Hitler portrait triggers row in Potsdam
CDU demand removal of Nazi picture ahead of opening of new parliament
Some 112 paintings by Berlin artist Lutz Friedel are currently on display at the new state parliament in Potsdam, Germany. Amongst the pictures are portraits of former German Chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Konrad Adenauer, but also of dictator of Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler and Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Photograph: EPA
The parliament is housed in a reconstruction of a city palace once used by Prussian kings, damaged in the second World War and demolished by East German authorities in 1960. As part of the modern interior, a committee of state parliamentarians commissioned German painter Lutz Friedel to paint 112 images of historical figures.
The portrait series, Me! My Self-portraits from 1635 to 2003, includes Holocaust victim Anne Frank, writer Franz Kafka and former chancellor Helmut Schmidt alongside Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Finally, Mr Friedel painted a work called Me as Helge Schneider as Adolf Hitler, referring to a German comedian who played the Nazi dictator in the 2007 film My Führer.
The painter said he selected images of people who had impressed him in a positive or negative way. He said his shadowy image of Schneider as Hitler was intended to trigger a discussion about the limits of presenting the dictator in a human light.
“It was clear to me the painting would start a discussion, I’m not naive, but I’m sick to the back teeth of this discussion now because of the oversimplification that it is merely a provocation,” said Mr Friedel.
“Goebbels was the worst opportunist of the 20th century, Stalin was a mass murderer . . . but Hitler had so many facets that there’s probably no particular way in which you can describe him precisely,” he added.
Brandenburg’s opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voted against hanging the works and is demanding their removal.
“One can always argue over art but pictures of Hitler or Stalin are unbearable in a parliament,” said Ingo Senftleben, CDU parliamentary floor leader.
The ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Left Party in the Brandenburg state parliament defended the decision to exhibit the works at the opening weekend to which 20,000 people are expected.
“I don’t want to live in a country again that defines the freedom of art. Art is free,” said Gerrit Große, a Left Party member of the culture commission that granted the commission. “Looking at a picture doesn’t change a person: one asks questions.”