This post was originally written for the Automattic Design Blog.
Earlier this year my wife Gemma and I took a short trip to Berlin. It is a place we have always wanted to visit and it didn’t disappoint. It is a city full of history, interesting architecture and most importantly, great food!
Walking back to our hotel one evening, we discovered a building that stood out to us. It was a huge, abandoned and had ‘Stop Wars’ painted in red across the front. The lettering was the height of two floors and spanned the width of one end of the building. A fairly impressive piece of graffiti on an even more impressive building.
It seemed odd that such a huge structure had been left to decay in what is a fairly central and busy part of the city. If this was London, it would be have been re-developed into flats and restaurants long ago.
We got a little closer and made our way into the central courtyard to see if we could find a way to photograph or see inside. We took a few steps into the courtyard and realised we were already being followed. Not knowing the area we scuttled back the main road and continued to walk along the entire length of the building, it went on forever.
Back at the hotel and on a stable Internet connection, we started researching this mysterious, bleak and intriguing lump of concrete. It turns out we had discovered Haus der Statistik, the former statistics-gathering HQ of the German Democratic Republic. The top search result was a blog called Abandoned Berlin. It is a fascinating site that explores the history of forgotten landmarks in and around Berlin. It has some beautiful photos of these forgotten buildings — including photos inside of Haus der Statistik that we didn’t manage to snap ourselves:
Haus der Statistik finished construction in 1970 and the top three floors were allocated for use by the Stasi. When unified Germany took over the building, the Stasi archives were made available to the German people. It would have been interesting to see what information may have been gathered about you by people never met. The archives were all moved out of the building in 1995 and the building was eventually abandoned in 2008. Looking at historical photos it is fascinating to see how the building changes and responds to the environment around it. Now it sits empty and is rather beautiful in a strange sort of way.
Unfortunately we discovered the Abandoned Berlin site just a little too late into our trip which meant we didn’t get to investigate more of the places that Ciaran has written about. Gemma surprised me with the Abandoned Berlin book for my birthday (who says blogging doesn’t pay?!) and I have since been browsing through more of these fascinating landmarks and stories.
Reading through the book it got me thinking about the things we build and leave behind. In the digital space there is no real concept of decay, change or imperfection. Everything is binary, it either exists or it doesn’t. We have very little interest in preserving the things we make and all too often they simply disappear.
You may have heard of the Japense saying ‘Wabi-Sabi’ which roughly translates to:
…the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
There are very few objects in life that become more beautiful as they wear and age. From time to time you will find something and I like to think Haus der Statistik is one of them. I have yet to find anything digital that displays these same unique qualities. I’d like to find it. I would like to leave behind something that lasts.