Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, on June 21, 2019, a single segment of the wall found its way back into the public sphere of the German capital. Yet this time not as a threat to the people nor as a manifestation of political power, but as a striking piece of art. Set in the courtyard of the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, this sculptural installation by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset is titled Statue of Liberty (2018); it has been donated by the collector Heiner Wemhöner to the Nationalgalerie and Stiftung des Vereins der Freunde der Nationalgalerie. The work is an everyday ATM inserted into what used to be, quite literally, the Iron Curtain, separating not only East and West Berlin from 1961–89 but two ideological systems: the capitalist West with its promise of individual freedom and the communist East which was perceived as oppressive.
After the Wall came down and during the post-reunification period, Berlin was regarded as a city full of free space. This sense of freedom, however, is rapidly disappearing due to processes of gentrification and the free flow of capital. There is ever more commercialization and marketing aimed toward tourists, as evidenced by the many new cash machines located on the storefronts of independent traders in party districts. Elmgreen & Dragset’s sculpture serves a threefold purpose: it is a memorial to the separation of Germany pre-1989, a monument recalling the lost time of infinite possibility post-Wall, and a warning against selling off history and the city.Manhattan’s Statue of Liberty once welcomed migrants arriving to the New World, it has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions. Like its namesake, Elmgreen & Dragset’s Statue of Liberty is now a permanent welcome to the visitors of the Hamburger Bahnhof.
© Images Ernst van Hoek