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Culture

Reunification's Cultural Challenge

Politically and economically speaking, the two German states couldn’t have been more different after 40 years of separation. But the common cultural tradition was considered the basis for one nation.

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Despite their differences the two Germanies shared a cultural base


"We are the people!" was the political slogan East Germans shouted when they fought for freedom under a communist regime. It turned into "We are one people!" when Bavarian conservatives joined their ranks at the infamous Monday demonstrations in Leipzig. Not much later, the Berlin Wall fell. On Oct. 3, 1990, Germany reunited.

Since then, the two Germanys have been getting to know each other better and coming to a better understanding of their differences. The art world, as one example, is still learning about the preferences of art buyers in East and West.

Eastern German art gallerist Gerd-Harry Lybcke is credited with discovering the so-called "Leipzig School" of artists working in the eastern Germany city who, years after the fall of the Wall, revived a style of literal realism that fell out of favor in West Germany in the 1970s and '80s.

Paintings in this style are a hot commodity on the international art scene, but Lybcke, who opened his gallery EIGEN + ART in Leipzig in 1986, doesn't sell works from the popular artists to collectors in Germany's east. The economic upswing has still not happened there. Money is made elsewhere.

The allure of the East

Vorstadt

"Vorstadt," Christoph Ruckhaeberle, 2002

Despite the relative lack of wealth in the East, Lybcke says excellent young artists come to Leipzig from the West to study. In the 'wild' East, there is a certain inspiration for artistic expression lacking in the West.

"They have experienced wealth where it feels so empty," Lybcke said. "Now, they come to a fairly poor state in the East and discover the cultural abundance here. As an artist, you can discover yourself. There's so much that hasn't been done. You take responsibility for your artistic position. Being responsible for what you're doing is an ideal situation to shape a character."

Germany's eastern states need to spend far more money on the arts than the western states in order to maintain the extensive artistic infrastructure built by the Communist regime. At the time of the fall of the Wall, East Germany had an impressive number of state-funded cultural institutions: 217 theaters, 87 symphony orchestras, 955 museums, more than 200 music schools, 9,349 libraries and 250,000 architectural and historical monuments.

Returning eastern cities to their former glory

Das Neue Palais

The New Palace in Potsdam, one of East Germany's jewels

Gottfried Kiesow, head of Germany's Foundation for the Protection of Historical Monuments, says Germany paid almost $2 billion (1.7 billion euros) for cultural programs and architectural renovation in the first three years after unification.

"East German cities were in a decrepit state, because so little was done to maintain buildings under the socialists," Kiesow explained. "Very few buildings were modernized. Most were poorly maintained. But generally, historic buildings remained intact. In the West, entire city centers were scarred by shopping malls and advertising. In the East, town planners who did little made few mistakes," he said.

Entire cities in the East needed to be renovated after the Wall came down, but fortunately the historic substance was never lost. In the past 15 years, the cultural centers of Weimar, Potsdam, Leipzig, Dresden and Görlitz have blossomed.

Palaces, castles and townhouses, theaters, memorials and museums have been restored at great expense. Today, they again demonstrate the heights of a Germany's common cultural tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries. They have become places of national identity -- and lucrative tourist destinations.

The arts as a catalyst for cultural reunification

Schiller Museum in Weimar

The Schiller Museum in Weimar, a German cultural treasure

Hellmut Seemann, president of the Weimar Classic Foundation, believes the arts can play an important role in the continuing process of cultural unification.


"On average, people in the East are less successful, less productive and not as wealthy. Materially speaking, they're less happy," Seemann said. "But that's exactly why cultural diversity in the eastern states plays a more important role than in the West. People in eastern Germany are aware that there are things which are more important than making money and paying taxes. They see the arts as a creative process of 'togetherness.' We need to strengthen this consciousness, because that's the only way to ensure culture and society continues to thrive -- regardless of where we stand economically in the years to come."

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