Søren Lose’s site-specific installation explores the historical and cultural ramifications of a sculpture of an eagle that stood on top of the main building of Berlin's Tempelhof Airport from 1940 to 1962. It was sculpted by Walther E. Lemcke and designed by the architect Ernst Sagebiel, who, in 1935, was commissioned to build the new terminal building for the airport as part of “Germania,” a monumental plan to restructure Berlin under the direction of Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer.
The eagle sculpture stood 4.5 meters tall. Cast in iron, it was then painted and patinated to simulate bronze. Standing upright with open wings, the eagle looked left as it held a globe with a swastika in its claws. Several prototypes were produced in order to find the ideal form and placement, until it was decided to place the eagle sculpture at the head of the main building of Templehof, thus accentuating the rigorous symmetry of the architecture.
As with previous German governments, the eagle was the national emblem of the Third Reich. However, the eagle, also known as the Reichsadler, the imperial eagle, was deliberately used by Hitler as a propaganda tool and eagle sculptures as well as swastikas became mandatory on all public buildings. The eagle is an ancient symbol of power and victory, represented on the standards of Roman legions and adopted by numerous nations for their coat of arms. The design of the German Weimar eagle (later incorporated into the design of the contemporary German federal eagle) was used until 1935 when it was replaced by the eagle of the National Socialist Party, which was depicted in a more severe and aggressive style.
When Nazi Germany capitulated to the Allied Forces in 1945, the Russian troops planted their flag between the claws of the Templehof Eagle. Shortly thereafter, the airport was ceded to the United States Army according to the terms of the Yalta Agreement. However, the Americans did not remove the eagle from the rooftop, but simply transformed the sculpture into an iteration of their own national emblem, the American bald eagle, by covering the swastika with an American coat of arms and painting the head white.
In 1962 the eagle sculpture was finally removed. It was in a state of decay and new radar equipment had to be installed in its place. The head of the eagle was then removed and sent to the West Point Military Museum as a trophy, while the rest of the body was scrapped. As a symbolic gesture of German-American friendship, the head was returned to Berlin in 1985. The head was placed on a small, modest pedestal in front of the main building where it is still remains today.
Søren Lose’s site-specific installation features a mock up of the Tempelhof eagle in a state of deterioration. It shows a life-size fragment of the eagle sculpture, placed in accordance with its original position on the airport rooftop. Resembling a B-movie stage set, the styrofoam model is dramatically lit and supported by huge scaffolding. Squeezed in between the floor and ceiling of The Blue Room, the head and feet of the eagle are cut off, leaving a monstrous, amputated body that blocks the space. Deprived of its former aesthetic, original context and propaganda function, the eagle fragment turns into an absurd dystopian relic.
“Eagle” is a continuation of Søren Lose’s ongoing examination of the power and value of representational architecture and symbols, and their fundamental role in the formation of a cultural identity. The restaging of a historical anecdote addresses the interchangeability of cultural signs and their symbolic value as transitory historical and social constructs.
Lotte Møller, 2008.