- Networked Remembrance: Excavating Buried Memories in the Railways beneath London and Berlin by Samuel Merrill, and: Cultural Topographies of the New Berlin eds. by Karin Bauer and Jennifer Ruth Hosek
Berlin's landscapes have long fascinated scholars and artists. Both Samuel Merrill's monograph Networked Remembrance: Excavating Buried Memories in the Railways beneath London and Berlin and Cultural Topographies of the New Berlin, a textured and multifaceted volume edited by Karin Bauer and Jennifer Ruth Hosek, uncover stories from the city's topographical underworld. These stories are linked by their recourse to the prefix "sub"—meaning under or beneath. For Merrill, the "sub" evokes the literal "subterranean," and for Bauer and Hosek, the "sub" signals metaphorical "subcultures." In both instances, once extracted, that which was below the line of typical visibility gets polished, branded, and sold to Berliners, visitors, and investors. Both works bring valuable critical insight to a lively field of interdisciplinary scholarship on Berlin and urban studies more broadly.
In his monograph, Merrill outlines an understanding of "networked remembrance" where palimpsestic "physical networks" and "rhizomatic" nodes of significations coalesce into a morphology of mnemonic practices (38–40). Drawing on Lefebvre, these networks underpin the "physical, representational, and experiential" landscapes of urban quotidian life (31). Merrill's subject matter necessitated both an innovative structure and a mixed methodological approach that includes archival work, field surveys, discourse analysis, ethnographic methods, and interviews. After contextualizing its main argument within a constellation of intersecting academic disciplines (e.g., geography, urban studies, urban planning, and memory studies), Networked Remembrance gracefully moves back and forth between its two empirical poles, Berlin and London. Merrill avoids the temptation to contort the material into clean-cut comparisons. Instead, he suggests that his sites are in conversation with one another, a claim that is supported through his archival work, and crystallized by his first-person approach that he describes as "working across and beneath" (51–55). While the chapters on cartographies/toponymies, memory work/memorials, and ruins/ [End Page 662] vestiges primarily focus on one city, Merrill includes a complementary "reflection" on the other city, which causes the work of reading to analogously occupy the space in between Berlin and London.
Merrill's analyses highlight the ways in which deliberate choices made by transport authorities, governing bodies, and designers shape political and cultural sensibilities. He presents a compelling case for how maps of underground systems and station names structure public understandings of space and history. He gives the examples of Helen Scalway's Travelling Blind (1996), where the artist asked passengers to "draw the Underground map from memory" (81), and Larissa Fassler's Everywhere I Remember Having Been (2009), comprised of a hand-drawn and unmarked map of Berlin's transit system, to convey different but complementary responses to the epistemological gaps between the literal underground network and how it is imagined. For London, the Underground map imposes order on the chaotic above-the-ground relationships between places and times. For Berlin, the map sets a definitive layer of names and histories upon a churning palimpsest.
The book's most compelling line of argumentation traces expressions of the neoliberal co-option of urban underworlds. Merrill describes the sanitization of various difficult memories through controlled commemorative practices (e.g., location, materiality, and cordoning off of memorials), the reification and commodification of underground spaces through tourism, and the repurposing of disused stations for commercial or creative ends. To illustrate, he gives detailed readings of London's Aldwych station and Berlin's unfinished U10 line. These quotidian networks of remembrance are profitable because they partially constitute the brands of their respective cities, feature pathways of tourism, and offer opportunities for development. While the book is thoroughly researched and is rich in references and images, many of the works cited are signaled rather than unpacked—particularly in the first two chapters...