‘Healing a wound’: from neglected East German relic to acclaimed art gallery | Germany

for nearly three decades, it seemed to have been sent to the scrap heap of history, a remnant of East German Communism considered redundant and ugly as the Berlin Wall and destined to fall victim to the wrecking ball.

But a former terrace café in the city of Potsdam, just west of Berlin, is being hailed as a showpiece of socialist-realist architecture saved from demolition by a billionaire German businessman who turned it into an art gallery.

The Minsk Kunsthaus or art house will showcase Hasso Plattner’s own extensive collection of East German art, a genre that has more often than not been discarded since the collapse of the GDR in 1989, but is now experiencing something of a revival. .

The Minsk cafe, now reborn as the Minsk Kunsthaus
The Minsk cafe, now reborn as the Minsk Kunsthaus. Photo: Ladislav Zajaci

Elegant in its simplicity, the modernist construction – once a popular local hangout and venue for discos and coming-of-age parties – has been given a new spiral staircase and café with wide panoramic windows by Genoa architects Linearama. The thought-provoking exhibition on landscape and allotments attracts visitors and praise from art critics across Europe.

Hans-Dieter Rutsch, who documented the building’s reinvention in a film, called it “an attempt to heal a wound.” Others have described it as a gesture of reconciliation.

Artworks by Stan Douglas on display at the Minsk Kunsthaus
Artworks by Stan Douglas on display at the Minsk Kunsthaus. Photo: Ladislav Zajaci

Minsk is something of a metaphor, observers of German unification in 1990 say, for the way in which the executors of the merger process of the two countries have cracked down on the feelings of East Germans. Regardless of their political stance, many felt that their identities and biographies were being erased as much of the social furniture of their lives was scrapped.

Nowhere in the former GDR was architecture such a focal point of this sense of neglect as in Potsdam.

The former seat of the Prussian kings and emperor, and with an abundance of Baroque architecture to match, its post-Communist reconstruction was often seen as analogous to West German arrogance. Many wealthy invaders from the west, including fashion designers, TV presenters and newspaper publishers, bought up the historic villas and other buildings, many of which had been badly neglected by the East German regime. At the same time, they supported the demolition of Soviet-era architecture, from high-rise residential blocks to university buildings, which they viewed as ugly and soulless.

Cafe-bar Minsk Kunsthaus
The cafe-bar of Minsk Kunsthaus. Photo: Ladislav Zajaci

Plattner, the co-founder of the software giant SAP, who lives in a classic lakeside villa designed by Mies van der Rohe, which Winston Churchill lived in during his brief stay at the post-war Potsdam Conference in 1945, has long fought the criticism that he is one of the so-called better-wesis – a play on the words know-it-all and westerner – which have contributed to rising house prices.

The Barberini, his multimillion-dollar reconstruction of a Baroque palace destroyed by wartime bombing, opened to the public in 2017. It houses its significant collection of Impressionist artworks and has received international critical acclaim.

Local opposition to Minsk’s recovery by some who said it was an undesirable expression of “delayed” obstacles” or nostalgia for the East, softened after the recognition that the construction of two post-communist buildings, the Potsdam train station and the recreation center, nicknamed the “bunker baths”, which the Minsk faces, was arguably much uglier than anything the socialist era had done. served.

Artworks by Wolfgang Mattheuer on display at the Minsk Kunsthaus
Artworks by Wolfgang Mattheuer on display at the Minsk Kunsthaus. Photo: Ladislav Zajaci

“With their banal angular angularity and sombre aesthetic austerity, you could think of them as an allegory of capitalism, but then you would have little choice but to immediately revolt against this system, just as people revolted against the GDR.” wrote the critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Plattner also says he has contempt for what he calls “wessi demolition rage” and it was that which motivated him to buy Minsk from the city after it had been empty for two decades and rebuild it “as it once was”.

That includes keeping the original name, despite a critic’s scornful claim that it will open Potsdam “at the risk that Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, will feel he is being greeted”. To counter any criticism, the museum makes visitors fully aware of the plight of Belarus’ political prisoners, now believed to number more than 1,300, by inviting them to participate in the social art project. #FramedinBelarus.

The Minsk was one of the many “nationality” restaurants that could be found in every East German municipality in the 1970s, honoring the capitals of the Soviet Union. Potsdam was twinned with Minsk, which had a restaurant called Potsdam. For the interior of the original Minsk, when it was built by the architect Karl Heinz Birkholz between 1971 and 1977, building materials, including marble for the entrance, carvings and copper lamps, were transported from Belarus and the menu included the Belarusian. Russian cuisine.

In the film documentary, Birkholz talked about how painful he had found the neglect of his building. He blessed the updated version and said, “She’s getting time again.”

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