Creative Alternatives

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Joseph Beuys at the Permanent Mission of the FRG in the GDR, October 1981

Joseph Beuys at the Permanent Mission in October 1981.

Joseph Beuys signing autographs during his visit to the Permanent Representation of the FRG in the GDR, October 1981.

Joseph Beuys signing autographs, East Berlin, October 1981.

West German Art (and Artists) on Display at the Permanent Mission of the FRG in the GDR

The Permanent Mission of the FRG in the GDR opened on Hannoversche Strasse in Berlin-Mitte in 1974, following the signing of the Basic Treaty and Four Power Agreements in the early 1970s. Though the Federal Republic refused to officially recognize the GDR as a foreign nation (which would have necessitated an official embassy), they did allow official diplomatic representation within the rival German capitals of Bonn and East Berlin.

In the 1980s, the energetic employees working in the Permanent Mission’s cultural division strove to make connections with artists operating at all levels of society, both within the non-conformist, experimental ranks and among VBK functionaries. They also sponsored art exhibitions, concerts, and literary readings from West Berlin and West German artists in their space and hosted receptions for the visiting artists in the building’s garden and courtyard. They invited both East and West Berliners to attend. This provided new opportunities for East and West Berlin visual artists, writers, journalists, and cultural functionaries to meet and converse and for East Berliners to see West German art in person that was otherwise inaccessible.

In October 1981, West German action artist Joseph Beuys came to East Berlin for an exhibition of his work at the Permanent Mission focused on his early drawings and objects. Beuys’ presence in the space, with his trademark fishing vest and felt hat, was itself a performance, and he was a big celebrity. With half his face coated in white as part of a treatment for a kidney infection, Beuys appeared as the figure of the shaman, a label often used to describe the artists among both supporters and critics. Both the exhibition and Beuys’ appearance were possible thanks to the efforts of the energetic cultural attaché Georg Girardet at the Permanent Mission who strove to organize exhibitions aligned with the interests of GDR artists.

Showing the Deer to Prenzlauer Berg Nikolaus Lang, Showing the Deer to Prenzlauer Berg

Nikolaus Lang

Showing the Deer to Prenzlauer Berg, 1985

As part of a 1985 series featuring art in public space based out of Kreuzberg’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Bavarian artist Nikolaus Lang strapped a wooden rack with a deer skeleton to his back and began to walk. He first walked to the site of the former SS headquarters on Prinz-Albrecht Strasse, then along the Wall. According to art critic Walter Aue, the deer was the “oldest mythical animal in the world,” and Lang’s deer served as a “symbol of rebirth and re-awakening life.” This explained Lang’s desire to walk past sites in both East and West Berlin where a postwar process of renewal was still unfolding.

The next day, with permission secured through the help of officials at the Permanent Mission of the FRG in the GDR, Lang was allowed to pass through a border crossing, deer and all, and made his way to Prenzlauer Berg. As these photos reveal, Lang's action incited many interactions with everyday people (and animals) who became part of the art work. Lang’ s action would not go unnoticed among East Berlin artists, and was  included in a 1988 history of action art in East Berlin.

East-West Exchange