Friday, 5 June 2009

The naming of things has forever been associated with an exercise of power. The back and forth of occupation and liberation is invariably accompanied by appellations and reversals, within which a history can be read. The socialist boulevard of Karl-Marx Allee in Berlin (nearby to which I, for a time, lived) was once Große Frankfurter Straße before it became Stalinallee and eventually Karl-Marx Allee, the name by which it is known today. Within this renaming, shifts of power are allied to a changing city and the names themselves become part of the history of a place.

That street was all things to all people; a motif of East German post-war reconstruction, an act of generosity to the city's workers, a model of socialist leisure and activity, all of this bound within a Soviet architecture approaching their version of classicism. The socialist imposition of the structures, their enormous doors and outsized lampposts, were all however tempered with symbols of Berlin, embedded into the stonework or pictured in the decorative ceramic façades. The boulevard held many demonstrations of power and rebellion, both real and cerebral, within its confines but nowhere is an exercise of power clearer than within its renaming.

The renaming of a street does not quell a worker's uprising, but rewrites an accepted history. This action seeks a history. How will the history of today rewrite itself? The collapse of the leading UK governmental cabinet; the lowest ever turnout in a European election; the last straw of Islamic relations with the West broken? Or a simple reverse of these, something with triumph and success in its sights? Today and yesterday seek histories that they themselves create, like the renaming of old streets or the way a river erodes its own riverbed.

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