The Staatsbibliothek (State Library) as Heterotopia
On the Creative Potential of Hans Scharoun’s Reading Landscape
According to Michel Foucault’s assessment, numerous counter-places charged with cultural attributions of meaning exist in every civilization: “actually realized utopias in which the real places within culture are simultaneously represented, contested, and turned over, places outside of all places, in a sense, even though they can actually be located. As these places are quite different from all the places they reflect or speak of, I call them, in contrast to utopias, the heterotopias.”
Foucault counts libraries, not least, among such localized utopias. The fact that the qualification as a heterotopian counter-place applies to Hans Scharoun’s Staatsbibliothek (State Library) may also be due to the iconic reading room scene in Wim Wenders’ “Der Himmel über Berlin” (“The Sky over Berlin”), as he succeeds in translating the fluidity, the cultural surplus of this space into a poetic visual language. In that sequence, the angels Damiel and Cassiel walk through the reading landscape – accompanied by an incessant murmuring, the source of which remains unclear: Are the thoughts of those present becoming audible here, or does this sound continuum originate from the spines of the books on the shelf, which transmit the contents of the works placed within them into the room?
Yet it is probably precisely the co-presence, invoked by Wim Wenders, not only of those absent, but also of the thoughts crystallized in book form, that makes the heterotopic reading room of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) a creative milieu – after all, important scholarly as well as fiction works – by Judith Schalansky, Eva Menasse, Stefanie de Velasco, Ann Cotten and others – are predominantly created in the reading room of the Staatsbibliothek (State Library).
„This building is a miracle!“ – Ausruf des italienischen Architekten Renzo Piano, als er am 6. Mai 2006 das Haus Potsdamer Straße der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin besuchte und von Generaldirektorin Barbara Schneider-Kempf durch das Gebäude geführt wurde.