DOPPELGÄNGERS – The Double Lives of Monuments
Esper Postma, 2022
They stood vast: the royal palace of the Prussian Kingdom, called the Berliner Schloss. Berlin’s own Temple of Solomon, sprung from God’s wisdom. They combined the forms of antiquity with a modern sense of awe. They had pillars like the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. Their friezes and windows were like those of the Palazzo Madama in Rome. They had the pilasters of the Palazzo di Conservatori in the same city. They combined all these masterworks, but were grander than any of their Italian counterparts. Yet they had a sophistication that made them decidedly Prussian. The decoration of their portals was luscious and dramatic, but their facades were rather stark, and in their size almost seemed austere.
They took pride in being the representative of the Kingdom. Each visit of a king, an emperor or an army general added to their feeling of importance. They loved facilitating political deals and setting the stage for historical decisions. They rejoiced in being the setting of the Africa Conference, at which European leaders divided the African continent amongst themselves. They were thrilled by the speech that Wilhelm II gave from the balcony to announce that his troops were marching into the Great War.
They embodied the values of the monarchy – Christianity, militarism and class society. But after the Great War, their merits became their ghosts. The time of great sovereigns who ruled in the name of God was over. There was no use for a splendid palace to legitimise a democratic government. Their ballrooms, dinner halls and concert rooms were invaded by civil organisations. Instead of housing an emperor, they came to facilitate the public. The Second World War brought a devastating blow. After the many air raids of Berlin, only their structure remained. For the government of the GDR, they were not worth saving. Their thick walls were blown up with dynamite. The Berliner Schloss was dead.
But their spirit never waned. They loomed beneath the surface, waiting for the political tide to turn. When the Berlin Wall came down, they saw their opportunity. They returned as their doppelgänger, more polished than ever before. Everything about them was new: their walls were smooth and clean; their decorations were fresh and spotless. They were the materialisation of an idealised memory, but built to last for the future. Resurrected in this new form, they also longed for redemption of their sins. The old palace had embraced a colonial power. Now, they wanted to do the opposite: to embrace the public and become a place for exchange, diversity and a multiplicity of voices.’ The best way to fulfil this ambition, they thought, was to become an anthropological museum. The Ethnological Museum and the Museum for Asian Art moved in. They called themselves: the Humboldt Forum.
Soon however, they realised that they could not simply shake off the past. Many people found it intolerable that they, a symbol of imperialism, were remade from scratch. What is more, hosting an anthropological museum did not give them the redemption that they hoped for. The objects from overseas did not become a token of a new inclusivity, but a confrontation with their past. Every day, they reminded them of their support of colonialism. The ghosts of colonialism now haunted them from inside.
How can we use the motif of the doppelgänger to deepen our understanding of monuments? Historical architecture, memorials and public statues can be the subject of heated debate. In these discussions, a monument is often stuck between two camps. One wants to preserve or even reconstruct the monument because it provides a sense of identity. The other wants the monument altered or destroyed so as to emancipate society from the old values that it represents. In this way, the discussions about monuments can deeply divide society.
But the meaning of a monument is not always set in stone. Initially, it is constructed with very clear intentions. But when it has to adjust to the spirit of the time, it can transform itself in ways that are irrational and contradictory. In its drive to survive, a monument seems to have a form of subjectivity: it has a will and an agency of its own.
This essay explores the irrational aspects of monuments. It will do so by reversing the usual perspective: instead of looking at the monument through the eyes of society, it will look at society through the eyes of the monument. In investing monuments with human qualities, this essay will use a motif that explores the depths of human psychology: the motif of the doppelgänger.
Monuments can have different kinds of doppelgängers. In Germany, doppelgängers of Prussian buildings that have been long gone are appearing. These buildings, such as the Berliner Schloss of the prologue, were damaged during the Second World War and subsequently torn down under the government of the GDR. Other examples are: the Stadtschloss and the Garnisonkirche in Potsdam.
In Italy, doubles can be seen in the form of fascist buildings and statues. In buildings, the most obvious fascist symbols have been removed, so that they can acquire a different function; public statues have sometimes been altered so that they could stand for something other than fascism. These monuments have thus become their own alter egos.
The absence on the pedestal now conjures up memories of when it was present, thus leaving it yet again between being and non-being, a ghostly figure that still haunts Baltimore.
(Marcos Bisticas-Cocoves, Harold D. Morales, ‘Confederate monuments and the art of the Uprising: a hauntology of Baltimore’)
Just like the Berliner Schloss, the confederate statue in the quote above kept looming under the surface after its removal. The ‘ghostly figure’ in this description seems to be a person in its own right: a doppelgänger of sorts. The term doppelgänger (literally double-goer) was first coined by the novelist Jean Paul in 1796. But the principle of a double, or alter ego, has played a role in many different cultures throughout history. In his study of the doppelgänger motif, Otto Rank has traced it to the ancient belief in the eternal soul. Pagan beliefs, folk tales and religious myths fathom the human soul in double images, such as shadows and mirror reflections. In many pagan cultures, the shadow is seen as the manifestation of one’s soul, evinced by the fact that the same word is used for shadow, spirit and soul. Therefore, a dead person has no shadow: the soul has moved away, but lives on. Rank concluded that the belief in this form of a double ‘energetically denies the power of death’.
Where the double in pagan myth is a symbol of the immortal, in modern culture it has become, as Sigmund Freud called it, ‘the ghastly harbinger of death’. Romantic and Gothic novels use it as a tool to describe the complex psychology of people in an age of modernisation. The doppelgänger is usually the manifestation of a repressed side of the self in the form of another person, a double who looks exactly like the protagonist. These narratives show an early understanding of the existence of an unconscious side to human psychology. The doppelgänger thus often represents an uncontrollable part of the self that can ruthlessly interfere with daily life.
Literature used the doppelgänger as a metaphor for aspects of human psychology that were not yet systematically described. This only started with the invention of psychoanalysis. In his article The Uncanny, Freud describes how the doppelgänger of literature can be understood by the psychoanalyst. Human psychology, according to Freud, is split between the ego and our ‘con-science’ (what he would later call the super-ego). This separate ‘faculty’ observes and criticises the ego:
The fact that a faculty of this kind exists, which is able to treat the rest of the ego like an object—the fact, that is, that man is capable of self-observation—renders it possible to invest the old idea of a “double” with a new meaning
Freud saw a double in each of us.
he was almost saddened by the reflection of ruin that time brought on beautiful and wonderful things. He, at any rate, had escaped that
(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)
Through their resurrection as a doppelgänger, the Berliner Schloss wanted to escape death and at the same time find redemption for their sins. The Humboldt Forum had to represent their young, indestructible self who have learned from their mistakes in early life.
In Romantic literature, the doppelgänger often has a similar function. The double can be used by the protagonist to escape from the present situation and reach beyond current existence. In Jean Paul’s novel Siebenkäs, the protagonist, whom the book was named after, is plagued by financial problems and an unhappy marriage. His friend Leibgeber, who looks exactly like himself, suggests that Siebenkäs should fake his own death and then assume his identity in order to start a new life. In The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, the doppelgänger takes the form not of a person, but of an image. Dorian is a handsome adolescent who has his picture painted. Marvelling at his own beauty in the portrait he is overcome by melancholy at the transient nature of his looks. He wishes that he could stay young for ever, and that his picture would age in his place: ‘I would give my soul for that!’ The wish miraculously comes true. Dorian keeps his good looks, but becomes so narcissistic that he destroys the life of anyone who crosses his path. Meanwhile, his appearance in the picture becomes increasingly disfigured, visualising the degradation of his soul. The picture becomes an obsession to Dorian. At first, he is fascinated with ‘the most magical of all mirrors’, that has to ‘bear the burden that should have been his own.’ Later, it becomes the object of his guilt and self-loathing.
The Humboldt Forum is in a similar predicament. Their effort to escape death and to be rejuvenated was an act of narcissism. In doing so, they continue to be confronted with the stains on their soul. Just as the conscience of Dorian finds a manifestation in his picture, the conscience of the Humboldt Forum is manifested in the form of the anthropological collection. The objects force them to engage in a constant negotiation between their progressive ambitions for inclusivity and their colonial legacy.
GENIUS OF FASCISM SPORT
Divided in my being more than ever, I became ambiguous to myself
(E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Devil’s Elixir)
This is how the Genius of Fascism felt when their environment changed after the Second World War. The Genius of Fascism was a towering bronze statue of a young Roman male making the fascist salute. They were standing in the EUR: a new district in Rome that was built as a showpiece of fascist urban planning. Surrounded by rationalist palaces, with their rigid arches and columns, the Genius felt at home.
But after the Second World War, their surroundings turned hostile: the neighbourhood came to include the offices of the new democratic government. Faced with rejection for their fascist appearance, the Genius needed to protect themselves: they needed to become their own double. In order to change their identity, they started wearing cesti: ancient Roman boxing gloves. From then on, they bore the name Genius of Sport.
Changing their identity to a boxer saved the Genius from destruction. But in repressing their violent drives, they simply displayed them in a different way. Roman boxing was an extremely violent sport. The cestus was made of metal: instead of softening the punch, it increased its impact. Under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, boxing was given a new impetus. The regime saw the sport as a tool for creating strong citizens who would be ready for war. It was therefore intensely encouraged among the population.
Instead of emancipating themselves from their ghosts, the Genius kept on conjuring them up. They continued to show their fascist nature. Freud called this behaviour ‘repetition compulsion’. He observed that his patients tended to repeat traumatic experiences that they had repressed and forgotten. Instead of remembering the experience, they would unconsciously act it out in the present.
Freud wondered why his patients were not instinctively avoiding the pain of reliving their traumas. He concluded that people not only had an instinct to stay alive, but also had a drive towards death. The death drive, according to Freud, manifested itself in destructive behaviour towards the outside world. But it could also be turned inwards. If the Genius were Freud’s patient, Freud would have recognised their struggle between the life drive and the death drive. On the one hand, the Genius adopted the identity of a boxer as a way of avoiding death. But in doing so, they remained clearly fascist, entailing a very high risk that they will fall victim to cancel culture in the future.
The Genius of Fascism was made to propagate the strength of the regime and thereby win the support of the people. Memorials, public statues and monumental buildings are made to unify society under the prevalent ideology. They also project this ideology into the future: monuments are made for eternity. However, no ideology lives for ever. Monuments usually outlive the status quo that they sprung from. When they do, they no longer unify public opinion: they fracture it. When the construction of the Humboldt Forum was completed in 2021, the decision to rebuilt it – made by the Bundestag in 2002 – already seemed to belong to a different era. A few years before its opening, the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak and the decolonisation of public space was high on the public agenda. In this context, the construction of the Humboldt Forum looked like an absurdity.
When the political circumstances change, a monument needs to renegotiate its identity in order to avert death. A monument is never ‘completed’ any more than a person is; like a person it needs to adapt to its circumstances. Attributing human qualities to a monument is a way of exploring the complexities of this struggle to survive.
The doppelgänger motif was invented to reflect on the contradictions in human psychology and behaviour. By describing a monument as the protagonist of a Gothic novel, its story is filled with passion, wonder and magical events. It emphasises the qualities of cultural heritage that are hard to explain, that are hard to account for by reason alone. Treating a monument like a patient under psychoanalysis rather stresses its depth and its underlying motives. It explores how layered the appearance and the history of a monument really is.
Society constantly reviews its monuments. But what would a monument see if they were to look back at society? They would see that they are the subject of constant reconsideration: whether they should be preserved, altered or demolished. They would feel loved by one person, hated by another, but treated indifferently by most. They would see every generation trying to make a mark on the landscape in accordance with its convictions. They would recognise tidal waves in these movements. The ghosts that have been cast off by one generation return in the next. They would realise that, even if they were destroyed, they would not necessarily be dead.
 Peter Stephan, ‘Barockarchitektur und Rhetorik: Das Berliner Schloss‘ in Handbuch Rhetorik der Bildenden Künste, Wolfgang Brassat, Bamberg, 2017, p. 544.
 Quote from the website of the Humboldt Forum: https://www.humboldtforum.org/en/about/
 Joshua Arturs, ‘Fascism as “heritage” in contemporary Italy’ in Italy Today, Routledge, New York, 2010, p. 123.
 Marcos Bisticas-Cocoves, Harold D. Morales, ‘Confederate monuments and the art of the Uprising: a hauntology of Baltimore’, in The Routledge Handbook of Religion and Cities, New York, 2021, p. 338.
 Otto Rank (1914), The Double. A Psychoanalytic Study, tr. and ed. Harry Tucker Jr., University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1971, p. 84.
 Sigmund Freud (1919), The Uncanny, Pengiun Books, London, 2003, p. 142.
 Oscar Wilde (1891), The Picture of Dorian Gray, Alma Classics, London, 2008, p. 126.
 E.T.A. Hoffmann (1815), Die Elixiere des Teufels, Anaconda Verlag, Cologne, 2018.
 Eleonora Belloni, The Birth of the sport nation: sports and mass media in Fascist Italy, Aloma/ revistaaloma.net, 2014, p. 60.
 Sigmund Freud (1914), Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through, in Volume 12 of Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud series, Hogarth Press, London, 1950, p. 151.
 Sigmund Freud (1920), Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in Volume 18 of Standard Edition, Hogarth Press, London, 1955.