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.

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.

The writing’s on the wall

I saw this fabulous lettering on the facade of the Kreiskulturhaus Karlshorst (cultural centre) at Treskowallee 112 in Lichtenberg. The building (built ca.1900) was torn down earlier this year. Although the lettering wasn’t strictly architectural decoration, it was so striking, I felt compelled to include it here.

GDR lettering is a rarity in Berlin, probably moreso than architectural deco. You can still see dark outlines where the lettering has been removed on the facades of various towerblocks around town (e.g. the old GDR news agency building on Mollstrasse).

The ‘KL’ letttering pictured above was donated to the Lichtenberg Museum, and the ‘Kreiskulturhaus’ underneath it went to the Museum of Letters (which coincidentally got a mention in the last post). If you’re a fan of GDR cultural history, then I’d highly recommend visiting both.

The older signage on the front of the building (pictured below) couldn’t be saved, unfortunately. It was apparently in such bad condition didn’t survive its removal from the building. Shame I wasn’t there to nab the remains!

Sehr Komplex

This rippled facade can be found at the bottom of a highrise on Krausenstrasse/Leipzigerstrasse in Mitte. The building is part of the Komplex Leipzigerstrasse, a series of tower blocks designed by Werner Strassenmeier and the Joachim Näther collective, which were built from 1969 onwards.  I assume there’s no immediate risk of it being removed, as the building has already been renovated once since the Wende. But you never know….

The Komplex buildings were formerly known as the ‘Springerdecker’, because were apparently built to obscure the news tickers on the top of the GSW building next door in the West, as well as the source of the news itself, the Axel Springer building. The architects subsequently denied that, however. The more flashy tower blocks on the northern side of the Komplex were used to accomodate foreign diplomats, western journalists and, of course, the Stasi.

The ground floor space behind this facade was formerly home to the marvellous Museum of Letters and is now occupied by a nursery. The rest of the building is primarily inhabited by East German pensioners and a few upwardly mobile types. I bet the former could tell the latter a tale or two.