Im Tierpark Belauscht
Kulturhaus Schwartzsche Villa, Berlin
Im Tierpark Belauscht was exhibited in July 2023 as part of Xposures Open-Air Festival at Kulturhaus Schwartzsche Villa in Steglitz, Berlin, 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 provides but one such answer 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 (Overheard 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. Erected in 1981, the large granite memorial indicates quite clearly through its engraving that the inmates of Arbeitserziehunglager Wuhlheide fall within the category of ‘anti-fascist’. Therefore, in commending the dead for their courage in fighting fascism, the memorial stone (and thus the political system that sought its creation) recruits the inmates as communist, despite there being little evidence with which to support such a claim.
Im Tierpark Belauscht responds to the politicised history of Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde through a provocative gesture intended to nuance our reading of events, political actions, and individual people connected with this site, and thus with the production of memory in Berlin since the Second World War more broadly. Horn speakers installed in a tree outside of Kulturhaus Schwartzsche Villa reproduced the sounds of birds recorded in captivity in Tierpark Berlin alongside the unmistakable sounds of human visitors. 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 the site of Schlosspark Friedrichsfelde.
Although visitors to Tierpark Berlin may well discover the memorial stone to the victims of Arbeitserziehunglager Wuhlheide as they explore the park, I make the case here that the more accurate memorial to the forced labour camp and its victims is the zoo itself - a site of continued, though politically masked, detention and exploitation.
- Dimensions (HxWxD): N/A
- Materials: Horn speakers, Amplifier, Media player, Soft Wood, Tree Straps, Audio Cables