hidden europe 42

Choreographing opinion

by Nicky Gardner


Did Prince Grigor Potemkin really try to fool Catherine the Great into thinking that life in Russia's Black Sea region was rosier than it really was? We think the idea of Potemkin villages is probably a myth, and that Prince Potemkin was guilty of doing no more than what PR agencies do every day - nudging opinion towards a favourable interpretion of reality. It's a fact of modern life, as common in Stockholm and Strasbourg as it is in Sochi.

The peculiar decision of the Berlin city authorities to pull down the former parliament building of the German Democratic Republic and replace it with a replica of the Hohenzollern’s former city centre palace is a fine example of a Potemkin village: the facade may be baroque, oozing centuries of German history, but the interior will be an all mod con affair. More widely across Europe, a new wave of imaginative frescography has brought fake beaches into city streets far from any sea. Disneyesque castles and mock mediaeval scenes can be superimposed on the walls of tired townscapes.

Governments and civic authorities of all political persuasions have relied on cunning trompe l'oeil to fool the unwitting outsider.

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