East German Architecture – Historic Photo Collages of Buildings and Squares in East Berlin

Preserved in the archives of the Berlinische Galerie, these stunning historic collages have now been brought out of hiding thanks to the efforts of the “Kunst auf Lager” (“Art in Stor(ag)e”) alliance, which funded extensive restoration work to make them fit for public exhibition.

Read on to find out more about the origins and contents of these unique pieces, which are accessible to the general public for the first time in almost 40 years.

Central Berlin - Berlinische Galerie
Source: © Dieter Urbach, © Reproduktion: Markus Hawlik

The Collages

In the 1970’s, collages represented a new way for architects to make their designs more accessible and bring their ideas to life for the benefit of party functionaries and members of the government. Created by the architect and printmaker Dieter Urbach, the collages on show at the Berlinische Galerie present designs for public spaces in East Berlin by various architects, including the well-known East German architects Heinz Graffunder and Josef Kaiser, who commissioned Urbach to create the collages.

Central Berlin - Berlinische Galerie
Haus der Presse, Source: © Dieter Urbach, © Reproduktion: Markus Hawlik

Restoring the collages was an even more complex task because of the wide variety of different techniques and materials used. Dieter Urbach, who was born in the village of Beutnitz in what is now part of Poland in 1937, included found footage such as newspaper clippings as well as photographs taken for this specific purpose, pencil and ink drawings, airbrushing and opaque white ink.

Early predecessors of today’s computer-generated 3D models, these collages represented an attractive and innovative approach to making architectural designs accessible to non-expert audiences – reproductions of Urbach’s collages were exhibited at trade shows and reprinted in newspapers. Making them was a complicated process that required considerable skill and expenditure.

The Locations

Berlin’s inner city suffered extensive damage during World War II, and the demolition of buildings at risk of collapse in the post-war era created numerous open spaces, which the East German government was eager to fill with prestigious new buildings.

These included the area in front of the TV Tower as well as the site of the former Stadtschloss (Berlin Palace) opposite the Berlin Cathedral, which was to become the location of the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic). Urbach’s collage for this, one of East Germany’s most iconic buildings shows visitors attending a festive occasion in the Great Hall.

Central Berlin - Berlinische Galerie
Marx-Engels-Platz, Source: © Dieter Urbach, © Reproduktion: Markus Hawlik

Another building preserved for posterity in Urbach’s collages is the Palasthotel (Palace Hotel), which like the Palace of the Republic was demolished in the wake of German reunification.

Check out Urbach’s Originals

Dieter Urbach’s original collages are on show at the Berlinische Galerie in Kreuzberg as part of the “Art in Berlin 1880-1980” exhibition, which presents a changing selection of artworks from the museum’s extensive collection.

Central Berlin - Berlinische Galerie
Berlinische Galerie, Source: Nina Strassguetl

To check out the pieces currently on show or search the archives, visit the museum’s online collection.