Capital under Construction


Since the fall of the Wall in 1989, German unification in 1990, and the 1991 decision to move the seat of government from Bonn to Berlin, the city has undertaken a transformation occurring on both a material and a symbolic level. This article explores the specific role of historical argumentation within this process. Considering the specific context of Berlin during the 1990s, the author pleads for a double perspective on the politics of history. On the one hand, it plays an important role in the context of an emerging symbolic economy, which is connected closely to an evermore globalized world. On the other hand, it is a strategy used for the construction and representation of group identities. Referring to specific sites in Berlin, this article attempts to describe the complex and contradictory forces which come to the fore while exploring the very logic that historical argumentation and there construction of old buildings have. The debate on the Schloßplatz in Berlin sheds light on how historical ideas and the construction of commemoration sites enable different social groups to construe a political self, a social and a local identity, and allow the establishment of a sense of being a Berliner and an emotional connection with one’s place of residence. At the same time the debate provides a “symbolic space” in which issues of national identity and concepts of Germanness can be discussed. But the question must be raised as to who takes part in these discussions.

How to Cite

Binder, B., (2001) “Capital under Construction”, Ethnologia Europaea 31(2), 19-40. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Beate Binder (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)



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