Rubble Mapping

After World War II over 75 million cubic meters of rubble and debris covered the city of Berlin. Mountains of stone, brick and dust had to be cleared, sorted, and moved to storage and dumping facilities before the city could begin rebuilding. This work was famously accomplished by women (Trümmerfrauen), usually in exchange for food, shelter, and goods. Today the hilly contours of beloved parks such as the Humboldthain, Kreuzberg, and Volkspark Friedrichshain conceal pre-war building materials beneath shady paths and flowering meadows. On the surface, these new landforms are subject of many a discussion on cultural topography, landscape and memory and postwar urban planning. Beneath the surface, relatively unknown ecological aftershocks are evident in the slow leaching of sulfate from tons of buried mortar into the groundwater.

In the weeklong Science Meets Art workshop at the Altes Museum Berlin-Neukölln, initiated by Ping Qui for the Swiss Foundation for the Arts, eight artists and eight scientists and engineers got together to discuss research interests and different roles and responsibilities of science and art. The workshop provided an opportunity for us to visualize the topic of sulfate leaching in a cultural context, and to broach the issue of soil memory in a semi-public setting. We drew a map of the city on the floor and covered it with rubble, leaving only the waterways exposed as thin yellow ribbons. Thirteen large, partially filled acrylic columns corresponded to the points with the highest amounts of rubble deposition in the city, marking for example the 115 m tall Teufelsberg with a total of 25 million m3 of rubble. A research desk in the opposite corner of the room presented materials on post WWII reconstruction, rubble management, and sulfate leaching. One map was a copy of Scharoun’s 1946 urban plan of Berlin, which located the war-moraines alongside garden colonies and newly created green space. Drawn yellow curtains shed a golden glow over the room to symbolize the color of sulfur but also defeat and triumph in war. The archetypical fabric of domestic life, the curtain, contrasted with the ruins of former homes.

Beyond the topographical and psychological memories of war, rubble mountains of Berlin and elsewhere across Europe represent a real and growing environmental threat and engineering challenge. Post-war urban ecology has become a focus of several long-term studies in the Dept. of Soil Protection at the TU-Berlin. For lack of a proper title, we described the installation at the Science Meets Art Workshop as “a spatial analysis of WWII rubble deposition in Berlin, under consideration of sulphate leaching, recreational quality and collective memory.”

via Rubble Mapping.

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