As promised, here are some images of Walter Womacka’s mural ‘Der Mensch dass Mass alle Dinge’ (Man, the measure of all things) being removed from the side of the Ministerium für Bauwesen in Breite Strasse last year.
The mural was mounted on the front of the building by Womacka and his students from the Kunsthochschule Weisensee (where he was rector) in 1968. It consisted of 350 copper panels covered in ceramic paint.
In summer 2010, Berlin city council announced that the building was due for demolition. It couldn’t find a home for Womacka’s mural (which is a whopping 15 x 6 metres) and was threatening to bin it, until WBM Mitte housing association stepped in at the last minute and agreed to cover the costs of removal and storage. It did so allegedly because Womacka had been one of its tenants since the mid-80s. WBM Mitte also owns the Haus des Lehrers on Alexanderplatz, which is decorated with Womacka’s iconic mosaic frieze, ‘Unsere Leben‘ (Our Life).
The mural was removed on 4th/5th October 2010. Each of the plates was taken off carefully and lowered down very unceremoniously in an Ikea bag. They were then packed into wooden crates. I expected an audience, but there was no one there, just me, a foreigner with a crap camera, snapping away. It was a bit of an undignified ending for the mural. However much of a stubborn old GDR apologist he was, I’m glad that Womacka didn’t live to see it happen.
The Womacka society had attached a series of posters to the surrounding fence, announcing the ‘Day of the Removal'(!) which included a biography and a list of his works already destroyed since the Wende, as well as the protected & endangered survivors. I was shocked to discover the relief on the Haus des Reisens on the list. No GDR era art, it seems, is safe, unless it’s already survived a renovation (see the mosaics on the Haus des Lehrers & Cafe Moskau).
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.