Remembering and Transforming: A Study of Art and Culture in Berlin Since 1989

  • Abstract:

    I recently read an article in the New York Times entitled Berlin: Once East German Gritty, now Slick, but still Artsy, which considered the development of the internationally renowned art scene in Berlin since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Shortly before German reunification, Berlin became a popular destination for new artistic talent, challenging the boundaries of art as much as the wall had challenged the boundaries of freedom. Since being named Cultural Capital of Europe in 1988, Berlin’s reputation for its avant-garde art scene has developed to the international stage. I moved to Berlin in August 2013 to study at the Humboldt University on the ERASMUS programme, and I have been struck and impressed by the variety of cultural activity in the city. Whether an art, music or theatre enthusiast, there is something for locals and tourists alike and the repercussions of its modern history are very influential to its artistic allure. My paper considers the important role that contemporary art plays in remembering Berlin’s turbulent history and also how the art scene and the urban landscape of the city are being transformed as a consequence. To refer to a quotation from Memorylands(McDonald, 2013) “Memory has become a preoccupation […] implicated in justifications for conflicts and calls for apologies for past wrongs”. Berlin is a relevant case study in this research; there are particular images and stereotypes relating to WWII which the German society still clings to as long, collective memories. In order to narrow my focus of this wide-ranging topic I use several Kunstdenkmäler and the establishment of Berlin’s art and graffiti scene at case studies. From my perspective establishing any kind of art is a paradox; the unestablished, gritty vibe the city offered artists was initially its attraction, and the establishment of something so vibrant and varied could be seen as an attempt to restrict and enclose it. This brings into question the contention of time in Berlin; history is pulling it back into memory while gentrification is driving it forwards.