European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The legacy of Berlin

In 1987 Wim Wenders together with Peter Handke had made the film 'Himmel über Berlin' (Sky over Berlin) while at personal level other things took place e.g. the publication of my dissertation 'Articulationproblems of workers and the Tradition of the Trade Union'.

Today (2012), when looking back and searching in memory for some distinct features, then these two years merge into one. It will take time to recall the particular contributions. A lot has happened since then. Most dramatic was the coming down of the wall one year later. Still, some things stood out like the sculpture boulevard along the K'dam, and which had not ignited protest by the NGO for Proper Public Spending. For there was something out of place. Herbert Distel, first prize winner for sculpture at the Biennale in Brazil, made the comment when seeing these sculptures that the artists had not really known how to use space. One sculpture was a converging of a West German car model with an East German model by having both dip into a pool of cement and there freeze into a still stand. Given also the strong link between Athens and Berlin thanks to Melina Mercouri, some special Greek-German connections played a role in the staging of the Ancient Greek Drama in Berlin, namely the play by Aristophanes 'Peace'.

Several controversies accompanied the realization of both years. For example, the Union for the protection of tax payers protested against the squandering of money on art. It was a first time that such a public protest was heard and reminded immediately of the denouncement of modern art by Hitler and those who supported a 'folkish art'.

More specifically about the public art - art works created by diverse artists during those two years, there was the so called sculpture boulevard. It included the famous one of having an Eastern and Western car colliding inside a cement bloc. The varioius sculptures to be seen when walking along K'Damm prompted the artist Herbert Distel to ask, if artists really know how to make use of public space?

There was a strong note of discord with the city's government since of the Christian Democratic Party ruled.

A definite negative legacy was what happened to artists after those two years. Prompted and enticed by suddenly a lot of money being made available thanks to the special budgets for these two years, they left their niches and run down ateliers and moved into new lofts or more expensive houses, but when the years were over, they found great difficulties adopting again to normal circumstances when demands for the arts is at best mediocre and not at all forthcoming.



                       Volker Hassemer at ECCM Symposium in Athens 2007

                       Photo by Kostas Kartelias


One person directly involved in the organisation, namely Nele Hertel, recalls that

"A year after Amsterdam, Berlin took over the programme „Kulturstadt Europas“ (we did not use the „Capital“) and it was very much aware of this challenge. When I was appointed as programme director, the responsible secretary of culture of Berlin, Volker Hassemer gave us
some guidelines to follow – first, to try and include projects or presence not only from western Europe, but from as many east European countries as possible – to be remembered, that still meant through the wall!
Using tricks and subversive procedures we succeeded quite remarkably. But the result was sometimes nearly shocking – with some of the projects and encounters it became visible how much the world had been divided, how differently art and culture had been developed and
sometimes been used for ideological reasons. But on the other hand it was a chance for audiences to discover a world, a part of Europe, until then mostly unknown, to meet people, to make contacts and offer to artists first ideas of collaboration. That was the other line we followed with the programme as Cultural city of Europe – to invite as many people as possible for participation, in workshops, classes, projects, to be a host city based very much on civil society engagement, a meeting place for Europeans."

And she then adds an important claim:

"As we know, culture and cultural workers played an important role in the ongoing process to overcome the dividing wall, most prominent in some of the East European countries where well-known artists took important political positions."

Source: Nele Hertling, "ABOUT THE LEGACY OF EUROPEAN CAPITALS OF CULTURE", speech given at the Brugges' conference, A Decade after. The conference was organized by Brugge Plus 2012

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