Life is stronger than the wall: Transcending urban architectural divides
by Brian McATEER for Shared Future News
21 June 2017
This showing of the film, Wings of Desire, was the third part of the series “Walled Cities”, which looked at cities in conflict divided by walls — the West Bank, Belfast, and Berlin (where this film takes place). The event was organised by the CACity (Cinema and Architecture in the City) research group, which exists to bring academics and general audiences together to discuss situations in Belfast and similar cities.
The 1987 film, directed by Wim Wenders, was preceded by a tribute to the groundbreaking 1963 documentary by David Perlov, In Jerusalem. Afterwards, Dr Gul Kacmaz Erk (Lecturer in Architecture at Queen’s University Belfast), introduced Wings of Desire.
This film depicts Berlin before the fall of its wall, watched over by two angels whose roles are to observe, record events, and to descend and provide comfort to those living there. They are able to ‘hear’ people’s thoughts. One of the angels falls in love with a circus girl he has been watching and decides to become human so he can be with her.
Dr Erk opened the post-screening discussion, focusing on the role of fictional film in the representation of political conflict in contemporary urban societies. She began with a quotation from Wenders:
“I have Berlin representing the world. I know of no other place with a stronger claim. Berlin is divided, like our world, like our time, like man and woman, young and old, rich and poor, like all our experience — the sky is the only thing that unites these two cities. With a common past but not necessarily a shared future.”
Dr Erk commented on how the angels being ageless and eternal emphasised to her how limited we are when we all have many urban walls around us, but that the angels’ ability to hear the consciousness of everybody is stronger than any wall. Referring back to Perlov’s film, she drew parallels between the Jerusalem wall and peace walls in Belfast, where the wall itself becomes an object. In Belfast the wall has become an object of tourism, but the scars of the past and pain still remain. What Perlov’s film tries to do is make the wall tangible – and he destabilises the difference between ‘us’ and the ‘other’. The difference between politics and architectural representation is the same as that between a wall “and what people can do, what film can do, what emotions can do, what views can do”, she said.
Guest speaker, Liat Savin Ben Shoshan (Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem), commented on how the place of the architect is to always communicate between the view from above and the view from the street and the consciousness of the people and life in the city. Architects have a bird’s eye view — the way we design, but the street level is just as important, or even more important. Referring to the Jerusalem wall, she described the difficulties faced by the local people: “Life there is terrible, but it is stronger than the wall. It’s always stronger than the wall.”