What a pratfall!
December 4, 2006 7:33 AM   Subscribe

The Berlin District Court has ruled that Deutsche Bahn must rebuild whole sections of the new Hauptbahnhof according to the architect's plans, setting a spectacular precedent. Berlin's new main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, cuts a solitary figure in the surrounding wasteland as it awaits an urban development that will complement its ambition, aesthetics and vast dimensions. But the verdict pronounced by the Berlin District Court on Tuesday November 28 has brutally nipped this development process in the bud. The judges ruled that the German rail company Deutsche Bahn has unlawfully violated the intellectual property rights of the station's architect, Meinhard von Gerkan. The rail company must rebuild the station according to the architect's plans. The station opened in May this year after a 13-year construction period.
posted by parmanparman (41 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite


They can't just pay him his fee and say, "Thanks, Meinhard von Gerkan [*juvenile snort*], but no thanks" and carry on with construction?
posted by pracowity at 7:43 AM on December 4, 2006

a) This is retarded, even by heavy-handed European standards.

b) Aren't all big trains stations a "Hauptbahnhof"? This one isn't "the" Hauptbahnhof, regardless of what the article says.
posted by GuyZero at 7:44 AM on December 4, 2006

GuyZero, everyone knows that Germany only has one train station. That's why this is such a big deal.

All those Germans are going to have to drive Volkswagens to work.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 7:47 AM on December 4, 2006

I know that there are intellectual property laws that allow artists to control their work after sale. For example, a sculptor could specify that a statue only be placed outdoors or something.

There's no equivalent right in the U.S, which is why this might seem strange.

(I think)
posted by delmoi at 7:47 AM on December 4, 2006

Is this a) a way to create jobs for the unemployed by giving construction workers jobs or b) something that's going to harm workers by delaying the building of stuff around the station ?
posted by rbs at 7:47 AM on December 4, 2006

a) Hauptbahnhof means central station (or main station). There can be only on per city. This one is "the" Berlin Hauptbahnohf (with the Berlin being left out, since the context makes it obvious.). Previously known as Lehrter (sp.?) Bahnhof

b) I know an architect who is going to have a lot of problems getting commissions from now on...
posted by bluefrog at 7:49 AM on December 4, 2006

b) Aren't all big trains stations a "Hauptbahnhof"? This one isn't "the" Hauptbahnhof, regardless of what the article says.

A German city or town has one Hauptbahnhof; the nearest American translation would be "Grand Central Station" — you only have one central train station, while you might have a few other large hubs (Zoo Garten, Friedrichstraße).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:50 AM on December 4, 2006

a) Why is everyone alphabetically bulleting their points? and b) Did I miss a memo or something?
posted by piratebowling at 7:54 AM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

At least now he won't have to go all Howard Roark on the place.
posted by datacenter refugee at 7:54 AM on December 4, 2006

Das darf doch nicht wahr sein! Hauptbahnhof just means main station. Sort of like Grand Central or just Central Station as opposed to Mercer or 23rd.
posted by chillmost at 7:56 AM on December 4, 2006

Did Howard Roark write an amicus brief?
posted by textilephile at 8:01 AM on December 4, 2006

Speaking as a Briton, this is excellent news! I hope this fiasco is as monumental as The Dome or Wembley Stadium, so we can feel less in awe of Teutonic efficiency. This can only be good for European harmony.
posted by nowonmai at 8:01 AM on December 4, 2006

a) see above
b) sorry, didn't get the memo, should have previewed.
posted by nowonmai at 8:02 AM on December 4, 2006

How long do these intellectual property rights hold for?

I mean, if you pay an architect to design a building for you and 10 years later you want an extension do you have to go back, cap in hand, and pay specifically him in order to get it done without infringing his legal rights?
posted by MuffinMan at 8:15 AM on December 4, 2006

I) Do the Germans not have a right of first sale doctrine?
a) How does theirs differ from those in the USA?
b) What limitations on design through copyright apply automatically there? Said another way, what uses must be restricted/granted in contract there, as opposed to the USA?
II) Work-for-hire questions
a) Do commissioned works count as works for hire in the USA?
b) Is there such a concept as work for hire there?
c) If so, do commissioned works fall into that category?
d) How does this affect, for example, programmers' rights to code over there?
posted by rbs at 8:17 AM on December 4, 2006

This is, ultimately, the result of a poorly written contract (remember kids, just because a lawyer wrote it doesn't mean it's a good idea to sign it), and ego/control issues between Mehdorn & Gerkan.

...they've been having a multi-year dick-size contest, and this is one of the results. Personally, were I someone important, I would draw the important lesson that neither Gerkan nor Mehdorn were people I wanted in my organization.
posted by aramaic at 8:29 AM on December 4, 2006

DB’s going to appeal, of course.

Come to think of it, the underground bits of the station don't work particularly well in the context of the whole design. But the whole still looks amazingly cool, and it made a really good impression on the millions of people that visited the city for the World Cup this summer.

(Now, if the city had a climate where looking out through the soaring expanses of glass didn't re-inforce that the sky is grey and dismal in this part of the world, it would be even better. But the World Cup fans thankfully came in summer.)
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 8:29 AM on December 4, 2006

It would be nice to live in a country where they actually built train stations at all.
posted by octothorpe at 8:35 AM on December 4, 2006

The only sane article I can find on this is here (in German):

The fact that Mehdorn judicially chains are put on now is because of the German copyright, which places the architect an artist (Google translation)

So it looks like a quirk of German copyright law more than anything else.

(I've just remembered I live with a German architect. I'll ask him about it)
posted by cillit bang at 8:36 AM on December 4, 2006

Well, this certainly takes specific performance to new heights.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:46 AM on December 4, 2006

a) If the architect designs something that is unworkable for whatever reason, the owner is not allowed to make changes without the permission of the architect?

b) What if the owner wants red instead of blue tiling on the floor? Does this require an approved change directly from the architect?

c) If the architect dies before final designs are approved, does the next of kin inherit the ability to accept changes?
posted by JJ86 at 9:09 AM on December 4, 2006

this is ridiculous. Almost as if it were the ruling of some unreasonable fascist dictator.

And let's see... it happened in.... Germany?

Nope. Can't think of a reference.

posted by drjimmy11 at 9:44 AM on December 4, 2006

This is fascinating. I'd love to find a german IP lawyer to comment on this. Anyone have one handy? :)

In particular, the suggestion from the article that the artist's intellectual property rights to the integrity of their work can be signed away is anathema to my understanding of how that works in European law; furthermore, if the artist's rights are so weak that they can be signed away at the time of contract, I'm not sure how they can simultaneously be so strong as to compel tens of millions of euros worth of reconstruction. C'mon. Somebody here has to know a German IP lawyer :)
posted by louie at 10:13 AM on December 4, 2006

this is ridiculous. Almost as if it were the ruling of some unreasonable fascist dictator.

In exactly which crappy fascist dictatorships do the artistic rights of a private citizen override the interests of the state-owned rail company?
posted by cillit bang at 10:18 AM on December 4, 2006

IANAL, but I do know a little bit about copyright -- and I think that the central issue here is "droit moral", which is extremely weak in the United States (another link) but stronger in Europe.
posted by cgs06 at 10:31 AM on December 4, 2006

Yay, I Todd Lokken'ed the thread.

As for "droit moral", we call it "moral right" in Canadian copyright law and it basically gives the author the right to keep the work intact and to have their name associated with it (if they so wish). The relevant item here is:

Moral Rights Infringement

28.1 Any act or omission that is contrary to any of the moral rights of the author of a work is, in the absence of consent by the author, an infringement of the moral rights.

Nature of right of integrity

28.2 (1) The author’s right to the integrity of a work is infringed only if the work is, to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of the author,

(a) distorted, mutilated or otherwise modified; or
(b) used in association with a product, service, cause or institution.

Where prejudice deemed

(2) In the case of a painting, sculpture or engraving, the prejudice referred to in subsection (1) shall be deemed to have occurred as a result of any distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work.

When work not distorted, etc.

(3) For the purposes of this section,
(a) a change in the location of a work, the physical means by which a work is exposed or the physical structure containing a work, or
(b) steps taken in good faith to restore or preserve the work

shall not, by that act alone, constitute a distortion, mutilation or other modification of the work.

Anyway, I assume German copyright law has a similar clause. So the issues would be: Did the architect waive his moral right as part of the contract? If not, an error on the part of DB. More important, are architectural plans given the same weight as a work of art in terms of protection of moral right? As an engineer, I can't assert my moral right to association with the work or prevent its modification (at least, not that I'm aware of). Is architecture art or engineering? Are the German courts really going to rule one way or another on that?
posted by GuyZero at 11:02 AM on December 4, 2006

Serves DB right. If they considered the costs of all their options and they concluded their choice, including the consequences, was simply the most cost effective and the most expedient, then they were just being assholes. If they didn't consider the cost of their options and just felt they were making the best decision for budget and schedule, then they were just cavalier. Given the scope of the project, the money involved, and the questionable legality, as evidenced by the court case and ruling, I can't imagine it not being the former scenario. And the fact that they went behind the original architect's back hints that they knew they were doing wrong. Either way, someone at DB screwed up.
posted by effwerd at 11:15 AM on December 4, 2006

The judges and architect should be forced to serve on the crew doing the actual work of rebuilding the station; during breaks they can apologize to the commuters their hubris has inconvenienced.
posted by languagehat at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2006

More copyright madness.
posted by mr. strange at 1:02 PM on December 4, 2006

There's no equivalent right in the U.S, which is why this might seem strange.

Well, it can exist contractually. Oldenburg donated one of his statues to a major university with the stipulation that it be installed in a specific spot and never moved. When the university failed on their end (moving the statue by just a couple of feet, if memory serves) Oldenburg showed up with a flatbed and hauled it away.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:04 PM on December 4, 2006

Yeah, 'moral rights' are the European stupidity equivalent of the US's Digital Rights Management laws, although at least they actually benefit the creator. Architects are considered artists under most copyright regimes that I'm aware of, and this moral right (not to have one's building design compromised) is actually quite a solid one in many European countries. I'm not sure if it's even possible to contract out of it.

If I was in charge at the rail company, I'd just demolish the whole thing and start again with a different architect. And a better lawyer.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2006

This is a fine idea on a smaller scale if it protects artists from being misrepresented; an artist's reputation is important. But on something this large and this important to the community, where the functionality of the place exceeds the artistic value, and where massive costs are limiting, this stuff just shouldn't count, just as property rights don't count when the government wants your land for a highway. Put a plaque on the wall explaining that the place doesn't represent the wonderful Von Gherkin vision, pay him off, and send him home. If that drove a few unpractical purists out of the architecture business, it probably wouldn't be a great loss.
posted by pracowity at 2:09 PM on December 4, 2006

I've never heard of such a thing--i'm torn about it--once an architect sells his work and design don't they know it'll change during the process? And what does it mean for architects who submit unbuildable/impractical designs? (see Hadid, for example)
posted by amberglow at 3:01 PM on December 4, 2006

I haven't been in the subterranean parts of the Hauptbahnhof, but the rest of the station is gorgeous. It's incredible how clean and silent the station is, and the multi-tiered platforms are beyond elegant.
posted by krunk at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2006

I was just there three days ago. Agreed, the above-ground parts are amazing. To this American's eyes, anyway; from a land where "train station" with very few exceptions means "bus station, but longer, in a worse neighborhood, and abandoned".

Kind of regretting not having gone down to the north-south platforms now, to see what all the fuss is about.
posted by Vetinari at 4:17 PM on December 4, 2006

The whole deal is more Randian than anything — a version of The Fountainhead made more retarded by it's reality.
posted by blasdelf at 8:53 PM on December 4, 2006

While I heard recently that Berlin has an exception to laws governing store hours, in most German cities, only shops at the hauptbahnhof or airport are allowed open on Sundays. This makes the train station even more important than might otherwise be the case. Probably also helps keep a good selection of shops and eateries open, too.

This thing over the design though seems absurd. I would think this would ultimiately increase unemployment amongst archetects. A reason to use designs from dead archetects, or otherwise public domain designs.
posted by Goofyy at 9:58 PM on December 4, 2006

I would think this would ultimiately increase unemployment amongst archetects. A reason to use designs from dead archetects, or otherwise public domain designs.

In general, I doubt people are going to want to build with the more expensive materials of yesteryear. And you'll usually still need a real live architect to adapt the plans to your new location.
posted by grouse at 2:26 AM on December 5, 2006

it's so interesting--the arts that require other people for the art to actually be "performed" or executed--architects, composers, choreographers, playwrights, etc--you would think they realize that there's an essential process (editing? refining?) that occurs with the executors/performers, no?
posted by amberglow at 11:30 AM on December 5, 2006

you would think they realize that there's an essential process (editing? refining?) that occurs with the executors/performers, no?

Not if your ego is big and solid enough. He is the great artist and the rest are just bean counters and civil engineers and pedestrians. He spent ages sweating over that design, many hours just on the bits they want to throw away, and now they say they can't afford to do what they agreed they would do. It's his name that will forever be attached to the design, not the bean counters who want to trim the essential details.

So I think I see his point, if I imagine it from his point of view. But I still think something akin to eminent domain should trump his artistic statement. The station must be finished and it cannot be stopped just because they don't have the money to fully realize his design. Just put a disclaimer on a cheap plaque that the architect can point to when someone blames him for the wrecked design.
posted by pracowity at 11:57 PM on December 5, 2006

I totally see his point too, but what good is his design if it can't reasonably be built? He should have kept it as a work on paper. If he wants to see it executed he has to give a little (within reason)--ego or not--all architects do, unless they only work for themselves. The court decision is total overkill, given the problem. I can't think of one recent urban piece of architecture that hasn't had to be adjusted for one reason or another--whether it's cost or zoning or materials or security or whatever.
posted by amberglow at 4:02 PM on December 6, 2006

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