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!
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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.

Volkskunst

When I first saw this from a distance, I thought it was a bit of colourful graffiti. On closer inspection, it revealed itself to be an uncharacteristically psychedelic GDR-era ceramic mosaic (although it actually looks like a frieze). The 70s Eastern bloc folk-artsy rendering and utopian iconography ( jolly peasants, smiling sun, nature and mankind as one – all popular motifs in GDR public art), gave it away. The gasp, old, wall was also a clue. I did a bit of internet research and found out that the mosaic is entitled ‘Völkerfreundschaft” (friendship between nations) and is the work of East German artists Carola and Joachim Buhlmann. It was completed in 1979.

The mosaic is located on Potsdam’s Wall am Kiez, sandwiched between lots of late 80s Plattenbauten and the picturesque Neustädter Havelbucht (a little bay by the River Havel), not far from Ulrich Müther’s wonderful ‘Seerose’ cafe.

I can’t establish whether this is the frieze’s original colour scheme or not (it’s clearly been (badly) repainted since 1989). I’ve certainly never seen such a bonkers combination used in any other East German figurative art. But maybe I haven’t seen enough?

You can see other examples of Frau Buhlmann’s work on Kunst am Bau‘s amazing flickr site (which documents pratically every ‘architectonic/ ‘baugebundene’ GDR art work in the former East!!!) here. And you can see her famous ‘Green Family’ in Potsdam here.

Old school

This beaut can be found on the facade of the deceptively grand-sounding Villa Murkelmeier nursery school in Sebastianstrasse 22. It’s located amongst the peculiar mish-mash of overgrown plots, luxury flats and council houses which characterises the Mitte/Kreuzberg border. The Berlin wall stood directly behind the building. The Villa is a former creche built in the 1960s. It’s been miraculously renovated from the inside, thus sparing the exterior from destruction. Hurrah!

P.S Apologies for ropey pic quality.South facin’ guv.Will prob go back and try to get some better ones.

Brick by brick


It’s not a very exotic example of GDR design, but it’s interesting looking, and that’s reason enough for this wall to be included here. I like the fact that instead of simply piling the bricks ontop of each other, whoever designed it decided to arrange thems with gaps, making it less monolithic and more decorative. It’s just a wall behind a railway station, and they didn’t have to do it. But they did. You’ll find it on the time-capsule-esque Lichtenberg street mentioned in the post below.


Flower Power


I found these flower-shaped bricks on the entrance to a building in the  GDR-tastic Buchbergerstrasse (formerly Eckertstrasse/Oberweg) Lichtenberg. I can’t find any information about who designed them, but have seen the same design on other buildings.

The building dates from the 1980s and now home to the ‘Berlin Rockhaus’, which rents out rehearsal rooms to musicians. The interior was partially renovated in 2000, but a look at the Rockhaus website suggests that it still has a strong whiff of GDR about it. It’s probably worth checking out, as is the street, an industrial estate which backs onto Bahnhof Lichtenberg. It looks like it’s remained largely untouched (unsullied!) by developers since the Wende. My kind of place, then!



Animal Magic!

I stumbled upon this amazing mural in the Gesamtkunstwerk that is Tierpark Zoo in Friedrichsfelde. The zoo has featured rather heavily in this blog, due to the abundance of fabulous East German design within its walls.

This mural decorates the wall of a small pavilion/shelter & easily overlooked if you’re not looking out for it. I’ve been unable to dig out any provenance info, but am going to check out a book about art in the Tierpark by its one time director Heinrich Dathe, which may provide some insight into its origins.
These pics, taken on a dingy day, without a flash and in a hurry, don’t really do the mural justice, so it’s worth going to check it out ‘in the flesh’. It’s especially worth visiting Tierpark now, as its magnificent wildcat house Alfred Brehm Haus (built 1956-1963) is set to undergo ‘environmentally-friendly’ renovation, which despite the fact that the Haus is protected, will invariably mean the loss of some of its original features.