Neil MacGregor began his journey through 600 years of German history at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and ends it at the Reichstag, seat of the German Parliament. These two extraordinary buildings, only a few hundred yards apart, carry in their very stones the political history of the country.
Neil talks to architect Norman Foster, who in 1992 won the commission to restore the Reichstag, when Germany's Parliament returned to Berlin in the wake of re-unification.
Producer Paul Kobrak.
United States


00:00:00this is the BBC this poll cost is supported by advertising outside the U. K. hello I'm Neil macgregor and thank you for downloading Germany memories of a nation from BBC radio four Germany where is that I can't find the country good his famous remark of the seventeen nineties
00:00:25reflects a Gemini fragmented into hundreds of separate states and with constantly shifting from two throughout the series I've been to many places to see if we can find Germany the Germany that was born twenty five years ago east Germans fled through yet another new crossing points when more
00:00:44of the a new state but one that has memories that reach back thousands of years and range far beyond its present boundaries see another type of course the Germany of gluten bag and the Beatles of looser and the boat house breeze contingent and sculpture and painting so who's
00:01:10the services have Mr for I'm Bob I've been to tons in cities all around this complex country from the banks of the Rhine to the check from to and from the Danube to the Baltic and beyond I began this series with one iconic building in Berlin the Brandenburg
00:01:36gate and I want to end it with another the Reichstag the German parliament because it was here after the unification of Germany in eighteen seventy one that all those places sent delegates to shape their new German read the brigades of the Reichstag separated and this year is by
00:01:59thirty programs are in fact only a few hundred yards apart and today they're a popular tourist stroke but for much of the last seventy years that was the difficult or even impossible walk for after nineteen forty five they were separated by the boundary between the Soviet and British
00:02:18zones of the occupied city the full line of the Cold War was in nineteen sixty one became the Berlin Wall surprisingly the memory of division although still alive and bitter has virtually no physical presence at the spot to which was for decades its iconic center other memories on
00:02:38the other hand all rolled around clearly visible just one block to the south is the huge Holocaust memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe completed in two thousand and five opposite among the trees of the tear garden park on three more modest more recent monuments to those other
00:02:57groups from the **** killed not for nothing they had done but simply for what they were those with physical and mental disabilities homosexuals and the city or Roma these memorials are in this part of Berlin by design as parliamentarians make their way to the Reichstag building their daily
00:03:17reminded of that terrible chapter of Germany's past and the memorials are not just for the politicians the intention was to shape the thinking of every citizen as well the third Reich not just as a regime but with the assistance of hundreds of thousands of German citizens commits crimes
00:03:35of such immensity and such barbarity that there is no going back from the acknowledgement that these events imposes sort of more legacy a moral burden on the German nation historian Christopher Clark the what's remarkable left in nineteen forty five is the extent to which this is accepted the
00:03:51guilt is internalized becomes part of the German national identity the awareness of guilt for the horrific crimes of the third Reich drives deep roots into German national feeling the Reichstag is V. symbolic building of modern Germany it was erected in the eighteen eighties to house the parliament of
00:04:09the new United German empower this mark hated the maneuverings of the parliamentarians here the Kaiser resented that claims to ultimate authority over the people was in nineteen sixteen in spite of the Kaiser the words Dame deutschen **** for the German people were inscribed on the facade in bronze
00:04:30letters the bronze itself taken from cannons captured from the podium a hundred years at a from a balcony below those bones letters in November nineteen eighty the German Republic later the Weimar Republic was proclaimed to the world fifteen years later the building was charred black as a consequence
00:04:52of the famous Reichstag fire giving the **** the pretext they wanted to abrogate the rights guaranteed by the Weimar constitution untrimmed prison and in many cases eliminate political opponents from all sides even though the **** deeply dislike to the building with liberalization's Stalin chose the Reichstag as the
00:05:14prime symbol of fascist Berlin to capture it before made in nineteen forty five became something of a Soviet obsession and huge numbers of men were sacrificed the bloody and protracted hand to hand struggle which finished with the Red Army soldiers planting the Soviet flag on its bombed out
00:05:33roof after nineteen forty five the building languished made usable but hardly used on the very edge of the western half of the city but just as in nineteen eighty nine the Brandenburg gate became the focus of the collapse of the Berlin Wall so in nineteen ninety the Reichstag
00:05:53was the obvious place for the signing of the treaty that would reunite Germany in nineteen ninety one it was resolved that the Reichstag building shoot as off to eighteen seventy one be the seats of the parliament now the Bundestag over Germany United for the second time but in
00:06:12nineteen ninety two the British architect Norman foster was commissioned to create what has become a famous addition to the Berlin skyline the willingness to choose a known German was a statement of the resolution to nationalism of this re United States but before the Reichstag building could be a
00:06:31worthy home for the new pound German Bundestag in these are not just be changed physically the Reichstag had to be re born and it walls it became part of the Berlin landscape so much so that many people forgot what the building underneath the light the wrapping of the
00:06:50Reichstag the work of the artist Christo which is why John Claude is perhaps the most unexpected episode in the biography of this building also history probably that the spelling is nice and makes people happy during two weeks in nineteen ninety five from twenty seventh of June to the
00:07:06seventh of July ninety thousand square meters of silver fabric enveloped the entire building today the dismantling work began in Germany's former and future parliament building came blinking into the summer sunshine after its temporary hibernation what is emerged from its huge silver chrysalis this was a building transformed able
00:07:26now to become for Germany needed it to be Monica Drusus now federal minister of culture was an empty at the time on asked nothing close to what it was only off the crystal it rocked the Reich stag and opened our eyes to the true topography at this building
00:07:42that we understood that it is in fact our house the house of an entire population a democratic building in which parliament the representatives of the people say and something of the spirit of this happening survives today believe it was the rapping blips revealed the potential yeah the whole
00:08:00public of the building yeah this is Todd which includes polio building lost became popular suddenly it was more than just a building for filling function in a few weeks the wrapping of the Reich stag put years of history in a proper perspective wouldn't pass pick to recruit it's
00:08:17hard to think of an equivalent reappropriation of a building but it's public anywhere it's a process that continued during its subsequent carefully managed metamorphosis under Norman foster I felt very strongly the the fabric as it emerged should preserve of the scars of war of civic vandalism if you
00:08:41like and that there should be a very clear demarcation between walked was a record of the past in terms of the traces of history those graffiti obscene or otherwise should be an integral part of the fabric and would convey messages of its past and its rebirth with clarity
00:09:05this is some descends into fifty could listen in Clifton Monica groups is again who believes that for those who now work in the building foster's approach has been entirely successful I am particularly conscious of the Russian separate graffiti found inside the building which come from the days in
00:09:22late April early may nineteen forty five they were written by soldiers of the Red Army and in a simple entirely compelling way they remind us that not long ago we were living under a dictatorship I'm of course talking what was a collapse of humanity before this building was
00:09:39able to recover its democratic dignity voted to phone calls the reborn Reichstag was in one very visible aspect differ from all previous states of the building over the chamber in which the MPs meat is a luminous lofty glass dome circled by walkways which allows the visitor to look
00:10:00down on the parliamentarians as they debate it is I think an eloquent architectural metaphor everyday without constraint citizens can literally exercise oversight of the politicians Republic brought up in the surveillance state to the GDR or with folk memories of the **** or even merely with experience of police
00:10:23tactics in the Cold War Federal Republic this is a hideous statements of civic freedoms is about the relationship between the public and politicians and redefining that in a way which is unique it has become a symbol of a city it has gone beyond that and become a symbol
00:10:44of a nation it is one hundred and forty years of existence the Reichstag has in fact been the symbol of many Germany's the newly United empire of the eighteen eighties the Weimar Republic's doomed liberal democracy which perished in the nineteen thirty three five the fascist **** right which
00:11:04like the building was destroyed and then conquered by the Soviets and the western allies on the twenty five year old parliamentary democracy of today thanks to foster's restoration everyone of these memories is still present and active in the building Britain and France choose to gloss over shameful memories
00:11:25Germany displays them so that its leaders and citizens can see and remember that's one of the central arguments of the series has been the German history unlike other European countries looks forward it may seem perverse to end it with this image in front of me now of a
00:11:46young woman looking back in nineteen seventy seven the artists get houses to took a photograph of his daughter Betty looking over her shoulder at one of his paintings hanging on the wall behind her an imprecise gray rendering in paint of an old press photograph eleven years later in
00:12:06nineteen eighty eight he transformed his photograph of Betty into a painting and that painting later became the subject of this the third graph of a young girl with blonde hair wearing a bright red and white jackets or is it a dressing gown looking over her shoulder away from
00:12:23us in the very process of its making this lithograph is a complex meditation on events and on the recording and it would not be doing violence reaches out to resist as a metaphor for Germany's subtle shifting obsessional engagement with its own past Richard and his daughter in body
00:12:45much of the past brought up near what is now the Polish border reached his childhood was lived under the **** and disrupted by the war he fled to the east just months before the Berlin Wall was erected in nineteen sixty one this is the growth of Betty turns
00:13:01away from her father she was brought up in West Germany part of a generation that grew up in a country committed to excavating it's shameful past publishing and where possible punishing the crimes of her parents and her grandparents generation Betty inhabits a space that still animated by her
00:13:21father's works although his painting is no longer clearly visible on the great wall behind her just as old Germans still live in the presence during fainted but none the less compelling of the deeds of previous generations what's Betty makes of her father and his generation we can't tell
00:13:40but in a moment this young woman will turn and face us and the future to see the buildings and objects featured in the series and here other radio for programs about Germany search online for Germany memories of a nation

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from BBC Radio 4, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.


Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.