wider critique will form a central focus. The methodology places the individual at the centre of the investigation in the use of leaflets, DIY publications, and interviews, supplemented with contemporary texts consulted by the students, and enriched with elements from the cultural sphere. The intention is to form an understanding of the relationship between place and political activism and argue that changes in the built environment both impacted the students’ perspectives and were equally impacted by their critique. The conclusions drawn add nuance and complexity to the 1968 movement and demonstrate its specificity as well as its longevity, and impact on the present.