For over half a century, an enormous mosaic portraying former East Germany’s ideals has been a beloved landmark in central Berlin.
Overlooking the famous Alexander Platz, the colorful frieze on the “Haus des Lehrers,” or House of Teachers, shows flag-waving laborers, happy farmers and engineers with calculators overseeing the construction of nuclear power plants.
The dramatic, two-story tall communist fantasy that spans the high-rise building is called “Our Life.” It was created in the 1960s by late artist Walter Womacka, who became known in that era for his state-commissioned work. His work was meant to show the German Democratic Republic as superior to the West; the mosaic on the iconic cultural center for teachers was no exception.
Although history has shown otherwise, contemporary Berlin artist Michael Wäser wondered what such a mosaic would look like through a modern lens – without the influence of political propaganda.
The 50-year-old artist, who has also published a number of novels, said he has long been interested in the East German frieze.
“I always wanted to put a mobile phone in one of these guys’ hands,” Mr. Womack said of the figures.
So he copied the frieze scene-by-scene on his computer and published his revisions online. At first glance, they look quite similar, but his and Mr. Wäser’s worlds couldn’t be more different.
In the original, eager children learn about the world, but in Mr. Wäser’s satirical remake, the long-suffering teachers commit suicide in the classroom.
There are many other examples of his interpretations: children eager to take up the cause of the communist state morph into egotists with selfie sticks; mothers wandering through a Utopian garden worship their babies to the point of self-abandonment; and engineers designing nuclear plants fail to build the city’s new airport.
“Hardly anything is produced in Berlin any longer,” Mr. Wäser said.
The only sector still growing, he added, is media production, and one of his interpretations includes a pornography film set.
Artists, whom Mr. Womacka cast in the state-sponsored role of political teachers, are reduced by Mr. Wäser to graffiti artists who film their illegal activities and put them online.
And East Germany’s so-called fraternity of peoples? “They never existed,” Mr. Wäser said.
In place of people with different skin colors embracing, Mr. Wäser shows refugees in a rubber dinghy.
In their own ways, each work contains an element of the grotesque, though this is a conclusion that can no longer plague Mr. Womacka, who died in 2010 at the age of 84.
Still, the artist’s work continues to characterize Alexander Platz, which buzzes with activity today. All three of his works in the square, which also include a copper frieze and a fountain, are protected historic monuments.
Video: The original mosaics.
Mr. Wäser’s works can be seen on his website.
This article first appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.