The New Urban Ruins
Vacancy, Urban Politics and International Experiments in the Post-crisis City

2: Dignifying the ruins: a former Jewish girls’ school in Berlin


De Silvey and Edensor (2013: 467) define ruins as ‘structures and places that have been classified (by someone, at some time) as residual or unproductive, but equally most of these sites remain open to appropriation and recuperation’. Urban ruins, therefore, are more than physical by-products of capitalist ‘creative destruction’ (Harvey, 1985); they may offer the touchstone for alternative imaginings of the city. As O’Callaghan et al (2018) argue, urban ‘remainders’ have the potential to create spaces of discursive and material struggle over questions of social and spatial justice, such as when alternative communities create urban commons during times of economic austerity. However, what happens when inhabitants are violently removed from a ‘productive’ place, which is made into a ruin by racist policies? Years later, what does it mean to ‘inherit’ ruins of spatial injustice – for groups and individuals that were traumatised, for bystanders, and for perpetrators?

This chapter contributes to discussions of the ‘dynamic and unsettled’ nature of ruins (DeSilvey and Edensor, 2013: 466) by considering their complex and shifting geopolitical temporal-spatial relations in cities marked by extreme forms of violence and spatial injustice, including forced removals and genocide. I focus on a rather mundane ‘ruin’, a former Jewish girls’ school in Central Berlin that was created by the virulent anti-Semitism of National Socialism. Located on Auguststrasse in the central residential district, Berlin-Mitte, the heart of Jewish Berlin, the school was closed in 1942 by the Nazis and later converted to a wartime hospital. It survived the bombings of the Second World War, and was reused by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) as the ‘Bertolt Brecht’ grammar school until 1966.

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