April 10th 2013

versammlung (assembly)

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I’ve just returned home from the 2013 assembly of the Leaders of Design Council in Berlin, Germany.
The LDC is an organization that regularly brings together the world’s top architects, interior designers and media representatives to discuss issues in the professional design community. The theme of this year’s conference was “Unity”.  Together, we can strengthen our profession and, in turn, be able to serve our clients better.2013-04-09_0007

The thread running through the workshops, talks and activities of this summit was that of the transitions occurring in our respective professions. The design community has certainly felt the pinch of the economic crisis (although the consensus of the attendees was optimistic – most reported their offices were buzzing with new work) and technology has certainly altered some of the rules of the design business game.  We designers, however, are a creative and resilient bunch and are able to adapt when required. Change is part of our daily exercise;  it challenges and nourishes us.

One of the reasons Berlin was chosen as host city was because it, too, is in a state of metamorphosis.  War torn no more, it has risen from the ashes to become a vibrant city wealthy not only in history, but art and culture as well.  Construction is so rampant in parts of the city center, it looks as though the artist Christo has slipcovered entire city blocks.  I’ve certainly never been drawn to things Germanic, but the following are things my eyes met during my travels in Berlin.

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The national buildings in Germany are strong and full of true classical pomp.  The Brandenburg Gate (left and center) and the Gendarmenmarkt square (right) are two prime examples of this.  When I was at the Bradenburg Gate, there was some type of Iranian human rights protest going on.  I couldn’t make out the signs (as I’m not fluent in Iranian) but was interested to see a man wearing a Mel Gibson mask faux-flogging men dressed in prison garb.  I couldn’t quite figure out the message therein but the mob was obviously into it.
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The Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind was a disturbing hulk of gray metal – more of a mentally ill battleship than building.  I’ve never been a devotee of Libeskind’s work as his designs often seem very affected – more theory than beauty.  The strength of this museum for me was the very moving exhibits housed within, chronicling the history of the Jewish people.
A fellow Summit attendee, Brad Clifford, made this haunting video inside the museum:  jewish museum path

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A natural follow-up to the Jewish Museum was a visit to the Berlin Holocaust Memorial.  Designed by Jewish-American architect Peter Eisenman, the series of coffin-like stone steles march silently in time, resulting in a severe urban garden.  For me, the most moving aspect of this monument was a human byproduct that resulted from its labyrinthian design.  Once inside, parents, children and couples were constantly losing each other.  Their voices reverberated, creating an ever-present soundtrack in the corridors, calling out to one another.  The forlorn alleyways literally echoed with the cries of the lost.  A very powerful statement.
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On a lighter note, McAlpine Booth and Ferrier’s Susan Ferrier, friend Melissa Mabe-Sabinosh and I visited the Berlin Design and Antique Market where Susan scored some great finds.  I’m sure they’ll be popping up in some of our interiors in the near future.  In addition to being an immensely talented designer, Susan is a a shrewd negotiator.
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As for the Summit, the formal assembly took place in a space tailor-made for a group of jaded designers – the DZ Bank atrium designed by starchitect (don’t you hate that word) Frank Gehry.  This wood, steel and glass leviathan swallowed us up in its dramatic maw and kept our ADD-riddled attentions rapt for an entire day.
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The Summit culminated in a grand dinner served in the courtyard of the German Historical Museum.  We dined and danced our final evening away to the wee hours of the morning in great style.

As I previously mentioned, I initially arrived in Berlin with no great love or passion for anything remotely attached to the German culture.

I returned home changed.

5 comments

  1. Eric Mueller says:

    Ändern Sie ist gut 😉

  2. Jack Talley says:

    Greg – Great blog. I vicariously followed your escapades through my better half, Judy. The pictures brought to life for me much of which she would mention, I’m kinda like you in that I wouldn’t have had much in the German culture to be particularly interested other than beer, wurst, Mercedes and possibly, Lugers! Judy really enjoyed being with you guys in spite of the obvious introverted reticence of the group. I think she’s already planning her training routine in preparation for next year. Thanks for the fine report. Jack Talley

  3. I have to agree, not too much impressive in contemporary German culture. The wars saw to it that all the good from the past would be flushed away, physical and cultural. Too bad you didn’t make it out to Potsdam, much more impressive than Berlin, which was of course heavily bombed. I think you would like Sanssouci Palace and Schloss Cecilienhof. Other highlights in Germany include Schloss Rauischholzhausen, Schwerin Castle, Dresden Frauenkirche, Neuschwanstein, and the small towns Bamberg, Schwäbisch Hall, Miltenberg, and Rothenburg. On a slightly unrelated note, to me the 1930’s Mercedes 540k is the most beautiful car ever made. There are a lot of treasures in Germany’s past. Shame the same can’t be said about the present.

    Some fantastic prewar photos of Germany: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?s=62802f84cd314481bb430b664acf27ef&p=3891093&postcount=9

    • Some of my fellow travelers went to Potsdam and raved over the Sanssouci Palace. The pictures they returned with relayed a magical place. Very un-German. I wholeheartedly agree with you on the Mercedes. Thanks for the picture link.

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