Schwedt ready!

2014-01-04 13.46.49This post comes to you from Schwedt Oder. For non-German readers: it’s a town situated in north-east Brandenburg (Uckermark) on the Polish border. It was largely destroyed in WW2, and subsequently became a hub of industry. It’s still home to a major paper manufacturers and an oil refinery (an oil pipeline from the USSR ended there). In the 1960s and 70s,  the incoming workers needed housing and so a lot was built in the town during this period. Despite the dominance of GDR-era structures, Schwedt isn’t the mine of untouched East German public art that I had expected. Many of the buildings have been repainted in a defiantly un-GDR colours: pale yellows, pinks, oranges, purples and terracotas. But the upside of the town’s redecoration is its slightly toytown-esque feel, which makes it a jollier place to visit than many other towns in the former East. The downside is that you have to look a bit harder than usual to find things (apart from the very obvious GDR murals, more of these to follow) – my companion and I spent much of the day wandering around fairly nondescript housing estates, hoping that we’d suddenly be confronted by some amazing mosaic. Which we were, a couple of times.

The metal sculptures pictured below can be found on the sides of the lowrise Plattenbauten inside the Julian Machlewski Ring.  As usual, I have no provenance info (this has to change!!!), so what follows is just some speculation, rather than useful facts about the art. Given the context, I think we can, however, assume that these sculptures make reference to local industry or more general East German/Socialist achievements and ideals. 2014-01-04 13.46.56This one contains a classic East German symbol- the dove- representing peace – coupled with a very schematised flower. Nice and utopian. Maybe the flower could refer to something local? 2014-01-04 13.47.022014-01-04 13.36.33I assume this microscope with an eye relates to science of some sort (you wouldn’t know I have a degree in art history, would you?). It’s got a very nice 1960s sci-fi aesthetic. Looks like it could belong to some sinister global corporation.

2014-01-04 13.36.37 2014-01-04 13.36.182014-01-04 12.43.56This one is some kind of reference to the processing of dairy and corn/wheat products, I assume?

2014-01-04 12.43.37 2014-01-04 12.53.16 2014-01-04 12.52.43And this snake resembles the kind of thing that’s normally found outside pharmacies, which mean it has something to do with medicine/the pharmaceutical industry.2014-01-04 13.32.41

Yes, it’s a globe and compass, symbols which I’d traditionally associate with Urania, the Greek muse and patron of astronomy. But I’d also associate them with navigation. But what they mean in this context is a mystery. And the (cyrillic?) lettering inside a book? Anyone? 2014-01-04 13.32.32

 PS Thanks to Carsten for suggesting I visit Schwedt!

Pool’s Gold

IMG_7270This metal sculpture decorates the exterior of the Brauhausberg swimming pool in Potsdam, which is located near the main station. I’d like to have got a picture of the whole thing, but it’s half obscured by an evergreen.  So you’ll have to make do with bits of it & the (almost) seasonal tree next to it.IMG_7269

IMG_7284

IMG_7271

In typical ‘GDR Design’ tradition, I know the name of neither the architect nor the artist behind the sculpture. But I do know that the building, which boasts a rather lovely curved roof, dates back to 1971. It was a bit of a prestige object, built to mark the 20th anniversary of the GDR, with everyone from schoolkids to the NVA pitching in during the construction. The pool was used primarily by local swimming clubs and in triathlons, but also occasionally played host to Olympic level events.

IMG_7279The pool is in bad condition (and was apparently riddled with structural flaws from the outset). It has been partly renovated since the Wende, but now seems to have been deliberately left to fall into disrepair, a bit like the Fachhochschule Potsdam which is situated just down the road. The company that owns the pool, Potsdam Stadtwerk GmbH was initially planning on renovating it, but instead, locals have voted for a new one, which will be constructed at the foot of the hill. The building opposite – former restaurant ‘Minsk’-  is perhaps more famous. A lot has been written about it already, so I won’t talk much about it except show you one of the surviving bits of mosaic on the side that caught my eye. The building’s future is unclear.

IMG_7280

IMG_7281But back to the pool: it’s due to be demolished when the new one is finished. Construction is supposed to begin in 2014, which means it’ll be around for a couple more years at most. Maybe I’ll manage to get a picture of the whole sculpture before then….
IMG_7288

GDR design on RBB!

Video

GDR design, or rather me and my rubbish camera (plus Joel, my Radio Spätkauf partner) feature in an RBB documentary, which was broadcast last night! If you can understand German, check it out!

And, after an incredibly long hiatus, here are some squirrels to celebrate! I saw them on the gate at the entrance to this place, which I returned to yesterday, ca. two years after  first discovering it! Although it thankfully hasn’t been removed, the mural is now in disrepair – it’s covered in damp patches & the paint is peeling off, plus some smart alec has decided to leave bright red tags all over it. The building inside the grounds looks amazing – 1950s, neo-classical Stalinist style architecture, a bit like the stuff you get in the backstreets of Eisenhüttenstadt- and I’m going to see if I can get in and photograph it….
2013-07-27 13.19.11 Squirrels 2013-07-27 13.19.28

Fence for the memories

I spotted this fence in a suburb of Potsdam called Pirschheide, which is very close to Lake Templin. This is a standard GDR-era fence design, which crops up all over the former East. I particularly liked this one because of its colour (no doubt a post-Wende addition) and context, a dilapiated square flanked by 60s/70s-era bars and shops. The square’s centrepiece is a striking building that I initially mistook for a cinema. A bit of research revealed that this is actually Potsdam’s former main station (1961-1993) and that the square was a pretty bustling place a few decades ago. After the Wende, however, most trains were re-routed to what is now Potsdam’s main station, and only one level of the Pirschheide station now remains in operation. There are plans to increase traffic through the station once again, and any attempt to modernise the station will inevitably be accompanied by a demolition/renovation frenzy, which means the GDR structures may not be long for this world. Which I think lends this odd space a sort of transient, romantic appeal.  I digress….

Potsdam Pirschheide Station – Potsdam’s main station in the GDR era

The Art of Falling Apart

In very timely fashion, I saw this mosaic on a wall adjoining the Olympia Stützpunkt (‘Olympic Base’, badly translated), whilst out walking by Lake Templin in Potsdam a few weeks ago.  Formerly a training centre for top GDR sportspeople, the Stützpunkt continues to serve as a hothouse for elite rowers/swimmers/etc, as well as sporting soldiers. As you might expect from its name, the OSP has produced a number Olympic champions.

The mosaic is pretty amateurish (not to mention chaotic) for a GDR-era public artwork, which means it probably wasn’t an official, state-sanctioned commission. In fact, I’ve no proof that it’s actually East German, but am assuming that it is, based on the fact that the mosaic is a. in a state of disrepair, b. attached to a wall, which by local standards, qualifies as ancient (i.e. it’s more than two decades old), and c. located on a site located in the former East. Decrepit + old (but not too old) + situated in the former East = East German.  It’s a simple equasion I have applied to many an artwork round these parts, when I can’t find any information about them. Nothing like a bit of dilettante art history, eh?

I’m guessing that the man depicted in the terracota frieze is someone from German sporting history, like the father of gymnastics Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (although he, ahem, ‘sported’ a curly beard). I think he’s unlikely to be Marx, due to his balding pate and straight locks. Anyway, this man’s identity, as well as the origins of the artwork will probably forever remain a mystery to me, since I can’t find any information about them anywhere. My questions at the centre were met by shrugged shoulders and bafflement as to why I would be interested in finding out the provenance of a crumbling old East German mosaic.

Dach in the day

This building is located in the grounds of Schloss Schmerwitz, a crumbling landhaus and former home of the Zentrale Schule für Kampfgruppen (ZSKG) Ernst Thälman, near Wiesenburg, Fläming. The Schule was a paramilitary organisation which trained ordinary working SED party members in the art of modern warfare during their lunch breaks or after work. A bit like a hardline socialist version of the UK’s Territorial Army. I assume this building also belonged to the ZSKG because it’s located directly opposite the Schloss. Much of the complex and its surroundings are now occupied by the Bildungszentrum Schloss Schmerwitz, a vocational training centre, and a retirement home. I wonder if any of the residents were students at the military school?

I’ve already featured one of these waved-shaped roofs –  known as the ‘VT-Falte’  orVT Faltendach‘  – in another post.  I liked the contrast between the dilapidated country manor, with its elaborate, picturesque garden and the once ultra-modern GDR structures.

I took a peek behind the gaps in the net curtains (see below) and was glad to see a fully intact GDR-era interior, complete with fake wood panelling and 1960s chairs as well some fantastic fixtures and fittings. Next time I’m there, I’ll try to get inside to take some pics. The hall’s location (in the grounds of a stately home and surrounded by a lot of abandoned buildings) means it’s very vulnerable to demolition. As Prussia 2.0 continues to throw off the yoke of Communism, nothing is safe. Well, architecturally-speaking at least.

Here’s Schloss Schmerwitz in its full glory, incase you’re curious…

And here’s a link to a cyclist’s account of his trip to the area in 1990, after the fall of the Wall, but before the GDR was dissolved. The translation isn’t brilliant, but the text still makes for fascinating and entertaining reading. The pictures are great, too.

Through the looking glass

These coloured glass tile windows are ten a penny in Brandenburg, but every time I see one I wish I had a house in the country/dacha/local community centre with one on the side. The example above is from a house in Schlamau, and the larger wall window pictured underneath is from a building in a complex of largely abandoned GDR buildings in Schmerwitz. I’ve included more images of the building and the surroundings in the next post.