Finding historical treasures

Berlin’s cultural landscape is as diverse as the many conflicting ideas on how to shape it. Located at the very heart of the city, the Stiftung Brandenburger Tor has made it its primary objective to provide an open platform for the capital’s cultural discourse.

Against the backdrop of the foundation’s 20th anniversary, we were asked to come up with a format idea that serves to communicate the importance of culture in society, as well as the foundation’s multifaceted endeavours to protect it.

Housed in Max Liebermann’s former residence at Pariser Platz 7, right next to the Brandenburg Gate, the stories surrounding the building’s most prominent tenant provided us with a heritage so rich, it inspired us to connect its historic past with the foundation’s future objectives.

Max Liebermann, Selbstbildnis, stehend in Dreiviertelfigur, beide Hände in den Hosentaschen, 1915, Staatliche Museum zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Schenkung an die Freunde der Nationalgalerie, Foto: Andres Kilger

A tireless advocate for culture himself, Liebermann always spoke boldly for the separation of art and politics. Staying true to his principles during the times of conflict presented by the German Empire, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich made him an uncomfortable opponent to the establishment, ultimately resulting in a clash with Kaiser Wilhelm II himself.

Not only did the two represent different tastes in art and opposing ideas about its role in society, the mutual antipathy between Liebermann and Kaiser Wilhlem II reached its peak in a legal dispute about the construction of a rooftop glass atelier on Liebermann’s house, which the Kaiser forcefully tried to prohibit – and failed.

Max Liebermann, Das Atelier des Künstlers, 1902, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen

We turned the story of Max Liebermann and Wilhelm II into a book. Based on the facts but told in short fiction prose in collaboration with historian Christoph Stölz, the story serves as a reminder of how civic engagement in the name of culture can transcend the political barriers of its time.

Paired with an interview with directors Pascal Decker and Klaus-Peter Schuster on the foundation’s outlook, the publication carves out parallels between past, present and future, reminding us of the necessity of open discourse to truly push culture forward.