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Elisabeth Ziemer talks about the future of the Neptune Fountain

Not only since the successfully completed reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace in the form of the Humboldt Forum has there been discussion about a possible return of the Neptune Fountain to its historic location.

In the course of the now upcoming design of the open space in Berlin’s historic center between St. Mary’s Church, the TV Tower, the Red City Hall and the banks of the Spree River on the western edge of the Marx Engels Forum, the topic is now becoming concrete for the first time.

We spoke with Elisabeth Ziemer, chairwoman of the association “Denk mal an Berlin e.V.” about the topic, the association’s position and very concrete proposals for implementation.

URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Dear Ms. Ziemer, thank you for giving us your time for a short interview. To begin with, we would like to know something about the association “Denk mal an Berlin e.V.”. How long has the association been in existence, what goals do you pursue, and what group is behind it?

Elisabeth Ziemer: We founded our association in 2003 with the aim of anchoring awareness of historic preservation in Berlin in broader circles of the population. Just one year later, we began youth projects in cooperation with district museums and schools – an undertaking so successful and exciting that it earned us the highest award of the State Office for Monuments, the Ferdinand von Quast Medal, in 2010. We offer guided tours, events and excursions, and we raise funds for the restoration of monuments or support others in doing so. Our first funding project was the Butt Fountain next to the Old Museum, our largest the restoration of the tower of the Parochial Church. This year, with funds from the Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz and the Landesdenkmalamt, in addition to donations, we will restore the tomb of Oscar Blumenthal at the Jewish Cemetery in Weissensee. An important but forgotten theater critic and owner who helped modern drama succeed at his Lessing Theater with plays by Hauptmann, Ibsen and Strindberg. We now have over 320 members and look forward to more.

“IN THE CURRENT OPEN SPACE, THE POTENTIAL OF THE FOUNTAIN IS LOST. AND THE STONE WASTELAND OF THE CASTLE SQUARE WOULD DO WATER AND GREEN EXTREMELY WELL.”

Last week on URBAN DEVELOPMENT, we reported on the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing’s push to design the open space in Berlin’s historic center between St. Mary’s Church, the TV Tower, the Red City Hall and the banks of the Spree River on the western edge of the Marx Engels Forum. The return of the Neptune Fountain to its historic location, which has been discussed since reunification, is not included in the planning for this area. How did you learn about this and how do you assess the procedure?

The competition is open to the public and explicitly states that the fountain is to remain in its place. So anyone who proposes to move it does not comply with the specifications and will probably be excluded from the competition. This prevents solutions that had called for the square of democracy in its place, which had been demanded in many workshop discussions. So a public demonstration, or event space. I can very well understand the attitude of the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments to conserve the GDR planning of the 60s and 70s here. For me, however, the question arises whether the Neptune Fountain can have a meaningful future at this location.

To make it concrete again: Where should the Neptune Fountain, which has been installed in front of the Rotes Rathaus since 1969, be located in the future in your view and why? After all, the current location is now also considered “historic” and has been the “home” of the fountain for over 50 years.

Yes, that is absolutely correct. The previous concept of the open space design plays with the juxtaposition of the city hall and the fountain, with the monuments of the reconstruction helper and the reconstruction helper in between as a reminder of Berlin’s post-war history. However, the competition text allows for a different arrangement of these two sculptures – in contrast to the fountain – and the routing can also be changed. This is inconsistent from my point of view. What worries me, however, is the heavy use of the fountain at this location (demonstrations, Christmas markets, meeting place for young people). The pressure of use will increase due to the increase in attractiveness of the site. Will it be able to cope with that in the future? I don’t think so. Its condition is already extremely poor. But I also share the argument that it does not fit typologically into this open space. It was created by Begas* as an elaborate, representative fountain that needs the castle as a backdrop and a square with a spatial setting for its effect to unfold. In the current open space, its potential is lost. And the stone desert of the castle square would do water and greenery extremely well.

* Reinhold Begas erected the fountain from 1881 to 1891, editor’s note.

“THE COMPETITION (…) EXPLICITLY STATES THAT THE FOUNTAIN SHOULD REMAIN IN ITS PLACE. THIS PREVENTS SOLUTIONS THAT HAD CALLED FOR THE SQUARE OF DEMOCRACY IN ITS PLACE, WHICH HAD BEEN CALLED FOR IN MANY WORKSHOP DISCUSSIONS.”

What has the discussion process been so far around a possible implementation of the fountain? What kind of decision-making process would you like to see?

In the workshop discussions, which were organized by the Senate Department for Urban Development and in which very many people participated, many ideas were formulated for the current competition. The implementation of the fountain also played a role. That was an exemplary, elaborate, year-long participation process. You can’t do better than that. But the consequence should not now have been that “visions” are demanded, but the fountain is fixed by the competition text. In this respect, I would like to see a correction here. Could not, for example, a modern fountain system, which is located in the ground and is shut off during events, also be a vision, which enables a place of democracy and water games? If then the original, relocatable steel chairs by Achim Kühn* would be available again, a maximum of flexibility and usability would be achieved and the monument could unfold at its original place.

* Achim Kühn is a blacksmith and the creator of more than 200 steel chairs that stood around the cascades at the TV tower and on the boulevard Unter den Linden in GDR times. People could sit down as they wished, set up the chairs in a circle or turn them with the sun. (Editor’s note)

Dear Ms. Ziemer, thank you for the interview!

More interviews and the DEVELOPMENT CITY PODCAST can be found on the INTERVIEW page.
Click here for the book review of “Mitte auf Augenhöhe” by Benedikt Goebel and Lutz Mauersberger.

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