I’m back, back, BACK! After an unreasonably long pause, here is some GDR deco I stumbled upon in June 2020, when I returned to the Luftschiffhafen in Potsdam ( you might recall my post about a mosaic in the same area). It’s a sports complex located on Lake Templin and was previously used by the NVA – the Armeesportklub (ASK) ‘Vorwaerts Potsdam’- and the Volkspolizei as a training site. It later became a sports school – the Potsdamer Kunstturnhalle- and hosted athletics competitions. This lovely logo & lettering decorated the otherwise plain exterior (oh Rauputz!). When it was built in 1961, the Turnhalle was the most modern of its kind in Europe, kitted out with all the latest gear. Some of the Potsdam university students who later used it went on to become Olympic champions, including Holger Behrendt, champion in Seoul in 1988, Bernd Jäger, who invented a somersault for his routine that was then named after him, and most interestingly, high bar champ Wolfgang Thuene who later fled the GDR. He went on to become the only gymnast to represent both East and West Germany in international competitions. I digress….
I’ve used the past participle when referring to the building, because whilst researching its history today, I was very sad to discover that it was demolished in March of this year. Here’s a link to a clip from the demolition. It features the logo and lettering being destroyed, so avoid watching if you don’t like seeing great GDR deco go to waste!
Some of the original equipment in the hall – still rings with an interesting history- was thankfully saved from the wrecking ball, which has been detailed in a nice article in the Tagesspiegel. I’m not sure what’s happened to the sculptures in front of the building, but imagine they may either have gone to the Deutsches Historisches Museum’s huge depot, or ended up at the DDR Kunstarchiv in Beeskow. Apologies for the dodgy quality of the photos – I took them on my phone and am in need of a new camera…
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.
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.
This beaut can be found on the facade of the deceptively grand-sounding Villa Murkelmeier nursery school in Sebastianstrasse 22. It’s located amongst the peculiar mish-mash of overgrown plots, luxury flats and council houses which characterises the Mitte/Kreuzberg border. The Berlin wall stood directly behind the building. The Villa is a former creche built in the 1960s. It’s been miraculously renovated from the inside, thus sparing the exterior from destruction. Hurrah!
P.S Apologies for ropey pic quality.South facin’ guv.Will prob go back and try to get some better ones.
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!
I stumbled upon this amazing mural in the Gesamtkunstwerk that is Tierpark Zoo in Friedrichsfelde. The zoo has featured rather heavily in this blog, due to the abundance of fabulous East German design within its walls.
This mural decorates the wall of a small pavilion/shelter & easily overlooked if you’re not looking out for it. I’ve been unable to dig out any provenance info, but am going to check out a book about art in the Tierpark by its one time director Heinrich Dathe, which may provide some insight into its origins. These pics, taken on a dingy day, without a flash and in a hurry, don’t really do the mural justice, so it’s worth going to check it out ‘in the flesh’. It’s especially worth visiting Tierpark now, as its magnificent wildcat house Alfred Brehm Haus (built 1956-1963) is set to undergo ‘environmentally-friendly’ renovation, which despite the fact that the Haus is protected, will invariably mean the loss of some of its original features.
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).