<< HEARTFIELD’S EFFECT / SCHOLAR CONTRIBUTIONS
My Meetings With Wieland Herzfelde
(circa 1968)

By Rowland Box

BACKGROUND

The dissertation for my degree was on George Grosz. It also included a great deal of content regarding John Heartfield. That work was more than a passing interest – it informed my artistic practice. After doing my post-graduate work in print making (Hull – UK), which included much photography, I was awarded the British Council Scholarship (1968) to study in Berlin at the Technische Hochschule für Bildend Künste. I was there from 1968 to 1970 (perhaps part of 1971).

By late summer, I was in Berlin with a small (too small) stipend and no knowledge of the German language. In addition to my studies, I worked as a freelance photographer, particularly with galleries that needed reproductions of work for clients in West Germany and the DDR. From my own flat in Niedstraße, I made separations for lithographs and published them, privately fulfilling my academic duties. It was a hand-to-mouth, yet exhilarating, existence.

I did not keep a diary. Therefore, please understand if some dates and places are somewhat uncertain.

A CENSORED JOHN HEARTFIELD EXHIBITION

(Read Anthony Howard’s 1968 Article Supporting The Following Two Paragraphs)

In either late 1968 or the first quarter of 1969, perhaps because John Heartfield was recently deceased, there was an exhibition of his work in the Berlin Technische Hochschule für Bildend Künste. It was produced by the German authorities and consisted of large ‘poster-size’ reproductions of much of his oeuvre (screen prints, if my memory is correct). These prints were also for sale.

Although historically and culturally not without considerable interest, this was a fatally flawed exhibition. The organizing authorities had obeyed the national legislation forbidding public display of the German swastika and had removed it from several of Heartfield’s works! The swastikas had been redacted at the copying stage prior to print reproduction. The work was thus neutered – censored for a new generation. I was incensed with the falsification of history and fine art and the disrespect towards the integrity behind the work and the man.

MEETING WIELAND HERZFELDE

Notwithstanding my poor financial circumstances, I purchased two sets of five or so images that I knew to be censored. I thought Wieland Herzfelde would be interested to see a set.

I tracked him down in East Berlin, wrote to him, and subsequently had a meeting with him. I posted the other to a friend in London.

The second time Wieland and I arranged to meet was to collect the posters of John Heartfield’s work. When we met, he told me the prints were in an archive in Leipzig. (I think it was Leipzig, either a museum, university, or publishing house archive). I was annoyed. Much later, my London friend told me the other prints had not reached him.

Clearly in order to work and survive, I needed to improve my German. Unlike other people, Wieland refused to help out, seldom speaking with me in English.

After I arrived at his home, we spent most of the time talking out of doors, in a garden or the cemetery. In those years in East Berlin, there was always ‘something in the air.’ I made a few trips to the eastern sector during my stay. I believe it was at the time of the second visit that Wieland was recently bereaved and we visited a fresh grave or perhaps an anniversary of one? I believe we were joined by a relative on the first visit. There was also, I believe, a housekeeper who was on hand some of the time during our visit to the cemetery.

With hindsight, I now recognized how it might be natural for Wieland to consider the prints a gift. However, I’m not sure, considering our inability to communicate clearly in German. I’m only sure that, at the time, I was a little naïve and had much to learn.

Wieland was generous with his time, allowing me to make photographs and played his part with an irreverent reference to Jedermann sein eigner Fussball. Unbidden, Wieland gave me his autobiography Immergrün upon our parting.

Curated By Heartfield's Grandson, John J Heartfield