I’ve taken my time, but I’ve finally managed to post some pics of the demolition of the GDR’s Building Ministry/Ministerium für Bauwesen. For an idea of how the building looked before the wrecking ball arrived, see this post.
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).
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.