Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Postcard from Berlin 2016 (1) - East Side Gallery, Jewish Museum, Berlinische Galerie

The Fernsehturm (detail), Alexanderplatz, Berlin
Day 1 of a week in Berlin with BA Fine Art and MA Visual Communication students from the University of Gloucestershire. We began our visit with a with a walk through the old Jewish areas of Mitte to see Karl Biedermann's 1996 bronze sculpture,  Der verlassene Raum (The Deserted Room) in Koppenplatz. The slightly oversized table and chairs (one overturned), ringed by a poem by Nelly Sachs is a memorial to the families who fled their homes as the Nazis attacked during Kristallnacht (9-10 November 1938).

On the way we passed a distinctively un-gentrified block on Linienstrasse - this is a, now legalised, squat.

Nearby, in Grosse Hamburger Strasse, site of the Jewish Cemetery, is The Missing House by Christian Boltanski. A gap in the houses was created by allied bombing on 3 February 1945. Boltanski has mounted 12 plaques onto the facing walls of the surviving buildings on either side of the gap showing the names, occupations and dates of residency of the people who had lived in the bombed apartments. 

Amongst the cobbles of Grosse Hamburger Strasse (and many other streets in Berlin and other cities) are rather wonderful 'Stolpersteine' ('stumbling blocks') - the work of Gunther Demnig. These modest, brass-faced, cobble-stone sized, concrete blocks memorialize individual victims of the Nazis at the places where they lived. In the picture, below, for example, the right hand Stolperstein reads "Here lived Joanna Klum, born Lewin 1902, deported 1943, murdered in Auschwitz."

Our walk took us to Hackescher Markt from where we caught an S-Bahn to Ostbahnhof which is a short walk from the East Side Gallery, the spectacularly painted 1.3km long remnant of the Berlin Wall - though disappointingly much of the wall is currently behind a protective fence.

A ride on the U-Bahn from Schlesisches Tor, and a short walk, led us to the Jewish Museum. Daniel Liebskind's extraordinary extension to the museum was completed in 1999. Liebskind's building appears to be detached from the older buiding to which it is an extension; it also has no visible entrance. Visitors must enter through the old building and via an underground passage - a metaphor for the difficulty of entering into the troubled history represented in the museum. The extension is in the form of a zig-zag - apparently a "dislocated Star of David... that is visible only from the air" (see Jacobson). I found that I had little sense of the shape of the building from inside it, however, the slanting corridors which form the internal 'axes' were effectively disorienting.

Aerial view of the Jewish Museum

The most dramatic and affecting features are the 'Holocaust Tower' and the installation Fallen Leaves in the 'Memory Void'.  You enter the Holocaust Tower through a heavy door and find yourself in a cold, dark, bare concrete space, some 79 feet high, lit only by a narrow window slit; the walls converge into a narrow space into which visitors disappear. It is very powerful.

Inside the Holocaust Tower

The Memory Void, contains an installation called Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman: it comprises 10,000 faces punched into steel plates covering the floor, many layers deep. Visitors walk across the uneven surface of faces causing the steel plates to clang. Also very powerful.
 A short distance from the Jewish Museum is the Berlinische Galerie - Museum of Modern Art.

Berlinische Galerie with the 'Yellow Field of Letters' by architects
Kühn Malvezzi

The museum offered a dizzying range of exhibitions - quite simply too much to do justice to in the time available: 

Rainer Fetting, Gelbe Mauer, 1977

Max Beckmann, Self-Portrait, 1907

This is Us: Portrait Photography, 1996-2013; a group show featuring work by Max Baumann, Kristleifur Björnsson, Dunja Evers, Verena Jaekel, Birgit Kleber, Boris Mikhailov, Loredana Nemes, Michael Schäfer and Tobias Zielony.

Loredana Nemes, Max and Corinne, 2012

Dunja Evers, Portrait

Ich kenne kein Weekend (I know no weekend): the Archive and Collection of René Block: a fascinating collection of documents, posters and videos featuring, notably, Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell. 

Joseph Beuys, I Like America and America Likes Me, 1974. Watch video, here

12×12: a changing programme of film and video work presenting the work of 12 artists through the year. The featured artist at the time of our visit was Jan Peter Hammer showing The Anarchist Banker (2010) and Monarchs and Men (2012). I really regret not giving more time to this installation. I watched only a few minutes of The Anarchist Banker before feeling compelled to see as much of the museum's collection as I could before time ran out. In hindsiight I wish I had prioritized this fascinating work.  

The films do not appear to be online but some clips are included in this interview: 

Jan Peter Hammer, still from Monarchs and Men, 2012

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