A walk around Mariannenplatz with Thierry Noir is a journey back in time to the days of a student unrest and squats in Berlin. The French artist lives a stone's throw from the square in the Georg von Rauch-Haus. The building is named after a demonstrator whom police killed in December 1971. A couple of days later hundreds of young people decided to occupe the vacant Bethanien Hospital.
The events of the day were immortalised in a well-known song by the band of Rio Reiser "Ton Steine Scherben" and contributed to the myth of Kreuzberg that drew many artists to Berlin, including Thierry Noir in January 1982. "David Bowie, Nina Hagen and Iggy Pop were already here. I thought I'd to come too."
On the far Side of a newly paved street behind the Georg von Rauch-Haus, which is now a Jugendwohnkollektiv (youth housing collective), Noir shows us where the Berlin Wall once stood. We look about for some last trace of it, but he shakes his head, saying, "Zu spät - too late."
It was here, along this stretch of the Wall, that the artist did his first paintings, large colourful heads in a primitive style with one bulging eye and fat lips or buckteeth. The artwork was not an act of aggression against the GDR, but an attempt to alter the sadness, the tristesse of the area, which had become a dead-end neighbourhood after the "fortification" of the GDR border in 1961.
Success came Noir's way in 1987 when film director Wim Wenders hired him to paint the Berlin Wall sets for The Wings of Desire. His motifs became so famous that even the communist government of the German Democratic Republic realized it could make money with them.
In January 199O, after the opening of the borders, East German soldiers dismantled an entire stretch of the Wall along Waldemarstrasse which was the canvas for 33 of Noir's paintings. These were auctioned off in Monaco for an average price of DM3O,000 each. Noir has sued for a percentage of the returns, but he has yet to see any money.
Mariannenplatz itself is still dominated by the main building of the old Bethanien Hospital with its twin medieval-looking towers. It's hard to imagine that the city government once allowed such an impressive piece of architecture to remain vacant and decay. On the far end of the grassy square, the Thomas Church is currently being restored to new splendour.
The brick has an orange tinge after a thorough sandblasting, and the features of the statuary and decorative stonework are pleasingly distinct. And yet, though the renovation looks completed, the main entrance of the church is cinderblocked shut. This last detail tickles Noir the contradiction of a church remaining closed. "By the way, the pastor also painted the Berlin Wall," he says.
Back at the Georg von Rauch-Haus, a dog snoozes in the dark hallway on the first floor. We tramp up the wide stairwell to the second, on our way to Thierry Noir's living quarters.This gentle soul, dressed in a coat many sizes too big for him, only really becomes animated when talking about past experiences here in the collective: "Every day two people would be in charge of the kitchen.“
cook for everyone in the building, about 50 people. I used to like to cook ravioli.
I'd buy those big cans, open and pour them - plop - into a pot. “Bon appetit!"