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Käthe Kollwitz’s museum in Berlin goes in search of new home

Artist’s art to be ousted by stories of exile

Käthe Kollwitz in 1906 Philipp Kester © bpk; Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Fotografie; Archiv Kester. urban nation: graftlab

The privately owned Käthe Kollwitz Museum Berlin has been housed in a 19th-century villa in the city’s Charlottenburg district since 1986. But Bernd Schultz, the building’s owner and the founder of the Villa Grisebach auction house, intends to give notice on the lease in October, forcing the museum to move out at the end of 2018. Iris Berndt, the museum’s director, resigned over the conflict in July.

Schultz, who partly subsidises the museum by charging low rent, is planning to lease the villa to the new Exilmuseum (Museum of Exile). Championed by the Nobel Prize for Literature winner Herta Müller, the museum would commemorate the hundreds of thousands who fled Nazi Germany to begin new lives abroad, including the writer Thomas Mann and the film-maker Billy Wilder. It is due to open in 2020, the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” wrote Arne Kollwitz, the artist’s grandson, in the Tagesspiegel newspaper. Without the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, he said, “there would be nowhere in her home city devoted to [her] memory”. Best known for portraying the homeless and hungry in early 20th-century Berlin, the artist has a street and a square named after her in the Prenzlauer Berg district, where she lived and worked.

Schultz offered the Käthe Kollwitz Museum a new home in the trendy but poor Neukölln district, but the museum rejected the space as unsuitable and too expensive. The Landesverband der Museen zu Berlin, the regional association of museums, is also appealing to keep the institution in its current location, which it says is “firmly established with visitors”.

Eberhard Diepgen, a former Berlin mayor and the chair of the foundation that runs the museum, expects the move to go ahead regardless. “We are on the lookout for new premises, looking at concrete offers and are, within limits, hopeful,” he says.

Meanwhile, exhibitions marking 150 years since Kollwitz’s birth have opened across Germany and as far afield as Pennsylvania and Hawaii. The Berlin museum is hosting its anniversary show, Käthe Kollwitz and Her Friends, until 15 October.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper, 293 September 2017