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.

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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.

Old school

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.

Animal Magic!

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.

Mensch!

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).

Kunst am Bau


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.

http://www.kunst-am-bau-ddr.de/ausstellung-2011.html

Pfauntain

Peacock fountain by Margit Schötschel-Gabriel (bronze & concrete,1978), Holzmarkstrasse, Mitte

This fountain is located on the corner of Holzmarktstrasse and Alexanderstrasse, next to the cafe zur Jannowitzbrücke. The Pfauenbrunnen (Peacock fountain) was executed in 1978 by Margit Schötschel-Gabriel, who also produced various sculptures for the Tierpark, including this very bizarre little fellow.