With one week past and one more to go, artist Agustina Woodgate and curator Anthony Spinello from Miami, collaborators George Scheer, Stephanie Sherman, and Chris Lineberry from Elsewhere in NC, and scientist Dan Margulies of The Neuro Bureau Berlin, are in the throes of an ArtMatters research project in an abandoned amusement park. Miami based Spinello and Woodgate have been collaborators with Elsewhere artists since Woodgate’s residency last fall at the thrift-store turned living museum. The group shares an interest in cultural imaginaries, the poetics of abandoned spaces, process-based productions, and artist communities that foster creative collaborations and public exchanges. Since last Thursday, they’ve been investigating the politics, poetics, and possibilities of a former GDR amusement park located within the sprawling Treptow Park in East Berlin. The artists from Elsewhere knew of the park from a 2007 trip, when they hopped the fence (a rite of passage for Berliners and tourists alike) and discovered a wonder world of trees growing through the center of Roller coasters, graffitied gangs of land-locked swan boats, toppled dinosaurs, and suspended amusement.
Spreepark reflects Berlin’s tangled history of political and economic shifts. The park is a manifest of the cultural effects of those transformations. In 1969, the Soviet GDR built Kulturpark Planterwald in Treptow Park in Southeast Berlin. After the fall of the wall and unification in 1991, the park was sold to the Wittes, a prominent German family, who continued operations under the new Spreepark name. After purchasing many new rides, some from the defunct Mirapolis Park in Paris, the park continued to operate and expand. Ten years later, the park faced insurmountable debts and went insolvent, partly due to Treptow Park being declared a nature sanctuary in 1991, making it impossible to increase parking to accommodate visitors. Upon its closure, many of the rides were sold, others shipped to Peru for ‘repairs.’ One ride, the flying carpet carousel, returned to Germany containing 180 kg of cocaine. Since then, Spreepark has been gated and abandoned with no clear future for re-activation, slowly deteriorating. Amidst the decay, a lush garden is growing, due to fertilization from the adjacent Spree river.
A giant Ferris wheel looms over the park.
A moss covered lake beneath the Ferris wheel.
Since arriving last Thursday, the group has been undergoing creative detective work–collecting histories and stories of the park, meeting with collectives and curators in Berlin, receiving MRI brain scans, composing memories and philosophies surrounding the amusement theme, and developing a proposal for re-activating the park in a different form.
Artist Agustina Woodgate gets her brain scanned at the Max Plank Institute For Human Development.
No official information exists regarding current access to the park, so the group started by casing the park perimeter. Many of the rides and attractions, including the park’s iconic Ferris wheel, sinister looking Roller coasters, partly operating spinning teacups, circus tents, more-than-extinct dinosaurs, and head-shaped cars, are visible through the metal fence. The group came across a security guard, EMGE, who offered a private tour of the park. On the tour, they befriended the guard, who, with his dog Basko, keeps out daily fence hoppers, protecting the privacy of Mr. Witte, now living amongst the abandoned rides.
The artists on the Quik Cup spinning tea cup ride, which is still manually operable.
Walking and playing amongst the ruins, the group’s three-hour morning excursion took them directly into the park’s past and presence. The images provide an uncannily still corollary to the exuberance of amusement—floating light bulbs in moss coated rivers, smashed operator booth windows, a ball pit overgrown with foliage, broken bridges, ghostly amphitheaters, hungry concession stands, a parked coaster.
The Spreepark crew (pictured from left: Agustina Woodgate, George Scheer, Chris Lineberry, Anthony Spinello, and Stephanie Sherman) at Kunst-Werke Berlin Institute for Contemporary Art.
The group continued conversations with Emge and others regarding park possibilities, while drawing from a series of pre-existing works about the park. One of these works is a recent piece by Vienna artist Hans Schabus, who acquired two giant fiberglass dinosaurs from the park and re-installed them toppled over in a courtyard at this summer’s Berlin Biennale. The dinosaurs were visible only through the stairwell windows of this five floor exhibition.
Dinosaurs from another era.
Piece by piece, the park is disappearing as nature dominates forgotten machines, and humans intervene to rescue parts of history from a place left to the throes of time and an uncertain destiny. Berlin is a mecca for artists because of its inexpensive housing, litany of abandoned spaces emerging after the fall of the wall, astoundingly bike friendly pathways, advanced recycling systems, and contemporary emphasis on artistic practices that interweave cultural life, political critique, and experimental social projects. For example, the site of the former Tempelhof airport has been converted into a sprawling and awe-inspiring public park, where young and old alike can fly kites, ride bikes, and play a public piano in the middle of a runway. The place is set to become a full garden and public art museum by 2017.
The former Tempelhof airport is now a sprawling public park.
Treptow Park itself simultaneously operates a vast preserve–filled with lakes, foliage, a Soviet monument built in early Stalinist architecture, and natural vistas– while hosting a variety of leisure activities for boating, boozing, and strolling along the river. Culture, a way of living in public, comes as a mode of existence in Berlin, and art is a part of everyday existence in ‘toy town’. There are scattered lands of industry surplus across the world. These sites contain our childhood dreams and fears and some develop into leisure machines—places where the surreal, mystical, and fantastic converged in a fleeting imaginary. Each one, however, has exceptional forces attached to it, personal and political, and this project marks the beginning of an ongoing investigation into the in-between space that these sites occupy[.]
Spreeblitz coaster parked interminably in its dock.