Academy of Arts in Berlin at Pariser Platz in Berlin
Restoration-Conservation of 1950s Master Student Wall Paintings in the Picture Cellar of the Academy of Arts in Berlin
The Academy of Arts, located near the Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz, conceals within its current building the architectural remnants of its historical predecessor.
In 1937, Albert Speer’s working group, the “General Building Inspector for the Reconstruction of the Reich Capital,” moved into the Academy’s building. Under Speer, the side skylight cabinets and sculpture halls were remodeled and expanded, and two new wings with staircases and office spaces were added. Speer presented his architectural models for the projected transformation of Berlin into “Welthauptstadt Germania” in the large exhibition halls.
In March 1950, the “German Academy of Arts” founded in the GDR was relocated back to its original address to use the remaining rooms as studio and workshop buildings.
In the basement rooms of the building, a series of murals were created in 1957/58 on the occasion of a carnival festival, which today are among the most artistically valuable legacies on the property. The theme of the “Feast of the Poacher” was suggested by the sculptor and master student Werner Stötzer. The paintings were created by master students Manfred Böttcher, Harald Metzkes, Ernst Schroeder, and Horst Zickelbein. The works are today considered unique testimonies of the Young Opposition in East Berlin painting of the late 1950s.
The rear basement rooms of the building were demolished in 2000 for a new construction. During the survey of the remaining parts of the building, wall paintings hidden behind drywall were found in the basement, proving to be “irreplaceable documents of GDR art history.” An expert report from the Berlin State Office for Monument Preservation based on the restorative investigations by Jörg Breitenfeldt determined that they were of high artistic value and exemplary for the Black Period of East Berlin art in the late 1950s.
Based on a conservation-restoration concept a special technique for mural removal, all the paintings were removed before demolition and thus saved. The funding for removal and reinstallation was provided by the builder and donors.
Three of Metzkes’ paintings, “The Feast of the Poacher,” are now exhibited on the ground floor of the new building on Behrenstraße. The main painting, “The Round Table of Poachers,” was completely removed with the 24 cm thick supporting wall and can now be viewed behind glass in the foyer. Additional paintings were removed using the Strappo technique and transferred to new supports. Two more of Metzkes’ paintings are displayed in the restaurant of the new building. Schroeder’s painting “Interior of the Poacher” was handed over to the Ernst Schroeder Society, Böttcher’s “Dancing Women and a Man” and Zickelbein’s “The Pan” are now in the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn.
The wall paintings in the basement of the Academy of Arts were painted directly with oil-egg tempera on the whitewashed and coarsely processed, single-layer lime cement mortar plaster of the basement walls. The paint layer was extremely fragile and already significantly weakened due to moisture.
Regarding the translocation of these murals, it is noteworthy that the still-living artists as creators of the artworks unanimously agreed to the project and were touched by the effort put into the “old” paintings. When asked whether he would like to perform retouches himself after the removal of the paintings, if necessary, Metzkes’ friendly response was that we restorers could surely do it much better.
All remaining wall paintings on-site in the basement were finally fully conserved and restored by the end of 2014. By the end of 2018, the Academy of Arts plans to open the picture cellar to visitors on special occasions.
Clients and Donors: Senate Department for Urban Development, Berlin State Office for Monument Preservation, Bredero Projekt GmbH (Harald Metzkes: “The Feast of the Poacher”), Foundation House of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany (Manfred Böttcher: “Dancing Women and a Man”; Horst Zickelbein: “The Pan”), Ernst Schroeder Society, Berlin (Ernst Schroeder: “The Interior of the Poacher”).
Project leader and chief restorer
2000 to 2014
International Conference of the German National Committee of ICOMOS in cooperation with the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt and the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, November 3-6, 2011 in Quedlinburg: Dipl. Rest. Jörg Breitenfeldt M.A., Berlin / Dipl. Rest. York Rieffel M.A., Berlin The Master Student Wall Paintings of the 1950s, Years in the Picture Cellar of the Academy of Arts in Berlin
Jörg Breitenfeldt, York Rieffel. The Master Student Wall Paintings of the 1950s in the Picture Cellar of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. Wall Paintings in Crypts, Grottoes, Catacombs, in: On the Conservation of Coated Surfaces in Environmentally Damaged Rooms. Published by the German National Committee of ICOMOS e.V. ISBN 10: 3865689841 / ISBN 13: 9783865689849, Publisher: Petersberg: Imhof, 2013