Europe – Two ambitious placemaking projects are unfolding on a vast, long-term scale in unconventional cultural landscapes: a disused military park outside Amsterdam and an abandoned amusement park in East Berlin. Both are recent ruins of collapsed political systems, “forbidden zones” whose past uses are still visible, and whose futures are being explored by teams of artists, planners, architects, and officials as sites for public art, cultural reclamation, and other events.
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The Vijfhuizen Fort was built in the late nineteenth century as part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam. Dozens of armed forts ringing the city were designed so the surrounding land could be flooded if enemies invaded. No fighting ever occurred, however, and in 1996 the military complex was made a Unesco World Heritage site. In 2008, the site reopened as the 20-acre Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen (Art Fortress at Vijfhuizen), intended for “peaceful cultural reuse” as a contemporary arts center with a sculpture park and massive concrete casemates used for exhibit spaces and studios. “The fortress is a kind of time tunnel back to the future,” director Holger Nickisch wrote me, adding that they’ve recently discovered two secret bunkers.
Kunstfort has organized many exhibits that explore its unique site. Beginning in spring 2013, “water and landscape” will be the exhibition theme. “Most of [Holland is] below sea level, which is a constant threat, especially in the future with the rising of the sea level,” says Nickisch. The fort is also a designated Dutch “green” site, where trees are being planted to offset their destruction elsewhere. (Wendover AFB, anyone?)
The Kulturpark Plänterwald amusement park, located in Berlin’s Treptow Park forest, was built by communist East German authorities in 1969, a site of Soviet-era leisure. After the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years later, it was privatized and reborn as Spreepark, but dwindling attendance led to the park’s closure in 2001. And there it sat, its plastic dinosaurs, pirate ship, and UFO-shaped Futuro House fenced off and reclaimed by feral nature, visited mainly by urban adventurers. In 2007, on a trip to Berlin, George Scheer and Stephanie Sherman, directors of Elsewhere in North Carolina (see story on page 34), “rediscovered” the park. Soon, aided by a grant from the Art Matters Foundation and abetted by curators Anthony Spinello and Agustina Woodgate as well as partners Dieta Sixt and Christina Lanzl, the Kulturpark research project was launched.
In June 2012, the group invited 20 Berlin-based artists to create site-specific works inspired by the park’s attractions (a Ferris wheel light show, etc.). That was followed by a 10-day “think tank” in which dozens of participants from the United States and Germany investigated and discussed the site’s artistic, architectural, and environmental possibilities. The park is still family-owned and mired in debt, and it’s uncertain when—or how—it will reopen, according to Scheer.