“I can’t believe it!”
“I can’t believe it!”
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, John Heartfield’s paternal grandson, John J Heartfield, makes arrangements to visit The Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste, in the former GDR (East Berlin), now reunited with Germany.
There is a marked difference in the physical condition of buildings between what was East and West Germany. Beyond the Berlin Wall, Heartfield’s grandson walks through run-down streets to find the Heartfield Archive at 10-Robert-Koch-Platz. At first glance, he thinks the building is a schoolhouse, not an archive for a major artist.
Michael Kresja, a long-time member of the archive staff, proves to be an excellent archive guide. Michael’s English is excellent. After three days together, John J Heartfield feels that Michael has become a friend. As with almost all of the current archive staff, Michael Kresja has worked at the Heartfield Archive during the period it was under the control of East Germany.
During his three-day visit to 10-Robert-Koch-Platz, Heartfield’s grandson is astonished at the amount and variety of his grandfather’s art that is stored in the Heartfield Archiv.
There are approximately 64 surviving maquettes. These are the original pieces of art from which Heartfield’s AIZ Magazine covers and political posters were reproduced so they could be distributed. These maquettes contain details that are not visible in the printed reproductions.
In addition, there are a great deal of stage models, stage sets, sketches, and much more.
There is enough John Heartfield art to easily fill a museum such as the Van Gogh Museum or The Rembrant House in Amsterdam.
Heartfield’s grandson believes it is a great injustice that the public cannot view this amazing collection of John Heartfield art. His grandfather risked his life so that as many people as possible could see his warnings concerning the rise of fascism. One of John Heartfield collages has the caption Never Again!. Fascism and the war it brings must never again be accepted.
At the end of his visit, Heartfield’s grandson is escorted into the office of Walter Trautwein, the archive director who has managed the unification of the East German Heartfield Archive into West Germany’s Akademie der Künste. The director tells him, in no uncertain terms, that the Heartfield Archive “owns all of Heartfield’s art as well as the copyrights to Heartfield’s art.” For several years, the Akademie der Künste has been granting copyright permissions for John Heartfield’s art and collecting copyright fees.
When John J Heartfield returns to the United States, he and his sister, Catherine, obtain the services of a New York law firm with connections in Berlin. By 1993, it is clear that the director’s statement to John J Heartfield’s regarding John Heartfield’s copyrights was false. In a 1993 letter to John J Heartfield and his sister, Herr Walter Trautwein states that, contrary to what he told Heartfield’s grandson in 1992, the copyrights do indeed belong to The John Heartfield Community Of Heirs. By European Law, Heartfield copyright permissions have always belonged to The John Heartfield Community Of Heirs.
Please refer to the expanding section of this exhibition entitled Hidden Genius to understand the full history of the Heartfield Archive in East Germany and Germany.