23. July | 2020

International Research Project on Historical Authenticity Takes up Work

Directly next to the tower of the baroque Garrison Church in Potsdamer Dortustraße stands the building of the data processing center of the Volkseigener Betrieb "Machine Computing", completed in 1971. The Garrison Church, which was damaged in World War II and blown up in 1968, is currently being rebuilt with public and private funds. The "Rechenzentrum", on the other hand, currently still used for cultural purposes, is a candidate for demolition. Why? In June 2020, the international project network "UrbAuth", led by the Department for Historical Research of the IRS, began work. The project aims to clarify how cities since the Second World War until today attempt to establish historical authenticity in their building policies, and why certain epochs are repeatedly used as points of identification, while the traces of other epochs disappear from the cityscape.

The joint project "Urban Authenticity: Creating, contesting, and vizualizing the built heritage in European cities since the 1970s", or "UrbAuth" for short, is funded by the annual Leibniz Competition. It was thus the only project selected from a large number of competition entries from the entire disciplinary spectrum of the Leibniz Association. It will run for three years, until May 2023. In addition to the IRS, three other Leibniz institutes are involved in UrbAuth: the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF) in Potsdam, the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History München-Berlin and the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe - Institute of the Leibniz Association. The Museum Association of the State of Brandenburg is also participating in the project as a practice partner. At the IRS, Daniel Hadwiger is responsible for coordinating the network. Hadwiger is a historian and earned his doctorate in Tübingen on welfare work in Germany and France during the Second World War.

The project examines how certain parts of the architectural heritage of cities have been "authenticated" and thus enhanced in public debates, the media and urban planning. Various recent occasions for this include the reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace as the Humboldt Forum (and the preceding demolition of the Palace of the Republic), the reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche, and the Potsdam Garrison Church mentioned above. They all represent attempts to restore a historically "authentic" urban fabric. Authenticity is always to be understood as a social construct, a characteristic attributed by society and subject to constant change. To deal with debates about historically "authentic" urban planning, as well as with authenticity in general, as theatre and museum studies, monument preservation and historical studies do, is therefore an approach to understand cultural change.

The joint project "Urban Authenticity: Creating, contesting, and vizualizing the built heritage in European cities since the 1970s", or "UrbAuth" for short, is funded by the annual Leibniz Competition. It was thus selected from a large number of competition entries from the entire disciplinary spectrum of the Leibniz Association. It will run for three years, until May 2023. In addition to the IRS, three other Leibniz institutes are involved in UrbAuth: the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF) in Potsdam, the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History München-Berlin and the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe - Institute of the Leibniz Association. The Museum Association of the State of Brandenburg is also participating in the project as a practice partner. At the IRS, Daniel Hadwiger is responsible for coordinating the network. Hadwiger is a historian and earned his doctorate in Tübingen on welfare work in Germany and France during the Second World War.

UrbAuth is the first project to pursue such a research approach in an international perspective. It focuses on four cities: Marseille, Szczecin, Nuremberg and Potsdam. This selection follows a double logic: all of them are large cities, but not capitals. They are united by the fact that they have undergone fundamental socio-economic and structural transformations. At the same time, they represent four countries that have undergone comparable upheavals in their building history: France, Poland, the old Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR. In their post-war history, all four countries have experienced an intensive shift towards the industrial construction of housing estates, combined with a social policy agenda, as well as a departure from this approach. The selection of the period - from the 1970s to the present day - is not accidental either. "The 1970s mark the first break after a continuous boom phase since the Second World War," explains project coordinator Daniel Hadwiger. Apart from the 1973 oil crisis, which challenged the dominant car-based mobility model for the first time, the 1970s also saw the beginning of the decline of the Keynesian welfare model, which was based on industrial employment and strong state equalization policies. The socio-economic changes of the following decades also affected urban development policy and the values articulated by it.

The UrbAuth project will work intensively with visual material. A separate website will be set up for external presentation - similar to the Stadtwende project of the Historical Research Centre. It will document examples of the architectural heritage of all four cities under investigation, with a focus on Berlin and Brandenburg. Buildings considered worthy of preservation and their alteration will be documented here in an exemplary manner, as well as those that have disappeared from the cityscape. "There will also be a building fence in front of an empty square where something has been demolished," explains Hadwiger. The historian is looking forward to the opportunity to use the media to generate attention beyond the specialist community. "Images are eye-catchers," he says. "I used to do a lot of guided tours and tried to bring history to the widest possible public. We have the same claim in the UrbAuth project."