Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll

Botschaften | Embassy Embassy

Embassy Embassy explores forms of representation and national identity, embodied in the sites and archives of the former Iraq and Australia embassies in East Berlin. The identical architectures and their connecting symbolism lead her to fragments and experiences of a shared and divided history. For the installation at the House of World Cultures in 2014 I continued my investigations into these sites, making my archives accessible and giving them voice through interviews and re-enactments.

Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2014


Homebase Project V Berlin, 2010

“I’m not entering
as a diplomat,
I’m stalking.”
For Tarkovski from Tschaikovskistr.


Embassy Embassy uses representations of local history to analyse post-unification society in East Berlin. I collected testimonies in interviews and then turned them into scripts. Those texts became the sound track for my performances, which were documented in video and installed during an exhibition at Homebase Berlin. The gallery attendant would lend a set of keys to the visitor-come-performing viewer. They were told that their expedition would take a couple of hours and on returning the keys they would be asked a few questions by me about what they found. 

Two versions of Embassy Embassy by Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll.

A map and audio guide was also given to participants and they could listen to the audio as they surveyed the installation. The audio guide was a clue to the kind of museum visit that was associated with exploring the former embassies. It was not the usual piece of museum technology but an Iraqi telephone with a sixties style Bakelite handle attached to a cord and plug that wouldn't fit in any socket today. I had pried open the mouthpiece that had slightly melted in a squatters fire and installed an mp3 and speaker inside, which played my voice responding to an interrogation at the embassy.

sound art, narrative, khadija, carroll, map, berlin, contemporary, history, DDR, GDR



Performance lectures have become a genre in contemporary art in the past years. In part they are self-conscious theatrical reading of the genre that has been going since antiquity, with the meta-level of fiction being more pronounced. In the script that follows I am playing the role of a student based on the materials from the Berlin neighbourhood of Pankow’s embassies to East Germany found during the research for this project. In the performance I speak from the mid-1980’s and answer only from that position the questions I receive from the audience.

"Invitation: Expedition to Pankow’s embassies
Saturday September 4th 2010, or by appointment, 3pm, Homebase Info Center. 20 people assemble. I loosely follow this script from memory, with many interruptions. 

     Hello, I am Khadija La and I have lived here for just over two years. Well, I have gone home in between, but this has been my new home since 1986. I came from the Middle East to East Germany to study engineering, because that is very good here. Today I will give you a tour of some of the innovations in construction that have been made here in the past 20 years.
     These buildings in Thule Street 48-64 have a history that spans the twentieth century. Originally the Engelhart brewery established by Ignatz Nacher, this was a German Jew's property that the Nazis seized in the late 1930's. With the pasteurization technique Nacher invented, beer was brewed here throughout the war, without pause until 1959.
We are standing near to the governmental center of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), this building was renamed after the counter-fascist Hans Baimler. A center for the Free German Youth organization (FDJ), it houses children up into their late twenties who are known to have "the good times of their youth" in the apartment rooms we now inhabit (Herr Mass, 2010). Hans Baimler is a place where the FDJ employees children can stay, and where young guest workers can live.  In 1972 it accommodated international guests for the World Games in Berlin that travelled here from allies such as Cuba and Russia (Bau Archiv fuer Bundesvermoegensamt).
      The local architectural and political history is marked by transitions. The street's name itself "Thule" has many resonances. Originally Thule was a fantasy, a utopia referred to in Ancient Greece as the most northern place that the Greeks sailed - to Germany. Hellenophilia in Germany seized this reference and in the 1920's the Thule-society turned this Nordic fascination into a proto-fascist party name. Only in the early 1950's however, when the socialist government sought to replace aristocratic titles, the former King Friedrich Street became Thule Street. Goethe's Faust famously includes a poem about the King of Thule holding onto his object of love. I have translated this for you into a history-poem about the Thule Kiez in Berlin Pankow. [While I speak I hand out a booklet I've made including maps annotated with local sites of interest, a photographic essay, and the mis-translation of Goethe's Koenig von Thule].
     Der Kiez is a northern German, especially Berliner, word for neighbourhood defined by social relation rather than political borders. It refers to that place where inhabitants have an urban infrastructure that is the self-sustained center of their lives. From the Slavic word chyza meaning hut or home, Kiez were historically the fishermans quarters close to the German castles in the Germania Slavica of the Middle Ages from the 7th to 10th centuries. We are walking along where a wall used to mark the edge of the city until Greater Berlin was included in 1920. The silent film studios that made the famous Dr. Caligari were located here, where rent was cheaper just outside the city.

DDR, architecture, FDJ, GDR, kiez, hyperbola shell,

This FDJ bus depot was designed in the late 1960's using Herbert Mueller's famous Hyperbola shell forms in concrete. The product of long research and development they went into production in the 1960's for large industrial, agricultural, and civic architecture that benefited from needing no columns. Termed HP, an acronym of Hyperbola cross-section, they are prefabricated shells for cheap and statically sound montage as roof or walls. As you see in this building the walls and roof are HP, giving a waved plasticity to both. The sculptural aesthetic was an important aspect for the East German design team, which had established a special division aside from the tower and slab housing designers. This division of architects was to focus on giving certain buildings, such as the embassies, a feature of sculptural design in precast concrete.2 They were able to experiment with industrial building technology and remain within the states demand for low cost building (Martin Pesch, 2006).
     The conditions for experimentation are exciting, we have a lot of freedom here - let me show you the embassy buildings as an example - here is Moldova, Cuba, Iraq, and Australia. You see that Moldova and Cuba look the same, and that Iraq and Australia are identical. This is because are two of the type buildings that have been designed for embassies to East Germany, depending on the amount of space needed, and whether the Ambassador will live in the same buildings or require a separate residence. Iraq and Australia have the largest type, IHB3, with 5000 square meters of property.
     Now that you have stepped inside the front gate you are in an extraterritorial no-mans land. The land belongs to East Germany and the building that the GDR built for the embassy is on a 99-year lease to the foreign nation.
     Please be aware that you are being watched. Especially since the arrest of the Iraq embassy's secretary Khalid Jaber and technician Hay-Ali Mahmoud in West Berlin on 1. August 1980. Allegedly caught handing a suitcase of explosives produced on site in the embassy they were carrying out an assassination "with best wishes from the Iraq President" Sadaam Hussain himself (Giyasettin Sayan, 2009). The same year the president Erich Honecker was invited to Baghdad to negotiate the four chemical specialists of the Nationale Volksarmee (National Army) to supervise an atomic, biologic, and chemical weapons facility outside Baghdad. 
     [I open the door and let the group wander inside]

khadija, carroll, zinnenburg, performance

Iraq was not surprisingly the first non-socialist country that acknowledged the GDR in 1969 as a sovereign state, engaged in diplomacy, and within 5 years it had an embassy built there. More suspicious to me was why Australia had the largest diplomatic mission of all countries to the GDR? The structure of the GDR's architectural offices explains how it came to have an identical building to that of Iraq, a fact that drove my first responses to the site.
When I later read the accounts that the first Australian ambassador wrote on arrival in the GDR, I could identify with the surprise he expressed at the grand metropolis (Diplomatic Post liaison files East Berlin Embassy A1838, 626/11/90 PART 2, National Archives of Australia). He describes walking down Unter den Linden and being swept up in the bustling promenade. Expecting a depressed Soviet quarter he narrates in detail what he sees and feels on finding himself in a lively and attractive place. As it turns out, Australia was not far behind Iraq, on 15 June 1973, Prime Minster Gough Witlam appointed Mr Francis Stuart to the position of Ambassador to the GDR. Australia did not yet have an embassy in Berlin, and Stuart was Ambassador in Poland at the time. John Tinney remembers this time, he managed Australia's first exhibit at the Leipzig Fair in 1974. He says that "diplomatic relations were very new - the Stasi kept close tabs on us" (Tinney, 2010). Only some of the files on this period in the National Archives in Canberra have been declassified so I am trying to find out who negotiated this embassy in Berlin and why. Was it the Australian policy preference for lip-service to ideology (i.e. nasty communists) but behind the scenes economic pragmatism looking for trade opportunities, or just dynasty politics inside the Canberra bureaucracy? (Michael Pusey, 2010). Tinney confirms that the hope for trade opportunities was a major element in Canberra's approach to the bilateral relationship. At the time companies could not easily do business with GDR organizations without their government having a national stand at Leipzig and a Soviet-style bilateral "mixed commission" of officials and business representatives who met every year or two. Making comparisons to Harry Seidler's embassy architecture and apartments in Paris Tinney explains it as "an era of grand Australian embassies initiated by the Whitlam government and completed well after its demise" (Personal Correspondance with John Tinney, 20/02/2011).
The end of my investigation into the legal status of the former Australian embassy coincided with its building coming onto the market for sale. As I watched employees' faces go blank during interviews with the current Australian Embassy in Berlin and chased archives through Berlin basements and emptied bins, I did not imagine arguing a case to a developer friend to buy the former embassy for just 600,000 Euros. Embassies will go diplomatically blank in passive denial of former policies, archives from East Germany are being destroyed because they are seen as worthless today, and developers are wiser in business than artists and will not buy asbestos riddled ruins.

Homebase V Berlin, installation, khadija, carroll, embassy, Iraq, art

The level of decay in these buildings and the cities economic depression (i.e. 18% unemployment and no industry to speak of aside from war and art tourism) underlies the fragmentedness of the city, which is also what keeps it open to squatters, artists and other fringe dwellers. That my studio had been empty since the unification of Germany in 1989 when the FDJ youth organization closed is not unusual. What is striking is the contrast of this abandoned space with the architectural structures of the former capital of the socialist government and its international embassies. "Pankow" I find out from my many neighbour-informants, was synonymous with the GDR government.
These neighbours of mine in Pankow that had been there over twenty-five years all ranged from ambivalent to hostile towards the unification with West Germany. What did we really gain, they wondered melancholically. In theory they could now travel wherever they wanted, something they had missed in the GDR. Yet they could not afford to travel now, a symptom of their exclusion from the economic wealth of Germany (Schultz, 2010). Their participation in capitalism has the kind of ambivalence that dooms every half-hearted attempt.
One of my participants, the elderly East German artist Helga Hoehne said, "I am interested in heavy history laden places. I expected to be surprised [by the Australian Embassy], to find something exotic. Afterwards I thought, a privileged place, internationally adapted to higher bureaucracy, even in the East. I had the feeling I didn't discover anything [...]". I heard this dulled feeling of loss often, also from participants like Arzu Bulut (a Turkish-German art producer), who expressed the melancholy associated to the passing of political power that is embodied in the embassies. The collection of discarded objects that I salvaged from the embassies and displayed in their semi-ruined state caused comment about how neglect of these sites evidenced that the whole of East German history was devalued.
On the other hand there was also a romantic decay perceived by many visitors, including the Canadian curator Melanie O'Brian and artist Antonia Hirsch. "It is so perfect, as if an artist made every bit of it," is a comment that adapts the Romantic argument about nature and artifice in artistic representation to the post-apocalyptic landscape of the Iraq embassy. "Yet you could never document or represent this place, not the way it is when you are here," was the conclusion they reached, thinking through the artistic urge to capture this scene that evoked a political history in a three dimensional totality that installation artists aspire to.

performance, khadija, carroll,

In a series of lectures about the abandoned diplomatic missions of the GDR with architectural historians Florian Urban and Martin Petsch I explored why the architecture of East German Modernism has claims of cultural heritage. I took the abandoned diplomatic missions as a case study under the title Botschaften, a term which means both messages and embassies in German. There were vast amounts of bureaucratic documents to read in the Iraq embassy because the staff had apparently left in a hurry and all their archive, library, and paperwork was still in the abandoned building. I collected dissertations by Iraqi engineering students, propaganda leaflets, and what should be classified embassy correspondence. I exhibited these in the gallery and let the audience draw their own conclusions about what events had taken place and why an intimate cross-section of a sensitive archive was accessible. Familiar German politicians names mixed with those of Iraqi diplomats in Berlin, evoking a recent history from the perspective of 2010. For at the same moment WikiLeaks was bringing classified government and corporate documents to public judgement over misconduct. The visitors read these official documents hung out for all to see with keener eyes because of the current WikiLeaks discourse. They thought of Julian Assange before associating the exhibition to the early conceptual artists that displayed documents like Joseph Beuys' public surveys.
The context in which the Embassy Embassy expeditions to the East German governmental center were made in 2010 helps explains the project's impact. When the Middle East Journal published an official statement from the Iraq Embassy in Germany stating that their former mission to the GDR in Pankow was secure, it was responding to the attention that the site received through these visits. There were media reports, neighbour's complaints, and police investigation. Because of the legal status of the property as still belonging to Iraq, because they never gave up the lease, the German police could not legally enter or enforce the law. This is symptomatic of the continuing transition between East Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany.
"War der Sinn meinen inneren Schweinehund ueberwinden zu muessen?" Florian Zappe, a critical theorist, asked me on return from the embassy (was the point of your art work that I had to overcome my innermost fear?) He explained that although he felt he had adopted something of Adorno's authoritarian personality, feeling the right to enter because he had the key, he was also afraid of what was inside.
I did not tell people which door the keys I gave them opened. Tanja Beyer, who works in the German foreign affairs department as an economic watchdog, said "it was an adventure to go all alone to the embassies, to look for the door in, to keep trying the key, that was exciting". The key, a simple object, in relation to a complex building, held a tension between permission and prohibition. The thrill Beyer experienced in seeing "the empty architecture reused" is a feature of how Berlin's political transitions in the twentieth century can now be experienced through the urban environment. Yet the stoic rebuilding and repurposing is also matched with a fear and ultimate identification with the authority of state beaurocracy. "We saw people walking their dogs and were too afraid to enter the Iraq embassy" Zappe admitted when I asked how he compared the experience of the Australian with the Iraqi embassy.

An Israeli artist Nati Shamia had an intensely personal response to the embassy site. She explained that her father, a Zionist, was held in an Iraq prison. "I could therefore never enter Iraq, as an Israeli." She prepared a tribute to her father, which involved a performance of pouring concrete around pairs of boots she wore on site, as symbolic of "rooting" herself to "the Iraq earth", in Berlin. Shamia's had none of the light touches that characterized the other responses by artists to the embassies. Several new performance and installation art works emerged, and are collected together on the website

The room of the exhibition represented an off-site embassy, and included a collection of material salvaged from the actual embassy buildings during the expeditions that preceded. Each time the collection was added to it was entered in an inventory based on the museum cataloguing system. For example:
2010.100 Drawing
Accession: Khadija
Description: imprints of the shoes of visitors to the Iraq embassy 2001-2009.
Inscriptions in Arabic
German filing paper card, pink.

2010.200 Photographic film
Accession: Khadija
Description: abstract visual code. Found in the Iraq Embassy. Date Unknown.

2010.300 Photographic Print
2010.301 Photographic Print
Accession: Khadija
Description: documentation of the listening station where the Americans spied on the East German communists in Berlin

1966.100 Pages
Accession: Khadija
Description: Leninist Theory ╨ 11 pages. Author Anonymous

2010.400 Photograph
Accession: Alex Schweder-collection
Description: Khadija giving tour of Embassies, September 4.

1937.100 Maps
Accession: Schulz-collection
Description: drawing of the Engelhart Brauerei by the National Socialists Party

2010.302 Photographic Print
Accession: Khadija
Description: ╥frohes jugend leben╙

1976.100 Maps
Accession: Bauministerium
Description: drawing of the kindergarten in Thulestr. 48-64

2010.500 Mosaic
Accession: Khadija

1976.200 Maps
Accession: Schulz-collection
Description: Drawing of the Hans Beimler Kinderwochenheim

2010.600 Photographs
Accession: Philine Sollmann-collection
Description: Khadija giving tour of Embassies, September 4.

1989.100 Document
Accession: Khadija
Description: Flight Information, costs listing

2010.100 Photographic Print
Accession: Khadija
Description: Twin tile designs in the Australian and Iraq Embassies

mosaic, islamic pattern, sphere, khadija, beuys,

It was the Mosaic (2010.500) that drew me in to these embassies to begin with. Together with the decorative features of tile designs and ceramics on the faìade, made by a highly regarded GDR artists (an official position that led to many state commissions annually). In the Iraq embassy the spherical design of the mosaic was representative of the wholeness of Allah. That it was the same circle design in the Australian embassy did not halt the dots from representing meeting places and water holes, the way they do in central dessert painting. Such slippage of a visual sign was significant to an Australian called Khadija (a most Arabic name).
The embassies were another case through which to explore the way nations represent themselves through a monumental image. Negotiated by the new authors that come with every political transition, the sites of Embassy Embassy are comparable with those of the Living Monument in Project 1. The performing viewers in this section delineate the bandwidth of residents in a post-unification German neighbourhood. The East Berliners that have remained in Pankow despite the influx of international people were the kinds of informants that I sought to turn into collaborators.

                              Link to further collaborations in Embassy Embassy