East Germany’s Secret Underground Murals Are Now on View for the First Time in 30 Years—See Them Here

Berlin’s Academy of Art (Akademie der Kunst) has opened up its cellar to reveal hidden wonders of early East German art. On view to the public for the first time in three decades, the so-called “pictures cellar” shines a light on the rebellious spirit in early East Germany in the years before the Berlin Wall was finally erected, in 1961, and split the city’s art scene in two.

The works on the cellar’s walls were painted over the course of two years and were intended as decor for frolicking carnival parties held in in the academy’s basement during the winter of 1957 and 1958. The lively Dionysian wall paintings were done by graduate students at the school at the time, some of whom went to become renowned East German artists: Manfred Böttcher, Harald Metzkes, Ernst Schroeder, and Horst Zickelbein.

Akademie der Künste’s picture cellar. Photo: Andreas FranzXaver Süß.

“In the murals it becomes clear that the generation of master students born around 1930 was concerned with a different realism from that demanded by the state,” according to a statement from the academy. Indeed, many of the artists went on to represent a dissident art form, and to form and promote the so-called Berlin School. Thanks to careful preservation, remnants of and studies for these works can be seen in the cellar walls of the academy, a space out of view of the government where ideas and artistic aspirations could be fully realized.

After the wall came down in 1989, art restorers and historians took steps to ensure that the murals were carefully preserved. But the cellar door was then closed and largely forgotten by the public until now.

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