Art and Memory: Obama in Berlin- 24 July 2008
A World that Stands as One - July 24th, 2008
Barack Obama will speak in Berlin tomorrow at the Tiergarten beneath the Siegessäule . For many of us, Berlin and the towering Siegessäule bring to mind Wim Wenders' films Wings of Desire and the haunting sequel, Faraway, So Close, which opens with the angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) standing on the statue of the Angel of Victory overlooking post-Cold War Berlin. As Wim Wender's site puts it, this angel grows "ever more despondent over his fate as a mere observer of human life, rather than a vital part of it, Cassiel dreams of crossing over to the human world." Many times as the centuries pass, art that was at first created to celebrate fleeting military victories over past or imagined enemies loses its local memory and becomes part of all humanity's memories. Wim Wenders was able to shake the Siegessäule loose from the spectres of Prussian militarism and into the post-Cold War world. Arguably, this Angel of Victory can now be seen as a harbinger of Walter Benjamin's Angel of History:
"This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward."
- Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," IX
Germany has been able to move on from a past led by a militaristic leader and his tight cabal. Now it is America's turn to move on from our current militaristic leader, his tight cabal and his purported successor. Barack Obama's speech on July 24, 2008 in Berlin will come to be seen as a turning point in the journey away from the memory and grip of war towards the promise of peace and reconciliation.
MBNYC at the DailyKos has a very well written piece on the history of the site and the Siegessäule:
"During the workers revolt of 17. June 1953, an uprising against the Soviet-imposed East German government which was brutally crushed by Soviet tanks, fleeing revolutionaries used the column as a point of orientation in escaping from East Berlin. Partly in consequence, the street the Siegessäule stands on is now named the Street of 17 June. Ironically, Berlin's principal monument to the war dead of the Soviet Union stands on that street, about halfway between the column and the Brandenburg Gate. That monument is built out of red marble salvaged from Hitler's nearby Reich Chancellery, and Obama will be looking in its direction when he speaks. He will also symbolically be answering Ronald Reagan; when the latter spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, he was looking West. Obama will be looking East, in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate, answering and rebutting Reagan, as we prepare to enter a new era in American politics and bury Reagan's malignant legacy."
The Angel of History
28.5" x 73" sumi and oil on screen 2006
Faraway, So Close
MBNYC at the DailyKos
From the soundtrack to Wim Wender's Faraway, So Close.