Mary Dejevsky: St Nicholas and Soviet-era brutalism

Potsdam Notebook: Shops and houses have been restored to their former pastel elegance, but vacant plots are everywhere

Share
Related Topics

The Soviet system's inhumanity to man left psychological scars that will endure for generations. But it also left more visible scars on the architecture and townscapes of the communist world. The city of Potsdam, south-west of Berlin, shows Soviet-style "renovation" at its malevolent worst.

The church of St Nicholas, its huge dome a beloved city landmark, right, suffered severe bomb damage towards the end of the war. It was repaired, but only re-consecrated in the 1980s. Meanwhile the crypt had been requisitioned as a nursery. But the indignity did not stop there. A concerted effort was made to conceal the church, and so distort the city's age-old focus, by hemming it in with concrete monstrosities on all sides.

What had been a landmark was effectively hidden. Even now that demolition of some of the offending blocks has begun, the communists' intention remains clear. You can glimpse the dome from afar, but as you walk towards it, it vanishes. I have seen "political" town-planning all over East and Central Europe. And the more symbolism resides in the city, the more vicious the excision of the past.

The city of Potsdam is famous – or notorious – for the July 1945 conference that sealed the division of Europe. But it is better loved in Germany for the vast park and palaces of Sanssouci, the summer residence of Frederick the Great. Three years ago, renovation of the palaces was only beginning. Now, the work is well advanced and much of the ornate gold of the lavish interiors shines as new. Similarly in the old town: much has been done; shops and houses have been restored to their former pastel elegance; but bulldozers and vacant plots are everywhere; so much remains to do. And that includes freeing the church of St Nicholas from its concrete cage.

The Wall revisited

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall is approaching, and German papers are full of reminiscences, including a bewildered account by Egon Krenz, then East Germany's communist leader. "That day, 9 November, 1989," he says, "was the most dramatic of my life. It wasn't just the border crossings in Berlin that were thrown open, but the frontier of the Warsaw Pact. Good for those who lived that day as a celebration. But I didn't have that luxury. I bore political and military responsibility for everything that happened that night... I was on tenterhooks as never before."

Hands off!

The service in what used to be East Germany has lost much of its communist surliness, thank goodness – but not all. In a small craft shop I picked up a wooden piggy-bank to see how you would extract the coins, only to be barked at instantaneously: "You are not just looking if you touch something. CAN I HELP YOU?" And it sounds even more menacing in German.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links