Pae White Flies High In Berlin

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The Magic Carpet 2012, Pae White
The Magic Carpet 2012, Pae White; photo by Bennett Stein (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

As the capital of a reunited Germany, Berlin’s population is surging each year, and every weekend also attracts thousands of partying members of the so-called “Easy Jet set” – Europeans bouncing around the continent on low-budget flights.

So it needed a new airport.

Leading German terminus architects gmp (von Gerkan, Marg and Partners) were hired and the city set to work building the Brandenburg Berlin Airport.

Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt was due to open back in 2012, but ran into a welter of technical and planning problems that have caused years of delays, resignations of local officials, and prompted one Berlin businessman we met to say that “there is a level of embarrassment that in Germany something like this can happen. . . we don’t always do everything perfectly right but we have not failed before on such a large scale. . .”

Brandenburg airport

While in Berlin, DnA got the chance to visit the airport. We were eager to check out the public artwork there by LA artist Pae White – whose “ΣLAX,” artwork for the Bradley Terminal was unveiled this past weekend.

Apart from a few workers, the main terminal was completely empty, so we wandered through its silent hallways with the odd feeling of being in a contemporary ruin. But it was a very elegant ruin.

The airport has aroused so much negative publicity in Berlin that we hadn’t been prepared to be so impressed by the building itself –a glass-walled, light-filled hall with with marble floors and check-in counters clad in local woods – an understated, rectilinear, classic modern ensemble that seemed to be channeling Berlin architectural patriarchs Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Mies Van Der Rohe.

View back through window of Brandenburg

And flying above us at the entrance was Pae’s vast “THE Magic Carpet 2012,” a flapping, filigreed, wave of vivid red cut metal the size of half a football field and fluttering through the space in freeform contrast to the solidity and cool understatement of the airport.

White had entered the competition — conducted entirely in German – not expecting to win, so she submitted “something I’d just been thinking about, ”an “open line drawing of very detailed Persian rug,” and won. A Frankfurt-based fabricator “cracked the code on how to make possible” her concept for an elaborate “carpet” of painted, paper-thin metal.

THE Magic Carpet

It was a rare experience to see an airport completely devoid of life – next time, after it opens on its now projected date of 2019, the building and its artwork will likely be competing with a blizzard of advertising and signage for attention.

While Brandenburg awaits completion, the crowds are flying into Berlin-Tegel, also designed by gmp, and nearby Schönefeld Airport. Meanwhile, Berlin’s most famous airport Tempelhof, has gone through its own transformation – into a people’s park.

Tempelhof, described by eminent architect Lord Norman Foster as “the mother of all modern airports,” was built at the advent of flight in the early 1920s, then became a pivotal place in Hitler’s dream of Germania, and later, when the city was divided into sectors, was the site of the Berlin Airlift.

Skateboarders now whizz along its runways and locals picnic on the grassy planes; and KCRW attended an “Independence Party” there on Friday evening, (July 3, not 4). Its hefty servings of American burgers, beverages and patriotism were a surreal reminder of the evolving America-Berlin connection — and the role played in that relationship played by flight.

TEmpelhof fireworks