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Mall of Shame

published on 2014-12-16 by Sara
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Whatever you may think about the Potsdamer Platz, at night some of it’s horrible planning and invasive architecture regain dignity through the mesmerizing lights.

Now I would’ve had a couple of ideas on how to make Potsdamer Platz less detached from “real life in Berlin”, but apparently, every urban issue can be solved with a – you guessed it – ANOTHER MALL! And this one is not embarrassed to call itself “Mall of Berlin”, either. Another lousy H&M, Kaisers and Mango on Potsdamer Platz. And Desigual, that tumor of colors that won’t stop growing.

I went by last night to see it for myself, expecting at least an impressive architectonic job or a concept similar to the idea of the Bikini Berlin. Instead, I was overwhelmed by an atmosphere of mediocrity. Is this it? Another non-place that comes at the price of aesthetics and public city life?

I don’t mind supporting big urban projects that promise jobs, even if I don’t personally agree with them. I don’t mind if the city changes. But this is macabre. Potsdamer Platz has always been inhabitable, but now it’s also an insult to anyone who expected the government to face the future with sensible projects. People are trusting that they will have a home and a neighborhood. The Mall of Berlin is the latest attempt of destroying that hope. How far can we go with the spatial harakiri?

So what: another mall in the most commercialized district of Berlin. It’s not as terrible as Alexa, the realm of shades and demons, my personal hell, and a symbol of proper urban desperation. Mall of Berlin has not even opened, and already the main investor of the Mall has gone broke. The city didn’t take away the operating license, because it’s going to be a disaster if this project really fails. But hasn’t it already?

Ironically, the plan is to expand the Mall by 2015 and keep building; until then, the facades will be plastered with exorbitant adverts that are supposed to hide the sheer ugliness. But then, nobody actually expects the mall to close down. It’s happened before during the construction and it’s bound to happen again: another investor will come around and buy the whole thing off to a cheaper price and continue. Borrowed money is just sunk into the real estate vortex, again and again.

So who is this mall for? Certainly not the customers, who can easily walk 500 meters right into the next revolving door at Potsdamer Platz Arkaden and get their shopping going at the same stores and brands.

In front of the Mall of Berlin, East European workers are protesting because their wages haven’t been paid. They claim that the client – one or more of the many sub-contractors of the whole structure – has left them without homes after tearing down the containers and still refuses to pay the wages. Meanwhile, tourists and locals are flocking into the historical site of the building to get their Christmas presents.

The Berlin club commission (a loosely connected organization of clubs) is using the opportunity of media attention, after it was known that the investors have filed for bankruptcy: they made a joke offer to buy the Mall of Berlin for 1 Euro and transform it into a club landscape called “Hall of Berlin”. Why not? I can’t imagine that anybody believes these malls are a long-term investment. In the 2030s and ’40s the empty urban spaces will not be lively social places, but abandoned shopping centers.

When Blu covered his mural in Kreuzberg, people were grieving for Berlin. But Potsdamer Platz has been killed long ago. Perhaps, if Alexa is a symbol for the hell of consumerism and ugly German architecture, the Mall of Berlin is something else: it’s a symbol for the careless spatial practices of the city and their real estate collaborators. A project of this magnitude – the biggest mall of Berlin and of Germany, right in the city center, on the former iconic Wertheim property and historical site -, is never done out of stupidity, even if we laugh it off as such. It’s even worse when it’s failing. The sad truth is: of course all the parties involved know exactly that it’s projects like this, that, in the long run, cannibalize the unique attractiveness of Berlin. But it’s cheap to build, and it’s even cheaper to fail. Guess what: someone just got very rich, and it wasn’t you or me. And it wasn’t the retail employees who are on the verge of losing their new jobs again. And it certainly weren’t the Romanian workers who are still waiting to get paid.

Some hard facts:

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