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In-Visible Palimpsest

Memory, Space and Modernity in Berlin and Shanghai


Lu Pan

In the early 1990s, Berlin and Shanghai witnessed the dramatic social changes in both national and global contexts. While in 1991 Berlin became the new capital of the reunified Germany, from 1992 Shanghai began to once again play its role as the most powerful engine of economic development in the post-1989 China. This critical moment of history has fundamentally transformed the later development of both cities, above all in terms of urban spatial order. The construction mania in Shanghai and Berlin shares the
similar aspiration of «re-modernizing» themselves. In this sense, the current experience of Shanghai and Berlin informs many of the features of urban modernity in the post-Cold-War era. The book unfolds the complexity of the urban space per se as highly revealing cultural texts. Also this project doesn’t examine the spatial changes in chronological terms, but rather takes the present moment as the temporal standing point of this research. By comparing the memory discourse related to these spatial changes, the book poses the question of how modernity is understood in the matrix of local, national and global power struggles.
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On November 9, 2009, a “Festival of Freedom” was held before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The highlight of the event was the fall of 1,000 colorfully painted dominos that were knocked down to symbolize the collapse of the Wall and the beginning of freedom in the divided city. The fall of the dominos signifies more than the fall of the Berlin Wall alone; the reenactment of the chain reaction also embodies the subsequent collapse of the Iron Curtain and the triumph of democratic liberalism in that part of the world.

The euphoria at the end of the Cold War echoes what Francis Fukuyama calls “the end of history” (1992). For Fukuyama, the fall of the Berlin Wall proves that humankind’s ultimate desire for recognition in the Hegelian sense is the main driving force behind the evolution of history. Since the Communist system, which has severe weaknesses in terms of recognition, fell apart and led to the settling of ideological struggles, the political and economic development of the world has headed to a universalized future based on the principles of Western liberal democracy. Despite potentially recurring events, there can be no major variations that can change this tendency of human political form in a regressive manner.

The euphoria in the early 1990s proved to be overly optimistic. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we witnessed a more complicated...

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