Hito Steyerl b. 1966
The Empty Centre (1998)
16mm, 62min, color
Potsdamer Platz is a square in the centre of Berlin, Germany.
Before WWII, it used to be the centre of the city, the centre of it ́s power. Then it became an deadly minefield, enclosed between the borders of the Cold War. In 1989, the Berlin Wall comes down. The area between the walls, the empty margins of the border, is open. Now, the centre returns.
After German reunification, Potsdam Square is rebuilt by transnational companies. In the same process, people are shoved out to the outskirts of the city. They are marginalized by the recentering of Germany ́s political and economic power. "The Empty Center" closely follows the processes of urban restructuring that have taken place in the center of Berlin for the last eight years. In 1990, squatters proclaim a socialist republic on the death strip. Eight years later, the new headquarters of Mercedes Benz arise in the same location.
The film makes use of slow superimpositions to uncover the architectonic and political changes of the last eight years. It focusses on Potsdam square to discover traces of global power shifts, and the simultaneous dismantling and reconstruction of borders.
At the same time, it traces back the history of ostracism and exclusion, especially against immigrants and minorities, which always have served to define the notion of a powerful national center. After the recent German elections, a new chancellor boasts to represent the "New Center" of public opinion. The film nevertheless strives to highlight the perspective of those who are still excluded from public representation and to give them a voice and a history.
"It is not so much crossing boundaries as frontiers as it is the partial disappearance, dissolution or repositioning of the boundaries themselves. It is the shifting of the boundaries as you try to cross them... Now you begin to see that we are also talking about the fragmentation of boundaries; the partial breakdown, renegotiation, repositioning of boundaries, about the appearance of new boundaries which cut across the old ones." Stuart Hall