“Greetings from Beirut.” This is how Laura Simak began an email to the editors of “TU intern”. She reported on an extraordinary summer semester spent in the Lebanese capital. She wrote about the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the catastrophic explosion in the port area of Beirut, which destroyed large parts of the city at the start of August 2020, as well as her master’s thesis in urban planning, supervised by Professor Dr. Angela Million, managing director of the Institute for Urban and Regional Planning at TU Berlin and Professor Robert Saliba of the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut.
“Perhaps my experiences of living in the once divided German capital and working on my project entitled ‘Borderline City’ at TU Berlin helped me prepare for the situation in Beirut,” she explains. Her interest in tourism and urban planning took her to the culturally and religiously diverse city of Beirut at the start of 2020 - a divided city also ravaged by civil war. Since then, she has witnessed far reaching events, beginning with massive protests against the government, followed by the economic and financial collapse brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and culminating in the explosion in the port which laid waste to large sections of the city.
It wasn’t just Simak’s mobility that was now restricted; she also had to put her research on hold from one day to the next. Her master’s thesis now became a thoughtful travel report with alternative methods for the critical analysis of modern cities as well as details of the extraordinary changes and political, planning and urban design interventions taking place. Simak was uninjured. However: “The blast wave shattered windows and destroyed doors in a radius of 11 kilometers. When I arrived at the site of the explosion the next morning, I was confronted with a horrific scene: destroyed buildings, streets covered with glass shards and overturned cars, blood everywhere.” Her professor was also lying in hospital having sustained injuries. “I am pleased to say he is better now,” she says.
Laura Simak has written a compelling essay about recent dramatic events in Beirut, which also provides a brief overview of the reconstruction and development of the city center (Beirut Central District) after the war.