More often than not, when Berliner’s think about Socialist/Soviet Art in their city they recommend parks: Treptower and Tiergarten. Visiting these sites, however, feels less like viewing an anecdote of art history and more like touristy sightseeing. Admittedly, these parks are not to be missed, if one plans on visiting Berlin for a short time – they truly are beautiful and definitely something worth sharing with friends back home. However, if you’re interested in seeing something more akin to what art historians call German Socialist Realism, then I’ve got two great locations that you need to see while you’re in the city.
One of the more famous landmarks is located in the heart of the city. Right in Alexanderplatz you can find the Haus des Lehrers (“House of the Teacher” in English). Adjacent to the Berliner Congress Center, one the building’s exteriors is a giant mural by socialist artist Walter Womacka. This is a great example of an artist trying to depict an idyllic environment of life in the German Democratic Republic. Some of the things pictured are a mother and her child, students eagerly learning, and a blossoming apple tree. Done in a fashion similar to famous Mexican Muralismo Diego Rivera, the mosaic is made out of thousands of colored ceramic tile pieces. After the war, Womacka whole-heartedly opposed the new found democracy in his home city, and the new government designated the mural a monument and restored it in 2003.
Walter Womacka’s “Haus des Lehrers” in Alexanderplatz. Photo: WikiCommons
In Mitte off the Mohrenstraße stop is another architectural feat in the history of Berlin: The Federal Ministry of Finance. Built in the 1930’s, it was at one time the largest office building in Europe. Naturally after World War II the buildings original Nazi iconography was removed and replaced to work more inclined for the new German Democratic Republic. In the early fifties the government commissioned a titanic 18-meter long mural at the north end on Leipziger Straße. Max Linger created this beast and, like Womacka, dedicated the content to a utopian GDR scene. Ironically, due to the myriad corrections and alternations forced to the project by Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl, Linger grew to hate the mural and refused to look at it as he walked by.
Max Linger’s mural on Leipziger Straße. Photo: WikiCommons
Today Berlin has been able to move beyond it’s troubled past by leaps and bounds and still exhibits these murals as artifacts of a troubled history. These are works that remind us Berliner’s about how far we’ve come, and what to avoid as our city becomes a focal point in contemporary society. So rather than ignore these murals as antiquated examples of once upon a time, make use of your lazy Sunday and walk the path of some of Berlin’s forgotten artists.
Our hero reminds us to not forget about Treptower Park! Photo: Chris Phillips.
Article by James Shaeffer