Exorcism Performed at Berlin’s UDK Aims To Purge the Art Academy of Its Nazi Past

You sometimes have to confront the past in order to move forward.

The show Germania sprawls across the building's several stories. (Image courtesy of Team Germania)

Berlin’s art academy, the Universität Der Künste (UDK), will stage a performative exorcism of its World War II past. This is the second time that such a ritual takes place, following the successful run of the 2013 production, “Wagner.”

The academy’s department of performing arts has initiated the event, which will run for four nights, from February 19-22, 2015.

The performance “Germania, An Exorcism” will confront the turbulent history of the academy’s building. The institute’s new steel-and-glass building was inaugurated in 2005 and is located on Berlin’s famous Pariser Platz, right by the Brandenburg Gate, and where the Berlin wall that separated the GDR and the West once stood. The original edifice that once housed the academy at this prominent address was a palace which was bequeathed to the school in 1907. It was heavily bombed during World War II.

The then-titled Prussian Academy of Arts was formed in 1696. During the Weimar Republic, painter Max Liebermann was president of the academy. He resigned in 1933, just before he would have been forced to do so under new laws restricting the rights of Jews, when the academy decided to no longer exhibit works by Jewish artists, and expelled Käthe Kollwitz and Heinrich Mann from amongst its members. Between 1933 and 1938, some 41 members left or were forced to leave.

In 1937, the building on Pariser Platz was turned into the offices of Third Reich architect Albert Speer. It was destroyed in the final days of World War II.

It took several years after the end of the war for the art academy to recover. Post-war Berlin was divided between the Soviets and the West, and the city had two different academies. In 1996, seven years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the two institutions merged. Nine years later, a new building was erected where the old palace once stood.

The young student theater-makers and set designers aim to symbolically purge the academy of the ghosts of its past in a sprawling show that will wind up through the building’s several floors.

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