MASS TRACKER (2016) – Franzi Rüss, Arne Mickerts, Darius Dong Le
Our research process was heavily intuitive, initially approaching the site with little to no framework. It was during Anne Fenk’s tour that our vague ideas had accumulated some wealth, especially in relation to the histories of the debris women and their relationship to Fritz-Schloß-Park. It was at this point that we were compelled by histories that might have been erased or barely acknowledged, as exemplified in the two manifestos that were produced; one that interrogates the validity of qualitative histories and the other exploring the erasure of politically charged histories. As we began our endeavour to interview people, the questions were designed to gauge what the park means to them and the larger context of Moabit. Questions ranged from the personal (“what is your favourite quality about Fritz-Schloß-Park?”) and the urban (“how does Moabit benefit from this park?”). Our approach was deliberately naive, trying to garner a range of responses that could possibly lead us to something else. Fortunately, a discussion with two pensioners, Ingeborg, 85, and Irene, 76, led us to our research aspirations. She said, “We do like the park, where the debris mountains [were] buried. Memories of that history surface very often to me.” Again, the idea of a history needing to surface or even be buried was compelling to us. This was where our initial project was spawned.
From then, our project was very much about approaching heritage from below – conducting interviews with figures that would be knowledgeable regarding the histories and narratives of Fritz-Schloß-Park and the wider Moabit. These figures were highly involved in Moabit’s development and it was from here, that a lot of our narratives were derived from.
Our initial research was heavily reliant on interviews, text became the primary tool for our communication. Photos, diagrams and sketches were also initially part of the early stages of forming the conceptual agenda but were later abandoned as the research was getting more refined. Photographic documentation of the park was crucial in identifying interesting patterns and relations. The development and refinement of the project benefitted greatly from diagrams which were able to visually and succinctly show how each component would be related to a broader context and the layering of histories. Sketches were employed as a tool for qualitative documentation – our own personal impressions of the site with the ambition to translate the spatial properties and lighting qualities.
Later in our research, audio interviews emerged as a critical tool, not only for the process of translation, but in terms of creating an interface that is accessible by all. We were committed to providing a varied palette of media in order to represent the variety of information collected. This also accommodates users that are more susceptible to learning visually and aurally.
An archive platform has the opportunity to reshape our understanding on the issue of heritage. The conventional up-down approach to heritage, where an elite few are bestowed the power to place value on a piece of urban infrastructure, has detrimental issues. Our interest in the research project was to reveal the rich and diverse histories that have taken place to form Fritz-Schloß-Park and placing them within a discourse that refers to something outside of itself. For example, the engagement with Fritz-Schloß-Park is part of an elaborate network of schuttberg in Berlin and throughout Germany as a post-war infrastructure. We were invested in creating a platform that combines the typical histories but also the validity of the voices from below – giving the invisible, the everyday, the opportunity to have their voice heard. This was particularly exemplified in the stories of Torka, 65, and Christiane Heide. Situating these stories amongst the conventional historical stories gives it a form of validity that they previously not attained. They are curated so that their stories and lineages are no longer confined to oral tradition, but subsumed by the interface and given a similar level of value.
Together, our respective manifestos were interrogating concepts of erasure and its validity, political ramifications and the validity of emotional, subjective narratives in relation to urban heritage. It was this concoction that led us to explore the value in revealing buried histories to the general public. We noticed that the only reference to the debris women at Fritz-Schloß-Park was a stone tablet, barely providing any sort of substantial information in regards to its rich and diverse history. The story ‘BMX-Tracks and Bonfires’ prioritises the voice of the interviewed; a retelling of Moabit’s past and a meticulous description of the spatiality and community spirit of Moabit. Her comments regarding Moabit’s impending gentrification depict a vivid image of what Moabit used to be like with her son. In ‘The View from Afar’, Arne provides detailed descriptions from the perspective of a cynical spectator, describing the histories that she must have endured while living in Moabit.
The potentiality of the narratives emerged upon interviews conducted with those at Fritz-Schloß-Park on May 25, 2016. It was here that the seeds for the possible narratives were sown and nurtured. Later interviews with more prominent figures at the B-Laden in Lehrter Str., Quartiersmanagement-Ost and Heimatverein Tiergarten then built on these initial foundations where more interesting threads or narratives would begin to emerge. This allowed us the capacity to dig even deeper and reveal the unexpected layers during further interviews towards the end of the research phase.
The curation of narratives and contents is not transparent as a consequence of the engagement with a digital archive. It is very specifically curated and refined to an extent, giving legitimacy to the narratives and histories in a conventional manner. Our priority was not for the process or curation to be transparent, but rather that the information and outcomes itself would be transparent and readily accessible. We had previously described the mountain as a series of historical layers that we were attempting to dig up. However, it became apparent to us during the design process of our interface that we were no longer thinking of it as an aggregated layering but as a transparent mountain that you could openly traverse and see the content that is available to you.
Linking our project within the larger ‘Dar-Berlin’ discourse initially seemed difficult but at various points, it was appropriate. The narratives that were assembled in Moabit all have parallels with the stories in Dar. Certain topics that were mentioned by the interviewees echo similar sentiments of those in Dar – such as the sentimental retelling of the places where they grow up (‘BMX and Bonfires’ and ‘Cherishing the Memory of the Past’). This added an unexpected but valuable contribution to the archive, situating Fritz-Schloß-Park, Moabit and the question of heritage in a much broader context. Interesting opportunities and prospects may arise as a consequence of this; interrogating how the app might be adapted to different contexts or even how this archive might be expanded to a global affair.
Throughout the research project, there was only an indirect comparative approach between Berlin and Dar. The user can freely choose among the different but also block them completely out if necessary. It is up to the agency of the user if they want to engage with the Dar stories at hand as the two scenarios do not have too much in common.
Coming from such a young city, its insecurities regarding its built environment are apparent. Heritage becomes an essential tool in maintaining a historicity and a source of pride for the cities. However, such an important task is bestowed to an elite few that can’t possibly consider the relevant heritage of minority communities. The active engagement with the ‘below’ and the ambition to giving the voice to those invisible or generally erased begins to reshape our conception of what ‘heritage’ is. It attempts to validate peoples’ voices, elevating it to the same value of conventional histories.
The project gave us a new and fresh insight into how the concept of heritage differs among people and how it can be influential by making them reflect upon certain questions and images. We did not, however, want to show a single idea but present an approach that could be combined and linked. When we got started, we only had a vague idea on how to structure it. What we wanted to achieve was a clear structure with less distraction from the chosen site. Of course, there are also disadvantages to this method. Certain aspects can and will not be shown since the chosen metaphor of the mountain emphasises that some structures are impossible to unfold. This is also in accordance to our conceptual base. The archive should not discriminate any minor information but “illustrate […] the full spectrum of its culture” (Lynch, 1972).
Working on that research project really reinforced my first impression I got while operating on Kevin Lynch‘s article ‘The Presence of the Past’ from his book ‘What time is this place’. Living in an rapidly evolving society, the question of what to maintain as heritage for our following generations has to be discussed not only on a rational level, driven by guidelines, but also on a platform considering emotions and lived experience as valuable factors for forming structures which can be considered as heritage. Since change and time are main factors in that discussion, it seems appropriate to accept the “forgetting of the past” as a valid part of the process. Lynch would already mention in 1976 that “Part of the cost of any environmental renewal is a loss of potential information about the past“ because “our perception guides what we choose to preserve“. Following the intention of creating values regarding the built environment in that sense would mean that anything surrounding us has the potential of being heritage. It also means that the label ‘heritage’ can be applicable only temporarily, depending on given circumstances in society.