A Forgotten Mural in the Park Inn Berlin Hotel Discovered
During renovation work at the hotel on Alexanderplatz, an old mural appeared – one even the artist had forgotten
Gertraude Pohl has come to visit her child. Once, it was at the top of the building on the 37th floor, on the Panorama level just under the sky. For the last few weeks, it has been living in the basement. So, now down with the elevator which is lined with chipboard since they were doing renovations on the top floor and discovered the child. Past huge bags of returnable bottles, the air condition hums and the workers greet us. Then a sharp left and there it is. Layered on three pallets. “I did not think it was that big,” say Ms. Pohl. “And such beautiful colors…Well, it’s been a while.” It’s been almost half a century. “I visited all my children again, but I have to be honest, I forgot this one.”
Gertraude Pohl is a visual artist. She tenderly calls her works “her children”. The one that now resides in the basement of the Hotel Park Inn on Alexanderplatz was one of her first works. A huge mural, ten by three meters, made of ceramic and glass on steel. It was made in 1973 for the Red Salon, a kind of socialist nightclub in the tallest hotel in the city which, in GDR times, was called the Interhotel Stadt Berlin. At the turn of 1989, it was still on the 37th floor. Then the Red Salon became a casino and the image disappeared behind a plasterboard wall, from the public eye and also from the mind of Gertraude Pohl. There it remained until this winter when a construction team approached the 37th floor and Jürgen Gangl soon got a call from the top: “We’ve found something. You should come take a look!”
The search for the artist was difficult
The hotel manager, Gangl, still remembers that it was on January 18th. “Here, look. I took a picture with my mobile immediately.” It is quite nice for Frau Pohl and her child that Gangl was so impressed by the huge collage in its vivid colors. Behind mountains of rubble and all sorts of cables which one could only imagine what they were used for in a sovereign building of the GDR. “Do not break anything!”, he told workers and immediately called a specialist. Carefully, they dismantled the colourful ceramic wall, disassembled into nine individual parts and moved it into the basement. There it is now stored on three pallets awaiting its restoration.
The search for the artist was difficult. The only trace was a signature down in the corner, “Walk Pohl”. Gangl posted some of the photos of the surprise find on the internet and a few days later the telephone rang in the studio of Gertraude Pohl in Prenzlauer Berg. An architect from Cottbus informed her. “He said, ‘Imagine that! Your picture is back!’” Yes, she was a bit confused. “What do you mean? Which picture?” – “Well, that one from the Interhotel!” Soon she was driving to Alexanderplatz, down with the elevator, past the huge sacks of returnable bottles to the three wooden pallets. And the memories came back.
What exactly was the job?
Gertraude Pohl worked as a designer in the sixties. The Interhotel was one of her first clients. She was responsible for the design of the exterior façade, a large-scale enterprise for a 125-meter-high building. The huge mural was a follow-up work after the inauguration of the hotel on October 7th, 1970, the 21st birthday of the GDR. What exactly was the job? “There was nothing political, we shouldn’t tell a story, as is so often the case with large murals. It was all about an artistic enhancement of this special place,” with its magnificent views and huge floor to ceiling windows. So, she thought about her colleague, Gunda Walk, in her Weißensee workshop. The image was supposed to be colourful and give life to unique forms, “It should radiate a brilliance and an elegance that did not exist in everyday life.” Gertraude Pohl and Gunda Walk opted for vibrant yellow, green and blue tones, for rectangular tiles and round glass elements, the shape of which were cast by a Saxon artisan. “They could not buy something like this in the GDR,” says Gertraude. “Yes, the lack of art like this stimulated our creativity.”
The mural will be restored
The work went on for over a year. Then the wall decoration, made of an elaborate relief tile technique, was shipped from Weißensee to Alexanderplatz. How? “Unfortunately, I can’t remember but us two women didn’t carry the mural. It was far too heavy for that.” For the official inauguration, she drove her car into the hotel’s underground car park. In the Red Salon there was a small reception, benevolent speeches and a few glasses of sparkling wine. Frau Pohl remembers that she was a little tipsy and that there was a delegation of people and policeman outside the hotel, “…but they just greeted me and showed me the way. “
Ms. Pohl later established the Palace of the Republic and left her traces everywhere in the eastern half of the town. Today, she is 78 years old. A petite woman with alert eyes, she continues to exhibit and still works as an artist. The unexpected encounter with her missing ‘child’ has brought her a new mission. She will restore the mural on behalf of the Park Inn. Here, a corner of the ceramic is missing. Over there, a dent in a glass curvature. “No big deal. That won’t take so much time.”
Some children have left but this one has remained
At the end of the year, when the refurbishment is complete, and the new suites are ready, the child should decorate a wall on the 37th floor. In a breakfast room, about where the Red Salon used to be. Gertraude Pohl is looking forward to it and in general, “…how much respect my work has received, especially from Mr. Gangl. That is in no way taken for granted. Others would have disposed of the image immediately.” Some of her works have been destroyed since the reunification. For example, the large façade paintings a little further east on the Allee der Kosmonauten, “…which the new owner immediately removed.” Another work in the Friedrichswerder Church was removed in GDR times because a party bigwig discovered a hint of Stars and Stripes in the background. Another time, the Soviet embassy intervened, complaining too many colors in the direction of the West in an installation on the infamous boulevard, “Unter Den Linden”.
Some children have left, but this one at the Park Inn has remained. What is it called? “Good question,” says Gertraude Pohl, a bit surprised. “Let me think about it. Hmmm…no. I don’t think we named the kid at the time.”