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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
Berlin Flick show stirs controversy
An art exhibition belonging to the wealthy grandson of a convicted Nazi industrialist has opened amid controversy in Germany. The BBC's Berlin correspondent Tristana Moore went to visit the show.

"This is one of the most important collections of contemporary art in the world," said Eugen Blume, the curator of the Flick collection, as he showed me some of the exhibits.

The exhibition includes modern art from around the world
"Visitors will see the art in our museum and this is the important fact for us, to be able to show the art - not the political debate about the Flick name."

We were standing in a warehouse, the Rieckhallen - next to the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, which Friedrich Christian Flick paid around eight million euros to convert.

It is packed with exhibits - Rodney Graham, Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Ruff, to name only a handful of the artists whose work is on show.

Over the next seven years, more than 2,000 works of art will be on display in the museum - they all belong to the private collection of Friedrich Christian Flick.

He had tried to organise an exhibition in Switzerland, where he lives, but he had to abandon his plans because there was so much opposition. Critics accuse Mr Flick of trying to rehabilitate the family name and whitewash his family history by displaying art bought with the family fortune.


Friedrich Christian Flick is the grandson of Friedrich Flick - the arms manufacturer and steel magnate who used to supply the Nazi regime.

In 1947, Flick was sentenced to seven years in prison during the Nuremberg Trials for his exploitation of slave labour and confiscation of Jewish property. The younger Flick stands accused of building his massive art collection on a fortune from his family empire that employed thousands of slave labourers from Eastern Europe.

He had 30 years to show that he had a social conscience, that he was concerned about some effort of reconciliation
Deirdre Berger,
American Jewish Committee

"It's a disgrace," said Deirdre Berger, from the American Jewish Committee."

She wouldn't even set foot inside the Hamburger Bahnhof museum and has decided to boycott the Flick collection.

"Nobody really knows that the Flick fortune was based on the use of slave labour during the Second World War."

While Friedrich Flick refused to make any form of reparations to the slave labourers, the companies who used to be in the Flick group later paid money into a special fund and the grandson, Friedrich Christian Flick, set up his own Foundation Against Racism and Intolerance.

"Mr Flick set up this fund only after he was in negotiation with the city of Berlin to show this art collection," said Ms Berger.

"He had 30 years to show that he had a social conscience, that he was concerned about some effort of reconciliation. I don't think a fund to fight right-wing extremism, which is in itself a good thing, is a direct way of confronting responsibility for the past."

Gerhard Schroeder and Friedrich Christian Flick
Chancellor Schroeder (left) has been criticised over his support for the show
The official opening of the Flick Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum was a media circus - hundreds of journalists and members of the public attended the news conference.

After a short delay, Friedrich Christian Flick entered the room, surrounded by bodyguards, museum officials and the German Culture Minister, Christina Weiss.

"I can only say that I respect the opinion of my critics," Friedrich Christian Flick said at the news conference.

"But in the end, the decision as to what I do to fulfil my responsibility must ultimately be left up to me. I mean that nobody else can decide how to interpret his sense of responsibility for me."


There were hushed whispers amongst members of the audience and many people shook their heads in disgust.

Later in the evening, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, attended a special reception at the museum.
Protesters say the collection is tainted by Mr Flick's family fortune
Sitting next to him was Friedrich Christian Flick - the two men were smiling at each other and both looked very relaxed - almost oblivious to the row which has broken out over the collection.

"He personally has nothing to do with his family's war crimes," said Mr Schroeder, as he opened the exhibition.

"But the name Flick bears the weight of history and of memory - Friedrich Christian Flick has inherited a duty of historical responsibility."

German artist Renata Shih said: "I'm astonished that the Chancellor of Germany has opened this collection, because he's not known for opening any other collections.

"Well, I think we all ask ourselves why he is doing this and this is really disgraceful."

She has organised a protest action - along with other artists - by putting up posters against Flick outside the Hamburger Bahnhof museum.

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