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!

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

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.

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.

Children of the Revolution

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.