30 Years of German Unity
Lutz Dammbeck, avant-garde artist in the GDR
Lutz Dammbeck is one of many artists who turned their back on the German Democratic Republic (GDR) before the Fall of the Wall. What made him leave?
By Karin Oehlenschläger
Lutz Dammbeck, born in 1948 in former East Germany, began working as an artist in the early 1970s when he developed "media collages" based on experimental films and conceptual photo series. In the 1980s, these were among the most interesting works of art in the GDR, and, seen from today's perspective, his work was also significant beyond the small country’s borders. It was with this unique artistic approach that he began creating his multimedia work, Herakles project, which was his most important asset when he moved to Hamburg, West Germany in 1986. He is still developing this project to this day.
Formally, the reason for his application for departure (Ausreiseantrag) was the rejection of his 10th application for a study trip to the Federal Republic of Germany. It was the consequence of a discussion that had been going on for many years: "to leave or to stay", the same question his parents had been asking themselves since before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. When the authorities finally rejected an important project after many years of negotiating back and forth, he had had enough and decided it’s time for a new beginning.
Is there German unity today? Lutz Dammbeck is skeptical. Since 1945 and the rebuilding of West Germany after World War II, under Allied occupation, Nazi influence in every aspect of society was to be eliminated. In Dammbeck's opinion, what the former East Germans lack is more than 40 years of this re-education—the so-called “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” or "working through the past—and they still have a lot of catching up to do.
When asked what is “GDR culture,” Dammbeck says he’s not sure. Maybe it’s just art that happened to be created in the GDR? He says that remnants of a "German" culture survived longer and more persistently in the GDR than it did in West Germany. But he considers most of what was produced in the East not really the stuff for art museums, but rather belonging in museums of local history, folklore, and archives documenting social affairs. “But only time will tell”, he laughs.