Im Tierpark Belauscht

Sound Installation
Kulturhaus Schwartzsche Villa, Berlin

- 2023

Im Tierpark Belauscht was first exhibited in July 2023 as part of Xposures Open-Air Festival at Kulturhaus Schwartzsche Villa in Steglitz, Berlin. The festival was curated by Marianna Liosi. Xposures positioned ten international artists based in Berlin to respond to the exhibition Vergessen und Vorbei? (Forgotten and Gone?), which took place simultaneously at Schwartzsche Villa. Vergessen und Vorbei? raised the question of how we might memorialise or transform sites in Berlin that were used as forced labour camps under National Socialism.

Im Tierpark Belauscht offered a response to this question.

The grounds of Tierpark Berlin in Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde, Lichtenberg, represent deeply political and symbolic territory. Over the past century alone, the site that now constitutes Europe’s largest landscape zoo has found use, on the one hand, as the private estate of a wealthy agricultural family – the Treskow family – and, on the other hand, as the site of a Nazi forced labour and education camp: Arbeitserziehunglager Wuhlheide. Originally leased by the Reichsbahn in 1938, the camp was the very first of its kind. Arbeitserziehunglager Wuhlheide then became the archetype for all further work and education camps under National Socialism. Approximately 30,000 inmates were detained in this camp alone and, from those inmates, 3,000 were killed. Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde became politicised again in 1954 when the DDR sought to establish a respectable zoo in the East to rival West Berlin’s famously popular Zoologischer Garten. The first director of Tierpark Berlin, Dr. Curt Heinrich Dathe, who was himself a former NSDAP member from 1932, became a regular voice on the Sunday radio program Im Tierpark Belauscht (Eavesdropping at the Zoo) from 1957, in which he shared news and entertaining details about the different animals. Today, a single Gedenkstein (memorial stone) in Tierpark Berlin signifies the history of this site as a place of state-sanctioned imprisonment and murder. And yet, as you will find no reference to the memorial stone on the current park plan, or indeed any mention of it on the zoo’s website, a keen eye is required for any visitor to discern the memorial’s unnatural, obelisk-like form through the dense forest brush.

Im Tierpark Belauscht responds to the politicised history of Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde through a provocative gesture intended to nuance our reading of this site, and thus with the production of memory more broadly in Berlin since the Second World War. Horn speakers installed in a tree outside of Kulturhaus Schwartzsche Villa amplified the sounds of birds recorded in captivity in Tierpark Berlin alongside the unmistakable sounds of human visitors inside the bird enclosure. Both the visual aesthetic of the speakers and the distinctive military-like sound they produce are reminiscent of places of power and hierarchy – schools, detention facilities, prisons, army barracks, etc. The conflict of symbols presented in this installation between freedom, which we associate with birds, owing to their ability to fly, and domination reflects the stunning paradox of Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde - once the site of a forced labour camp and now a public zoo.

- Dimensions (HxWxD): N/A
- Materials: Horn speakers, Amplifier, Media player, Soft Wood, Straps, Audio Cables