University of Szczecin / Uniwersytet Szczeciński, Dept. of History,
Conference venue: Tallinn City Archive, public opening session with keynote address in the Old Town Hall (Vana Raekoda)
In particular, the destructions caused by the Second World War in Europe have led to intense professional and public debates on how to interpret the results of those devastations as well as on guidelines for the reconstruction of historic city centers. Such discussions emerged already immediately after the destruction and were partly related to previous concepts and debates. At the same time, these debates often became long-lasting discourses to date and have even gained intensity in recent years, not least due to the fact that solutions from the first phase of reconstruction after 1945 are now increasingly questioned (and partly even demolished). Debates in Germany after 1989, if not earlier, over the reconstruction of buildings and urban structures that had been destroyed during the Second World War reveal that such strategies are by no means limited to Poland or the Soviet Union.1 Rather may one detect parallel international approaches of how to deal with historic city centers, which are – generally speaking – marked by a tension between conservation and renewal. Whereas in the first decades after 1945 modernizing solutions prevailed, on may state that during the past 30 years concepts of a historicizing appropriation have become increasingly important.
These debates have not only been shaped by professional arguments – of architects, city planners or monument preservation –, but were always accompanied also by societal discourses. Their impact was particularly strong when the reconstruction went along with social, national, economic, and political upheaval, as was the case in many parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Besides, the second great wave of radical change connected to the end of the state socialist systems has also had an impact on how to treat the historic city centers: Apart from the – sometimes hardly regulated – penetration of capitalism one has to mention – often publicly funded – reconstruction projects, in which local and partly national identity strategies play an important role. Against this background the question of the relationship between general and specific development factors deserves special attention. The planned conference shall discuss social, aesthetic and political foundations and implications of these developments from 1945 to the recent past with regard to examples from the Baltic Sea region. These issues have so far been discussed mainly for individual cities, and in national contexts, whereas comparative considerations have been presented so far only to a small extent. Thus, the conference shall focus on case studies in order to contribute to a comparison of concepts, discourses and realizations. Of particular interest will be strategies concerning historical topographies between societal appropriation on the one hand and their disregard as being outdated or alien on the other hand. Besides, it will be asked whether one may recognize patterns of argumentation in the single discourses that transcend national and block boundaries, such as the role of architects or conservators. Such a regional focus on North Eastern Europe, i.e. the Baltic Sea region including Germany and Russia, has proved to be highly fruitful already in previous conferences on the history and culture in the European North East held in the Tallinn City Archives from 1995 to 2007, since it does not refer only to supposedly clear-cut historical units (the three Baltic states, Northern Europe, Poland, Russia, etc.), but rather focuses on the dense history of mutual relations and entanglements.
Besides, the conference will not be confined to the historical and art historical significance of the topic. It will be also related to current discussions as urban planning in historic city centers is always connected to judgments about historic structures. Against this background the conference "Between Reconstruction and Modernization: Public Debates about Historic City Centers in the 20th and 21th Centuries” will be supported by the City of Tallinn as part of the program of Tallinn as European Capital of Culture in 2011.
The conference will consist of four sections:
• Legacies and appropriations. Public debates on historic city centers
• Modern redesigns of historic city centers
• Reconstructions and the return of historic topographies
• (Re-)constructing nations
The conference is directed to experts in the fields of urban history: (architecture and art) historians as well as experts in cultural and social studies.
Conference languages will be German and English. As with the previous conferences on history and culture in North Eastern Europe, a public event with a keynote address on the first day will be part of the conference program. A publication of selected conference papers is planned.