In addition to the many treatments of the specific urban history and situation of Berlin, some exhibitions also addressed the urban in general. “How do cities differ? How have cities changed in the course of their recent history? How will cities develop in the near and distant futures?”1 These are all questions that preoccupy the makers of exhibitions. The general tenor is that “A liveable city is neither idyll nor paradise […] A liveable city is not without conflicts but it must be in a position to enable disputes to be settled without violence.”2

Photography plays a special role in the exploration of a city and the documentation of the changes taking place within it: “Photography means more than just conserving the past, it must visualise the losses in the city in order to give remembrance a solid frame. Its basic tone is of reserved melancholy; its alertness is accompanied by scepticism. But its steadfast resistance to forgetfulness would be helpful in better coming to terms with the major and minor changes of the coming years.”3
In the three-part series Stadtfotografien (Berlin von außen, 1987; Stadtfotografie, 1989; Fotografie für die Stadt, 1990), Berlin at the time of the collapse of communism was at the centre of the debate. The exhibition Über die großen Städte. Fotografien aus Tokio, Moskau, Berlin, Paris, London, New York, which was shown in 1993 in the Akademiegalerie im Marstall Berlin, explored “the complex spectrum of topics ranging from urban development, changes, problem areas and Utopias of big cities using historic and contemporary series of photographs”4, whereby it aimed to facilitate hitherto unknown perspectives on the city and avoid common clichés.

Also in three parts was the series of exhibitions Vom Umgang mit Veränderung. Zeitgenössische Fotografie (1995), which attempted to chart the upheaval in Berlin around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “The central topic of the first part was the reciprocal influence of a city and its inhabitants.”5 Its starting point was the observation that social conditions, the human being’s environment and humankind itself are all changing at a rapid pace. It took a close look at this transformation of the city, its upheavals and changes. However, in his critique of the exhibition, Martin Eberle lamented the fact that the uniquely isolated situation of the formerly walled city remained unpleasantly manifest.6

The exhibition Learning from. Städte von Welt, Phantasmen der Zivilgesellschaft, informelle Organisation (2003) adopted a more global perspective. It addressed “urban realities beyond the European city ideal, with its image of public order and bourgeois civic life.”7 Doro Wiese emphasised as one of the major strengths of the exhibition, which was accompanied by a catalogue, a series of events and a symposium, that it demonstrated “how inventive and effective economic structures are when they form outside the control of state powers.”8 The exhibition Self Made Urbanism Rome. Informal Common Grounds of a Metropolitan Area* (2013) developed a similarly specific view of informally established and self-organised urban landscapes, structures it traced using Rome as an example.

How do urban topographies develop and change? What strategies of territorial containment and exclusion emerge? What role do social practices and urban actors play? These and other issues related to current challenges to and in big cities were addressed by the expansive exhibition project ISLANDS+GHETTOS. Über territoriale Segregation in Städten des 21. Jahrhunderts (2009), which was developed in co-operation with the Heidelberger Kunstverein. As examples of urban phenomena of exclusion and the contrast between slum districts and wealthy residential areas, the cities of Dubai and Caracas were examined. “The project emerged from the conviction that constellations of social polarisation and spatial fragmentation are also to be found in European agglomerations such as Berlin and will continuously grow.”9

The Urban Cultures of Global Prayers (2010–2014) was also conceived as a research project. Over the course of several years and using a range of formats, the exhibition took a closer look at the observation that new religious movements are playing an increasingly important role in cities: “They change the urban topography, they assume economic and political roles and often take the place of the state – across all world religions and religious movements. At the same time, urban cultures are permeated by new religious practices such as Islamic Hip-Hop or Christian Nollywood films.”10 The research project Licht, Luft, Scheiße (2018/19), for its part, addresses urban development from a social-ecological point of view and gathers together historical documents on the construction of social residential buildings, urban gardens aimed at achieving self-sufficiency, and concepts of cyclical waste management.

Anna-Lena Wenzel and Irene Hilden, 2015, revised 2019

  1. Cremer-Schacht, Dorothea und Dieter Lange: Vorwort, in: Über die großen Städte, NGBK, Berlin 1993, S. 8. 

  2. Roloff-Momin, Ulrich: Kultur einer lebendigen Stadt, in: Vom Umgang mit Veränderung – Zeitgenössische Fotografie, NGBK, Berlin 1995. 

  3. Ullmann, Gerhard: Zwischen Aufbruch und Abbruch. Innovationsschübe in Berlin, in: Über die großen Städte, NGBK, Berlin 1993, S. 181. 

  4. Pressemitteilung, NGBK 1993. 

  5. Pressemitteilung, NGBK 1995. 

  6. Engele, Martin: In Berlin nichts Neues, in: Fotografie und Medienkunst, Nr. 7, Oktober 1995. 

  7. AG Learning from: Klappentext, in: Learning from. Städte von Welt, Phantasmen der Zivilgesellschaft, informelle Organisation, NGBK, Berlin 2003. 

  8. Wiese, Doro: Eine andere Welt ist möglich. Drei gelungene Versuche, weltwirtschaftliche Strukturen zu analysieren, in: der Freitag, 23.01.2004. 

  9., Zugang vom 28.02.2020. 

  10., 28.02.2020.