Photo. An art class for refugee children of the Curvy Street Center in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, May 1953
&copy Landesarchiv Berlin

Thematic Area 7: The Artistic Perspective

The thematic area “The Artistic Perspective” shows how artists in the fine arts, literature, music and film have treated the topic of flight and emigration from East Germany.

Audio and video installations in the exhibition offer visitors the chance to discover many well- and lesser-known films, songs and radio plays from West and East German artists. Either explicitly or between the lines, these works of art deal with Germany’s division after the Second World War and its consequences. Also on display are original and reproductions of visual artworks, first editions of literary works, manuscripts and autographs.

Works in the centre of this thematic area illustrate how especially during the 1950s and 1960s – the high point of the Cold War – fundamentally different national and societal self-conceptions emerged in East and West. In this context, from the East German perspective refugees appeared as weak in character, as insufficiently mature for socialist society. In West Germany, on the other hand, refugees appeared to be personalities strong enough to withstand the conformist pressures exerted by the East German communist party and state.

However, not only demarcation is a made a subject of discussion. Rather, the artists also sought a critical dialogue with the opposing social system. A majority of the works shown bear witness to the ambivalent feelings – between desire and disbelief - many artists nurtured toward the country on the opposite side of the inner-German border.

Works placed on a large exhibit case – available for reading, viewing and listening – have been grouped for visitors according to key thematic concepts. These works clearly reflect the personal experiences of flight, legal departure and denaturalization in the lives and work of artists. “Departure”, “To Stay or Go”, “Life in No-Man’s-Land”, and the “Shoot-to-Kill Order” are subjects which arise time and again in artistic works about flight and emigration.

Another theme which one frequently discovers is the Icarus motif. Because doubts and open criticism of the GDR inevitably resulted in state repression – forms ranged from publication bans to arrest to extradition – many artists employed the ambiguity of mythological themes. The Icarus myth could in this context stand for many things: for the wish to break out of imposed narrowness, desire of the Other or as an allegory for hope and failure.