Wednesday, May 5, 1999 Published at 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Berlin loses its cultural cool
Baselitz paintings now sell for up to a million marks
By BBC Media Correspondent Nick Higham
In the days before the Iron Curtain disintegrated, Berlin was as famous for its counter-culture, as it was for its precarious position as an outpost of democracy in the communist east.
"In west Berlin there was a flourishing political and artistic counter-culture," says Michael Sontheimer who, 20 years ago, was a left-wing journalist, now mellowed to a writer on the magazine Der Spiegel.
"This island in a red sea acted as a magnet for the young and radical. Berliners didn't have to do military service, the government paid subsidies to persuade people to live here."
Middle class movement
But then the wall came down and Berlin is once again Germany's capital, and the middle classes are moving in.
It's a stark contrast to the Berlin of 1962 when, just after the wall was built, the police in the west seized an exhibition of works by the painter Georg Baselitz. His grotesque, tortured figures with huge phalluses were deemed obscene.
Today, art dealer Michael Fuchs is selling paintings from that exhibition and others by Baselitz for up to a million marks a time. He sees a chance to make money in the new Berlin.
Berlin counter-culture has now in fact moved east. Tacheles, once a Jewish department store in east Berlin, is now a place for artists and performers.
But even here the anarchic vision of the founders who moved in soon after the wall came down has changed.
Look to the East
"In the beginning it was a wild thing. I think it was not so good art, now we have good art, but it is not so wild as it was in the beginning, so everything has two sides," says Martin Reyter who has worked for Tacheles for six years.
Last year he hung almost 2,000 apple paintings in a gallery in the Big Apple itself, New York, and called it an art installation. People buy his individual paintings to hang in their kitchens.
He says they should doubt his art. "Is it contemporary or not? Is he joking or not? It is about the question - what is art? What is kitsch and what is painting?" Mr Schiller suggests potential buyers ask themselves.
In the old worker's suburb of Prenslauer Berg you still see the occasional east German Trabant. But the graffiti-covered old apartment blocks are being gentrified, trees are being planted, cafes opened.
The Distel Cabaret Theatre in east Berlin has been performing political satire since 1953, only the jokes are now about the plight of east Germans who saw their society dismantled and their identity lost.
Political censorship has gone only to be replaced by the censorship of the market. In the east, as in the west, it seems the city's unique culture is on the point of disappearing.
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