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.
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.
After an inexcusably long break, I’m back! This is a mural which is located above the entrance to Paliluga nursery school on Palisadenstrasse in Friedrichshain. Although Paliluga’s website doesn’t contain any info about the building’s history, the architecture is unmistakably East German, so I think it’s safe to assume the rather retro-looking mural is too. I couldn’t get very close to it because the gates were locked, so once again, apologies for slightly ropey pic quality.
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.
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!
An exhibition documenting the work of Kunst am Bau, a GDR artists’ collective, opens in Dresden this Saturday. KaB worked on many of the large scale urban developments in East Germany and shaped public art across the country . Formed in 1958, the group consisted of painters,architects, graphic designers, and ceramists. They produced around 2,500 works in Dresden, Halle, Leipzig & Berlin, including mosaics, murals, sculptures, fountains, molded walls (including the distinctive rippled walls), structural walls & playground features.
Despite being dependent on state patronage and approval, the group didn’t really subscribe to the official Socialist Realist style & embraced more radical styles such as abstraction and cubism. The work was space-age, utopian and pretty outlandish. Have a look at the elephant pictured below, built from prefabricated components:
The group was dissolved in 1990.
In years following the Wende, many of their works were destroyed and/or fell into disrepair.
The KiB exhibition brings together some of the KiBs surviving works, removed from their original architectonic contexts, photos of the ones which didn’t survive, as well as documents relating to the state commissions, and reflects the renewed interest in the once discredited visual culture of the GDR.
The exhibition is in their former studios in southern Dresden and runs til the 25. Sept.
This very striking wall and its ceramic sculptures are located in a very undignified position between two takeaways, a portaloo and a Plus supermarket in Schillingstrasse, Mitte. I can’t find any info about it anywhere. It’s pretty mad, radical design, even by East German standards. Schillingstrasse seems to have been a showcase for GDR design, with Cafe Moskau & Kino International at its northern end, this in the middle, and some great mosaics on the buildings at its southern end (see next post). This wall isn’t protected so unless the Denkmalschutz people get on the case, it may disappear – a lot of the surrounding area is still distinctly post-communist (see Berolinastrasse) and thus cheap, but also very central, making it prime demolition/redevelopment territory.
This glorious monolith is the DDR Ministerium für Bauwesen (Building Ministry) and was designed by architect Rolf Göpfert in 1967/68.
The structure has some great cheeky little bits of deco, like the diamond shapes on the cornices.
Until the end of last year, the building’s facade also boasted a huge, colourful enamel Walter Womacka frieze (see post for info), which has now been removed. Thankfully, it’s in safe hands. After developers threatened to bin the frieze unless someone took it off their hands, the decidedly left-leaning WBM housing association kindly stepped in and bought it (can you imagine a London housing association doing the same thing???). I’m hoping it’ll pop up on some other facade in Berlin soon.
I always wanted to get into this building, which seems to have been empty for a while. The faded net curtains and photo of Walter Ulbricht in the front window certainly had me chomping at the bit, wondering what other pre-Wende joys might be discovered inside. I finally managed it, but it took Walter Womacka dying in order for it to happen.
After his death, the Walter Womacka association announced it would hold a commemorative film evening in the building’s lobby, which for me, felt a bit like Christmas had come early.
The building was cold, a bit damp and smelt very musty. I wanted to imagine that what I was smelling was an authentic whiff of GDR, and that we were the first people to enter the building since it had been vacated in the early 90s, although I know we weren’t. But even if it hadn’t been hermetically sealed since the collapse of communism, the lobby certainly felt ‘authentic’ – I swear there wasn’t one item of furniture in there which didn’t pre-date 1984.
Sadly, I didn’t manage to explore the rest of the building, as I was half of the audience and thought the organiser might notice if I dashed off to carbon date bits of furniture.
I regret not having at least asked to have a peek round now, because the Ministry is now being gutted. Agh. Will post some pics soon, if I can bear to photograph the carnage.