FOr nearly three decades that seems to have been relegated to a scrap heap of history, a remnant of East German communism that is as redundant and ugly as the Berlin Wall and destined to fall victim to the wrecking ball.
But the former balcony café in Potsdam, just west of Berlin, is being hailed as a masterpiece of socialist realist architecture after the German billionaire businessman saved it from demolition that recast it as an art gallery.
The Minsk Kunsthaus or art house will display Hasso Plattner’s extensive collection of East German art, a genre that has often been marginalized since the collapse of the German Democratic Republic in 1989, but is now enjoying something of a revival.
Elegant in its simplicity, the modern building – once a popular local meeting point and venue for discotheques and festivities of coming of age – has been given a new spiral staircase and café with wide panoramic windows by the architects Linearama of Genoa. Its thought-provoking exhibition on landscapes and allotments draws visitors and praise from art critics across Europe.
Hans-Dieter Roach, who documented the building’s reinvention in film, described it as an “attempt to heal a wound”. Others described it as a reconciliation gesture.
Observers of German unification in 1990 say that Minsk is a metaphor for the way the implementers of the two countries’ merger dealt with East German sentiments. Regardless of their political position, many felt that their identities and biographies had been erased as much of the social furniture of their lives was shed.
Nowhere in the former GDR architecture was the focal point of this sense of neglect as it was in Potsdam.
The former seat of the Prussian kings and tsar, and with an abundance of Baroque architecture to match, post-communist rebuilding is often seen as analogous to West German arrogance. Many wealthy hits from the West, including fashion designers, television presenters, and newspaper publishers, purchased their historic villas and other buildings, many of which were severely neglected by the East German regime. At the same time, they supported the demolition of Soviet-era architecture, from high-rise apartment blocks to college buildings, which they considered ugly and soulless.
Plattner, the co-founder of software giant SAP, who lives in the classic lakeside villa designed by Mies van der Rohe that housed Winston Churchill during his brief stint at the post-war Potsdam Conference in 1945, has long fought criticism that he is one. from the so-called Besser Whisses Playing with the words “know-it-all” and “western” – which contributed to the rise in housing prices.
Barberini, which has been rebuilt with millions of euros for a Baroque palace destroyed by war bombing, opened to the public in 2017. It houses its large collection of Impressionist artwork and has attracted international acclaim from critics.
Domestic opposition to the retaking of Minsk by some who said it was an unwelcome expression of “delayed ostaglie‘, or nostalgia for the East, after admitting that the construction of two post-communist buildings, the Potsdam train station and its recreation centre, nicknamed the ‘basement baths’, facing Minsk, was far uglier than anything else in the socialist era had served.
Frankfurter Allgemeine critic wrote: “With its vulgar angle and dreary aesthetic economy, you can consider it an allegory of capitalism, but then you will have no choice but to immediately rebel against this system, just as the people revolted against the German Democratic Republic.”
Blatner also says he despises what he callsWessy The wrath of the demolition “is what prompted him to buy Minsk from the city after it had been empty for two decades and to rebuild it” as it was before.
That includes keeping the original name, despite a cynical claim by one critic, that it opens Potsdam “to the danger of the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, feeling saluted”. To counter any criticism, the museum makes visitors well aware of the plight of Belarus political prisoners, who are now believed to number over 1,300, and invites them to take part in a social art project #FramedinBelarus.
Minsk has been one of the many “nationality” restaurants found in every East German municipality since the 1970s, a celebration of the capitals of the Soviet Union. Potsdam was twinned with Minsk, which had a restaurant called Potsdam. For the original Minsk interior when it was built by architect Karl-Heinz Berkholz between 1971 and 1977, building materials including entrance marble, wood carvings, and brass lamps were brought from Belarus and the menu features Belarusian cuisine.
In the documentary, Berkholz spoke about how painful it was to neglect his building. “She’s getting her time again,” he said, giving the revamped version his blessing.