The downtown wasteland known as Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum consists of approximately 5 hectares and hosts various artistic and cultural activities. The area is partially fenced, and due to a lack of construction activity has been used for more than twenty years for limited recreational use – as a dog run, picnic area and playground, with paths for leisurely walks and shortcuts. Surrounded by six- to eight-story residential and office buildings, Skulpturenpark acts as an urban stage on which spontaneous and orchestrated scenes periodically occur before an undefined public. With mosaic-like zoning, it is comprised of 62 lots belonging to various owners. Skulpturenpark is managed by the non-profit organization, KUNSTrePUBLIK e.V. The artist collective negotiates permissions with the landowners depending on the needs of each project or legal necessity. The following thematic exhibition series were realized in collaboration with a rotating curatorial committee: Bestandsaufnahme, Parcella, Spekulationen, Landreform and Wunderland. Skupturenpark also hosted the 5th Berlin Biennial in 2008 and has since organized exhibitions and site-specific workshops worldwide.
Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum subverts and expands the historical notions of a “sculpture park”. The integration of objects into a cultivated park landscape, in the tradition of open-air museums, is replaced by process-oriented activities, made visible and negotiated through social, historical and societal contexts. Invited artists confront the specific situation of the place, initiating artistic interventions, situations and signs. The historical and current significance of the area is thus subject to continuous reinterpretation and discussion, without affecting its basic character as an open urban space.
Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum is situated directly behind Spittelmarkt, southwest of Fischerinsel (Fishers' Island), which forms the southern end of the Spreeinsel (Spree Island). When Berlin was founded some 750 years ago, the terrain of Skulpturenpark was located just outside the city walls of its sister city, Cölln. The desolate nature of the area was accentuated in the 17th century when Berlin was made the royal electors’ residence and fortifications replaced the city walls. Nestled between the city gates, Cöpenicker Thor and Leipziger Thor, the area lay before the “Goltz Bulwark (Salt Bastion),” which today would be flanked by Seydelstrasse and Neue Grünstrasse. Alte Jakobstrasse runs along the outside of this old entrenchment; the name of nearby Wallstrasse attests to this history. As Prussia gained power, barracks were erected and the more rural Skulpturenpark region was used primarily by the military. By 1780, however, some 8,800 middle class farmers had settled the “Köpenicker Field,” which was renamed “Luisenstadt” in 1802.
As a result of the population boom during the industrialization of the early German Empire in the latter half of the 19th century, the city's remaining open spaces were filled with block-long tenement housing. In 1867, after the old fortification walls were leveled, the northwestern corner of Luisenstadt, bordering on Friedrichstadt, gained a reputation for being a “bad neighborhood.” By 1900, the working class district had more than 300,000 inhabitants and was one of Berlin's most populated quarters.
During WWII, the dense housing was almost completely destroyed. The area would soon become the border between the American and Russian sectors. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected. Remaining rubble was cleared and the Skulpturenpark terrain became a militarized zone dividing East and West.
After the dismantling of the Wall in 1990, a demographic “standstill” occurred due to unclear property rights and ownership. The strip was used as a “wild” parking lot and garbage dump. Eventually, the various lots at Skulpturenpark were transferred back to their original owners or their heirs, and remained this way until 2007.
By the mid-1990s, open spaces in Berlin's center gain the attention of real estate speculation, but in the initial euphoria surrounding the new capital city, many investors misjudge the market. While the initial land values of the future Skulpturenparksoar, the New Economy is faced with a crisis that entails rapid property devaluation and economic stagnation. The prominent neighborhoods, Mitte and Kreuzberg, also do not grow together as quickly as planned. With the exception of the “Stallschreiber Block,” or the southern half of Skulpturenpark, all other lots are now in the hands of private ownership. Since the end of 2007, the construction and real estate sectors have begun to recover. In 2009, fifteen years after the first new building, the second new construction of the last 100 years is erected: a mixed-use office and residential building. Two years later, the entire Northern half of Skulpturenpark is under construction.
A more extensive account and photos of Skulpturenpark's history, projects and involvement in the area's urban planning can be found in the catalog, Skulpturenpark Berlin_Zentrum at Buchhandlung Walther König in Germany or worldwide on Amazon.co.uk.
Until 2010: + Markus Lohmann, + Daniel Seiple
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