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New museum!

DAS MINSK: Potsdam’s new GDR art temple

A new art space dedicated to artists from the former GDR opens in Potsdam. We preview its first exhibitions.

Former GDR terrace restaurant DAS MINSK opened with exhibitions by Wolfgang Mattheuer and Stan Douglas. Photo: IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter

In its heyday, Minsk was one of the most popular restaurants in Potsdam. Officially opened in 1977 on the 60th anniversary of the Great Socialist October Revolution, it offered an international menu – a rare treat for the residents of former East Germany – and provided stunning views over Potsdam from its large terrace.

After the fall of communism, the restaurant fell out of favour and was left empty and unused for decades. Until 2019, that is, when the art collector Hasso Plattner, owner of the nearby Museum Barberini, saved it from demolition and converted it into DAS MINSK, the latest art space to open in or around Berlin.

We know that there will be people who come for the art, but there will be lots of people who come here just for the memories and the café.

The exhibition venue, which opened at the end of last month, is dedicated to the work of artists from Eastern Germany. Its inaugural temporary exhibitions feature Wolfgang Mattheuer, an artist who lived through the rise and fall of the GDR, and the Canadian artist Stan Douglas, who will be showing the photographic series Potsdamer Schrebergärten (1989).

“Douglas’s works are ideal for DAS MINSK, because they capture Potsdam immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” says Paola Malavassi, MINSK’s founding director. “We know that there will be people who come for the art, but there will be lots of people who come here just for the memories and the café.”

Potsdamer Schrebergärten. Photo: (c) Stan Douglas, courtesy der Künstler, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner

The restored art centre is a prime example of the GDR modernist style, and its reopening comes at a time of furious debate around the destruction of many GDR buildings. “Preserving the architecture was important,” Malavassi says, “but we wanted it to be more than just a shell, we wanted to preserve the stories surrounding it too. There are accounts of weddings and wild parties that took place here – incredible events that changed peoples’ lives.” An archive has been set up by DAS MINSK to record all these oral histories.

The first two exhibitions are themed around the idea of landscape. This theme was partly chosen because the DAS MINSK team wanted to showcase a different side to Potsdam. “People who visit here think it is all about Sanssouci and The Orangery Palace,” Malavassi explains,” but we want to show that it is also about the Schrebergärten and people reclaiming their space in the urban situation.”

Malavassi herself was born in Costa Rica and never had the chance to witness the GDR first-hand, but she is sensitive to the contentious nature of memory politics here in Eastern Germany. “Life can be very complex – and we want to be clear about differentiating between political systems and the people who live within them,” she says.

“That’s one of the reasons why we decided to not call it a ‘museum’, but instead refer to its time as a restaurant. So that DAS MINSK remains a meeting place, and preserves a part of history that has unfortunately been disappearing.”