Architecture Drama: Dresden Military History Museum

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Identity politics, architectural decorum, Neo-Nazis, and a bleak recent history: building a military history museum in Germany is just as complicated as you might expect. American architect Daniel Libeskind — most well-known for his Jewish Museum in Berlin — has designed a modified shell for an old arsenal building overlooking the city of Dresden, a town almost entirely decimated by Allied forces in 1945 at the end of World War II.

George Packer covered the brouhaha in a recent issue of the New Yorker, and Libeskind has been defending his design to press in days surrounding the 65th anniversary of the Dresden bombing on February 13. Examine the issue and check out the project’s design after the jump.

The facts:

– Dresden’s historical city center was almost completely destroyed after the February 1945 air raids.

– Neo-Nazi groups have “sought to compare the bombing to the Holocaust.”

– Dresden’s party line in the aftermath of World War II differs greatly from that of, say, Berlin. As George Packer eloquently writes in his Letter from Dresden, it is “the Blanche DuBois of German cities — violated, complicit in its violation, desperate to recover its innocence. It has the unstable character of a place with a romantic self-image and a past that it would rather not discuss.”

– Critical of the city’s nostalgia for its pre-World War II history, architect Daniel Libeskind says, “Sentimentality is not a foundation on which you can build a new city.”

– Bundeswehr (the Germany army) has invested 35 million euros ($44.3 million) on the renovation of the landmarked arsenal, once used as a military museum under the Nazis as well as the Communist SED party.

Libeskind explained to Speigel Online the significance of the glass wedge bisecting the building and jutting out from its historical facade: “It is something like a lantern, a signal, a beacon that evokes the city itself.” The triangle points to the geographical coordinates from which British bombers entered Dresden on February 13, 1945. Elsewhere, he described it as “a bolt of lightning, an allusion to the unsoundness of this world.”

What, then, should be the message behind the revamped military museum? Is it even possible to take a neutral, historical stance on the two World Wars and the millions of deaths that occurred? Or can Germans, as Libeskind suggests, “accept their past and understand the military history museum as something positive”?