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Artist Ai Weiwei says goodbye to Berlin after three years

May 3, 2018

The Chinese artist has lived and worked in Berlin since leaving his homeland in 2015 and is now pondering his next step. Citing the language barrier as a reason for moving on, Ai Weiwei will keep his studio in the city.

Deutschland Berlin - Ai Weiwei in seinem Studio
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is preparing to say farewell to Berlin after three years but will keep his studio permanently in the city. The 60-year-old human rights activist told dpa that the main reason for finding a new home was the language barrier.

In addition, he said he wanted to live somewhere where there is more sun. "Wherever I settle — I would not call it home," he explained, intimating that he will not be returning to China any time soon.

Der Tagesspiegel newspaper had reported on Wednesday that Ai had announced his plans "casually" at an event in Berlin.

Read more'Ai Weiwei Drifting': China's most famous, displaced artist

Ai Weiwei was arrested and detained by Chinese authorities for 81 days in 2011, after which the government retained his passport for over four years. The artist could not leave China until his passport was returned at the end of July 2015.

As intended before his arrest, the outlawed artist moved to Berlin to join his family and take up a guest professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) that he'd been offered in 2011 — his three-year visiting professorship ends this summer.

The artist also opened a long-planned studio in the former Pfefferberg brewery in the Prenzlauer Berg area.

Read moreBerlin's mayor accepts dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei as 'Friend of Berlin'

Ai weiwei in "Human Flow"
Ai weiwei has been busy during him time in Berlin, and is seen here in his documentary "Human Flow" that traces the plight of displaced refugees Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Human Flow UG

Defending human rights

The renowned artistic provocateur has continued to tackle current political issues during his stay in Berlin — particularly the fate of refugees.

"He's assumed his responsibility as a defender of human rights and I don't think that's about to change," museum curator Adrian Locke, who was preparing an Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 2015, told DW at the time.

That same summer, an unforeseen flow of refugees was reaching Europe. The migrants' plight echoed Ai's own experiences and the dangerous journeys they undertook inspired a series of projects, including the film "Human Flow."

Read moreAi Weiwei's film 'Human Flow' makes Oscar shortlist

"With every exhibition, I also try to answer the question of who I am," the restless artist told the filmmakers of a DW documentary which followed him throughout that year, "Ai Weiwei Drifting."

Ai Weiwei Drifting

Berlin to remain his workplace

"Berlin gave me an important time for reorientation, and with my underground studio and my ignorance of the German language, it helped me get the necessary seclusion for my work," said Ai.

"My studio in Berlin will always be my base; I will never give that up," he added.

During the same event, the artist confirmed that he met the Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont in Berlin.

Together they spoke about the human rights situation in Europe and about the possibilities of legal protest in defense of human rights and democracy. 


Stuart Braun | DW Reporter
Stuart Braun Berlin-based journalist with a focus on climate and culture.