The future 50 years ago


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To discuss the validity of future visions, we will interpret the message of Walter Womacka's glass mosaic from 1964 – a piece of art at ESMT. It illustrates the social hardships of the turbulent past before the German Democratic Republic was founded. A patchwork of pictures depicts different scenes of Germany’s transition from the labor movement to the founding of the GDR toward a brighter future – a dream to be reached one day.

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The future 50 years ago

  1. 1. Stained Glass by Walter Womacka in the former building of the Staatsrat Historical Background of the Building This building was erected as seat of the State Council of the GDR State. It is quite unique, surprisingly contradictory. It has been built to represent the importance of the government of the GDR Republic which it could not derive from its quite mundane duties. The building was completed in 1964 by architects Roland Korn, Hans-Erich Bogatzky und Klaus Pätzmann in a moderate modern style, not in the typical Stalinist style of the time. This fact placed it under heritage protection - already during socialist times. Stained Glass The stained glass painting of Walter Womacka on the south façade shows the glorious history of the workers movement that triumphed over the feudalist oppression in the lower part and the utopia of happy live in a socialistic society in the upper part. This piece of art covers an area of over 180 square meters, extended over all three floors of the stairwell. In the very lower part of the painting on the ground floor you see a peaceful scene of flying doves that detaches the whole picture from the ground. This is in sharp contrast with the horizontal images above, which are devoted to the fights and victims of the workers movement. In the front we see two of the sailors of the Kiel mutiny, who had started off the November revolution in 1918 together with a civil co-fighter. Far left we see a scene of street fights, which might be an allusion to the Spartacist uprising of 1919. On the far right we see a demonstration and a conflict with uniformed Nazis as well as the Nazi book-burning in 1933. These scenes are reminding of the Weimar-Republic and its end. The middle section with its inscription “Trotz alledem” refers to all those who with their convictions and inner strength were striving to convert a defeat into victory. This was the reason why Karl Liebknecht had cited this poem of Ferdinand Freiligrath on the day of his assassination. The artist stages Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the two martyrs of the workers movement, in the center of this art piece, as if they were two guarantors of a treasure, protected by one of the armed men. The background of this scene is bright red, the color of the international workers movement. The red constructivist flag connects the scene with the image above and gives it a frame: it shows the ideal triad of the socialist state of the workers and peasants: a worker, a peasant woman and a scientist / intellectual. On the right hand side we see historical scenes of the end of the Nazi-Regime, which have contributed to the state myth which shaped the GDRs identity: in the lower part we see the liberation of the people from the Nazi-Regime by the soviet army. In the field above we see the moment after the war where weapons could be turned into ploughshares. With these scenes the lower part of the stained glass window is ending. Due to the staircase the painting does not cover the whole window. The artist started a new section with a ring dance of girls. Moving to the right side we see the allegory to the motive of the GDR national anthem “risen from the ruins”: two generations of the so called “Trümmerfrauen” clearing away the debris of bombing.
  2. 2. One of the ribbons of the decorated roof crown is reaching into the next image – connecting the image of the bombed cities with the reconstruction phase represented by the mixing machine. Moving further up we switch from illustrating the past to visioning the future. We can see glorious scenes that are supposed to symbolize the productive resources of the newly established state. On the left, we see huge sites of lignite mining; above that we see a big scale chemical industry facility, communication, espionage, and aerospace equipment. On the right hand side we can observe an illustration of the ideal agriculture, completely cleared of any kind of vermin, by planes that are spraying pesticide on the perfect line up of cereals. The tree next to it almost appears misplaced, because it looks at least a little bit like a natural grown tree. Moving further up is an image of the typical „Bauplatte“- a specific construction technique that erects whole buildings out of large prefabricated building parts. This technique has already been developed during the Bauhaus era, but it was applied in a very large scale for the housing schemes of the seventies in the GDR and has become a kind of trademark of GDR architecture. Needless to say, that it is a horror scenario for us looking at it today – especially taking into account the insights of sustainably studies we have got today. In the central part a young couple with a little boy on his father’s arm is placed. The importance of this group becomes apparent not only through its central position but also through the huge emblem of the GDR above. This happy family is supposed to symbolize the perfect role model of a positive optimistic and happy society. Walter Womacka  Walter Womacka was born 1925 in Czechoslovakia, he died 2010 in Berlin  He lived in East Berlin for most of his life, and was the head of the School of Art and Design Berlin- Weissensee from 1968 until 1988.  In the post-war rebuilding of Berlin, he designed many large public artworks including stained glass windows using the gemmail technique and large external murals in mosaic. Technique The technique of this stained glass window goes back into medieval ages, where churches had been famous for their colorful windows, telling stories of the holy bible. This technique seemed obsolete at that time but it got legitimation as it had survived in the Russian tradition, which was now a source of inspiration for the art of the young GDR. The glass painting we are standing in front of gives a perfect example for this interconnection as is creates an almost religious, solemn impression.