SCISSORS AND GLUE – HIS ARMORY

Sometime ago we had the opportunity to visit the former summer refuge of John Heartfield (1891-1968). During the Third Reich this German political artist (graphic artist, stage designer and cartoonist) used to be no. 5 on Gestapo’s most wanted list.

This is the “happiness” that they bring! (from: AIZ, June 1938)

John Heartfield is considered the inventor of political photo montage, collages of text and imagery found in mass-produced media, revolutionary when viewed in terms of technique and aesthetics. His powerful and satirical works in the late 1920s und 1930s became real icons in the struggle against the Nazis.

The real meaning of the Hitler salute. The little man asks for big gifts.
I’ve got millions standing behind me. 
(from: AIZ, October 1932)

John Heartfield was also a pacifist, and he was deeply disgusted by the fierce and unrestrained nationalism leading finally to World War I.  Therefore in 1916 he anglizised his original German name Helmut Herzfeld as a sign of protest.  In order to escape the imminent military service, he feigned a mental illness and subsequently had to stay in a lunatic asylum for several weeks. By this unusual proceeding he avoided to be drafted to the man-eating frontlines of World War I.

War and corpses. The last hope of the rich. (from: AIZ, June 1932)

Heartfield himself has repeatedly referred to the key experience of World War I, above all to the unprecedented role of image propaganda in the war riot: it would have given impetus how people were lied to with photos. As a result, he was brought into internal opposition to these visual worlds and was tempted to use the corrupted propaganda instrument photography as an educational tool; also, of course, because the trivial mass medium of photography was not considered an artistic medium of expression at the time.

Self-portrait with police commissioner Zörgiebel, 1929

In 1916, on a May day, early in the morning at 5 o’clock, the photo montage is said to have been born as an artistic technique. Well that’s how George Grosz, who claims to have been there, later remembered when John Heartfield, the “Chief Johnny” from the Berlin Dada circles, invented it.

Advertisement design for George Grosz’ “Little Art Folder”

It was at least partly due to his relationship with George Grosz that John Heartfield arrived at the conclusion that the only art worth creating was that which depicted and commented on social and political issues. Hence he destroyed all of the art that he had created before World War I.  He joined the German Communist Party in 1918, in that same year he and George Grosz became founding members of the Berlin Dada Club. His engagement in this anti-art movement inspired him to working with new materials and an innovative approach concerning photography. 

Cover design for Kurt Tucholsky’s book
“Germany, Germany above all”

During the Weimar Republic after World War I, John Heartfield’s work was gaining a lot of exposure in Germany as he was a regular contributor to diverse journals and newspapers. His brother, author and companion Wieland Herzfelde founded and run Malik Verlag, a publishing house for books and satirical periodicals as well. Here he served as the in-house designer and advanced his skills as a book designer. During the 1920s John Heartfield worked also together with Erwin Piscator (founder and director of the Proletarian Theatre in Berlin), for him he designed diverse sets for plays in collaboration with playwright Bertold Brecht who became a real friend.

Cover design for Harry Sinclair Lewis’ book
“How you make dollars”

“If I were not Peter Panter, I would like to be a book cover at Malik publishing house. This John Heartfield is really a little wonder of the world. What enchanting things he does!” (Kurt Tucholsky, 1932)

 

Göring, hangman of the Third Reich (from: AIZ, September 1933)

His best-known works comprise the combative photomontages created for AIZ, Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper), a widely circulated left-wing German weekly that he worked for from 1927 to 1938. During this time he created more than 230 images with strong pointed political messages, often to be seen on the front or back cover.

His commentary was chiefly reserved for Nazi actions and party leaders. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Heartfield and his anti-Nazi imagery were immediately targeted. With the Nazis on his heels,  he left Berlin on foot for Prague, where he continued to work for AIZ. In 1938, when the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia was imminent, he was forced to flee again, this time to London.

Reservations – Jews driven like cattle (December 1939)

While he succeeded in escaping the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) when in London the British secret service MI5 began to monitor him as a possible Soviet spy and communist. However, he continued to produce his biting photomontages on current political events being published in various British newspapers. Reservations (showing the ghettoisation of Jews in Poland) means his last published political work in the United Kingdom shortly before he got interned as an enemy alien in December 1939. After internment and long illness, he then primarily designed the covers of generally apolitical books for the Lindsay Drummond and Penguin Books publishing houses.

Stage set projection for Bertold Brecht’s “Mother Courage”, 1951

In 1950 after 17 years in exile he returned to his now communist homeland in East-Germany. Here he met his brother Wieland Herzfelde again who survived the Nazis in US American exile. After staying the first time in Leipzig, John Heartfield settled finally in East-Berlin, his hometown. His long years in London raised suspicions of treason among the East-German secret police named  Stasi. Renowned artists and friends like playwright Bertold Brecht and author Stephan Heym supported him and advocated for his kind of art. But only after Stalin’s death he got fully rehabilitated in 1956 by election to the East-German Academy of the Arts. In 1960 he became a professor there. 

The summer house of John Heartfield in Waldsieversdorf

The summer house was erected in 1957 from demolition wood of Strausberg Airport, a small forestial idyll with direct access to a beautiful lake. His friend Bertold Brecht urged him to this step for improving his poor health. As of 2009 the premises serves as a small museum, memorial and meeting  place visitable on weekends.

John Heartfield in the early 1950s

Since his death his work has been exhibited regularly throughout the United States and Europe, a current and comprehensive exhibition named Fotografie plus Dynamit can actually be seen at Academy of the Arts (Akademie der Künste) in Berlin (afterwards moving to London and Zwolle as well).

In light of strengthened right-wing radicalism and uprising chauvinist hatred, Heartfield’s work remains up to date till today.

 

REMOTE POTPOURRI

Each place has a history and tale untold which needs to be revealed and spread again.

First it seems to be more an instant stumbling, but rapidly the first syllables are being uttered by an archaic reflex leading to further unknown obstacles and dubious signs at remote locations wiped off our mind.

In the tunnels of a now globalized perception the tireless explorer gazes deeply surprised on the multiple colours of common amnesia.

This shock urges to move quickly forward in this labyrinth created long time ago. Here dead objects start a new life unexpectedly.

 

 

 

EXPRESSIONIST ADVENTURES

The Red City, a painting by Marianne von Werefkin from 1909, stands exemplary for Expressionism which emerged in Northern Europe in the early 20th century and quickly spread through all of the arts and as well also in architecture. So lets make a short walk through the vivid Falkenhagener Feld in Berlin.



The Falkenhagener Feld was originally an area used by allotments and agriculture and closes west of the old town of Spandau, the core of the district Spandau in Berlin. Between 1923 and 1927 the architect Richard Ermisch realized here the erection of a huge estate in Expressionist style along the Zeppelinstr. and Falkenseer Chaussee.

At the junction of both streets four eye-catching towers form the very centre of this interesting architecture. Till today these varied houses look really strikingly modern although almost one hundred years old.

 

THE GREENS OF HANNAH HÖCH

The annual Day of Open Monuments offered the unique opportunity to visit the house and rural premises of Hannah Höch (1889-1978), great artist, co-founder and also the only female promoter of Dadaism. Her former green refuge and home is located in Berlin-Heiligensee, a more village-like district in the North of the German capital. Here she worked and lived from 1939 till her decease in 1978.

Hannah Höch’s house and garden (street-view)

Hannah Höch, Mechanical Garden, 1920

In 1918 she proclaimed the photo montage as a new form of artistic expression and thus wrote art history. The gift of observing was essential for her in order to discover new pictures in existing ones. With the help of scissors and glue Hannah Höch strove for such new creations, which according to her own estimation were achieved when the alienation of found illustrations was so fundamental that one could no longer recognize where the pictures originally came from.

Hannah Höch working in her garden, late 1960s

Nature and landscape played a special role in the ouevre of Hannah Höch through her entire life. She liked to show the numerous facets of nature far from a naive idyll by using also combative and humorous angle of views, sometimes full of dark melancholy.

Hannah Höch, Bouquet, 1929

” A great deal of strength gave me my strong touch with nature. In the wild whirl (in which) our life took place in this time, I always had this one thing at hand.”  

 (Hannah Höch in a letter to Kurt Heinz Matthies, 1943)

Back yard of Hannah Höch’s home

Every day she spent many hours in her garden, raising flowers, vegetables and fruits. So the garden was also important for her surviving because she never got rich with her varied art. Not all of her works are known till today because they are spread somewhere while she was also forced sometimes to pay the butcher or things like that with small artworks and creations. 

Hannah Höch, Tempest, 1935

During the Third Reich she was defamed by the Nazis as a Culture-Bolshevist and was no longer allowed to work and exhibit. In the autumn of 1939 she bought a former flight attendant’s house in Berlin-Heiligensee far away from the busy city centre. The house offered an ideal hideout for the artist, and in this pastoral environment Höch could feel safe from spying and denunciation, because none of her neighbours suspected anything of her Dada past.

Hannah Höch, Der Unzufriedel, 1945

Due to this seclusion of her new domicile she succeeded in rescuing her own works as well as the objects of her artist friends which were declared by the Nazis as the leading representatives of socalled degenerate art. However, the decision to stay in Nazi-Germany resulted in a real difficult economical situation. To make a living  she had to sell flowers and fruits from her nice garden which she arranged after WW II to a thriving total work of art.

Hannah Höch, Garden, 1948

 

ARTBASE FESTIVAL 2019 – MURALS IN RURAL RUINS

Artbase is a festival of urban art moving in a vivid kaleidoscope between painting and party on deserted grounds. The first issue took place in 2011 at the former pulmonary hospital Grabowsee. During the last weekend of August 2019 it was realized again in the former and now abandoned lunatic asylum Domjüch close to Neustrelitz (80 kms north of Berlin). Nearly 150 international urban artists transformed these ruins into a wild, romantic and very alive place.

 

A smooth wind blows through the long abandoned houses‘ empty corridors, while a warm and friendly summer sun gleams through the ailing cracks. Inside the ruins, a conglomeration of fading colors and amazing street art works decorate the walls.

A place where nature has slowly recaptured the old walls. Deserted, long hallways, abandoned rooms with only faint memories.

 

But suddenly a soft hissing of a spray can sounds. Someone presses a button. Suddenly sounds are coming through the empty rooms. Loud voices echo through the old walls and the place awakens.

After WW II the buildings were used for military purposes by the Soviet Red Army which left the site in 1993, the start of a long and deep slumber which was interrupted abruptly now by all kinds of colors, visions and phantastic dreams painted on the crumbling walls of this remote place.

And last but not least on the premises you will find also the namegiver of the site, a beautiful forest lake called Domjüchsee.

Jo’s Monday walk : Alvor & the Estuary

 

MY NEAREST MOUNTAIN – CRAZY TEUFELSBERG IN BERLIN

Today, I would like to introduce you to the mountainous aspects of Berlin. Downtown there are of course some quite higher tops like Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg which make me thinking of the funny film dealing about an English man who climbed on a hill and came down a mountain (that’s also the film’s title).

Postcard with view from Kreuzberg in 1866

But the nearest and more well-known and highest elevation of Berlin is Teufelsberg / Devil’s Mountain in the huge municipal forest Grunewald and just 2 km distant from my home – even with rising sea levels a safe place due to an actual height of unbelievable 120.1 m, a location which also offers an interesting and surprising history.

Deceptive idyll on Teufelsberg in June 2018

Being geologically one of the youngest mountains worldwide, the 50th birthday of the location has just passed by, a critical age where a lot may change usually in the course of times as the following pictures of the site do clearly suggest.

Today Teufelsberg a center of urban art, the very last mutation of a bizarre place.

But let’s see what happened before here. At the end of WW II you would simply find a flat forest and the bombed rests of a big building formerly used by the German Wehrmacht as a military academy. This place was lying in the British sector of (West)-Berlin where no German army was allowed till the early 1990s when the special status of the city ended with the German unification. So nobody had any use for these military ruins left by the Nazis.

Ruins of Wehrtechnische Fakultät at Teufelsseechaussee

Vast areas of the town were also destroyed as a result of WW II, so this was declared as a place where all the debris and rubble of smashed houses would be brought till the late 1960s, in total 26 million cubic meters of waste material piled up to a new mountain getting the name Teufelsberg  because the site is lying at the road Teufelsseechausee leading finally to natural lake Teufelssee.

A truck transporting rubble to Teufelsberg, December 1951

Nature took quickly control of this dump, so today the mountain is covered by a wild nature and secondary forest. And the people of West-Berlin used the new mountain also for leisure like  snow sports as it was difficult to go elsewhere for quite long time due to the Wall of Berlin surrounding them till 1989.

Ski lift on Teufelsberg (120.1 m), Winter 1961

Down the mountain’s not too long slope, December 1981

But the mountain has also been the last listening post of the Cold War. In the years 1968 the American army seized the complete top area of the mountain and erected till 1969 a radar and monitoring station for intelligence purposes such as controlling telephone conversations in the former German Democratic Republic. The secret name of these constructing and supervising ambitions was Project Filman. The last and fifth tower was built and finalized in 1989 shortly before the political transitions and opening of the Wall of Berlin. With the unificiation of Germany this complex was no longer required, the American army left the place in 1991 changing the area to a mere ghost town.

Teufelsberg radar and monitoring station by US-army in the 1980s

Path around the complex through the secondary forest, June 2018

Pioneer plants conquered the place in the time being which grew in the cracks of the asphalt and even settled on roofs. Undemanding plants such as the evening primrose, the stonecrop or the elder have laid the groundwork that it is today very green on top of the Teufelsberg. The complex was sold to an investor who planned a hotel and luxury appartments on the mountain. But after getting many millions of loan for the project from the banks, he was never seen again in the city. Some years ago this area has also been declared as forestrial land making impossible such luxury projects in the future. 

One of the decaying radiation domes, August 2019

Colorful wildness of the ruins, August 2019

The abandoned and still militarywise fenced place attracted of course the urban art and graffiti community. So in the ruins you find today a vast diversity of amazing colorant works of any kind. The domes can no longer be visited due to their bad conditions, but the unique complex is huge and can be visited against payment of an entrance fee. Meanwhile another change, the city awarded this wild site the relevant status of a real protected monument. So history can be just fabulous sometimes!

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Tuesday Photo Challenge – City