Modern art museum Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin is showcasing German painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s "Potsdamer Platz” along with four other paintings by the artist.
In the year 1914, long before his persecution under the Nazis drove him to suicide, Kirchner (1880-1938) created a central work of expressionism: "Potsdamer Platz."
A nighttime street scene on Berlin's busiest crossroad, the painting is evidence that the city's world-famous club scene today has its roots in a buzzing nightlife a century ago.
At the same time, the painting already hints at the tragedies still to come, with one female figure dressed in black and a veil, presumably widowed after the onset of World War I.
Kirchner's scene is perhaps one of the most significant artworks for the city of Berlin, and, somewhat aptly, it was removed from public view during the coronavirus lockdown that emptied Potsdamer Platz and other parts of the city. Over several years of renovation, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin did not have walls to hang this work on but it is now once again bringing this famous expressionist work back for the public.
For Joachim Jaeger, director of the central Berlin gallery, “Potsdamer Platz” is one of the highlights of the exhibition "The Art of Society 1900-1945. Collection of the National Gallery," with which the museum is reopening on Aug. 22. The Neue Nationalgalerie was closed at the end of 2014 and has gone through five years of fundamental renovation. With this iconic building, architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) created a striking museum for 20th-century art in the late 1960s.
Kirchner's "Potsdamer Platz" now hangs a few hundred meters from its real-life counterpart. However, the motif is not a direct reflection of the reality of the square at that time.
"It is an expressionist variant of it," says Jaeger. For this, Kirchner condenses the amusement palace, railway station and beer house into one architectural frame.
In between all of this are two female figures, thought to be prostitutes, standing on a traffic island where they are both the center of attention and also isolated from the surrounding society.
The veil of one of the women can be interpreted as a reference to the casual prostitution of many war widows. At the same time, it is camouflage – prostitution was forbidden at the time.
Kirchner made the male figures much smaller. Their multitude hints at the buzz around this traffic junction at that time, but above all their movement towards the women evokes the idea of Potsdamer Platz as a hotspot of nocturnal thrills.