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Germany Just Bought Back Its Contemporary Art Museum From a Real Estate Company for €170 Million

The federal and Berlin government bought back the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum and the adjacent Rieckhallen, after a long negotiation with property developers.

The Hamburger Bahnhof, a former train terminus station that used to run from Hamburg to Berlin, houses one of the country’s most important collections of contemporary art. The adjacent Rieckhallen is a former freight depot turned exhibition hall.

The federal government paid €66 million for the Hamburger Bahnhof and the state of Berlin bought the Rieckhallen for around €100 million through a combination of funds and a land swap. It was negotiated with the former owners, the real estate company CA Immo.

Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin’s state museums, shared a comment with the media after the press conference confirming the purchase. “What good news: a great moment in cultural policy!”

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A view of the Rieckhallen during the open-air exhibition “It wasn’t us” by Katharina Grosse. Photo: Sven Braun/photo alliance via Getty Images.

He added that it is extremely remarkable that the federal government and the state of Berlin have managed to make “such an investment in these times, which gives one of the most internationally important and famous places for contemporary art a lasting perspective. “

The Hamburger Bahnhof, which announced its 2023 program today, 15 November, is also changing its name: it will now be called the Hamburger Bahnhof – National Gallery of Contemporary. It was previously called the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art – Berlin. The new name is intended to clarify that it is part of a network with five other museums in Berlin, including the Neue Nationalgalerie, which displays Berlin’s collection from the 20th century, and the Alte Nationalgalerie, which displays the state’s collection of works from the 19th and 20th centuries. All are overseen by the Berlin State Museums, which are part of the larger Prussian Cultural Foundation.

The sale negotiations were conducted between the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Minister of Culture Claudia Roth, the Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey, the Berlin Senator for Culture Klaus Lederer and the Senator for Finance Daniel Wesen. Two real estate organizations, the private CA Immo and the federal agency for real estate tasks, were also at the table. “Everyone together made this result possible,” Parzinger added.

Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil at the Hamburger Bahnhof.  Photo: David von Becker.

Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo: David von Becker.

In 2003, the Berlin Senate first got the right to refuse to buy the two buildings from the federal company Deutsche Bahn. After passing on this opportunity, they were instead acquired by the private real estate company CA Immo Germany. Property values ​​in the German capital have increased significantly since then.

In 2020, CA Immo announced plans to demolish the Rieckhallen when its lease expired in 2021 and use the site to make office and residential buildings. This news prompted the great collector Friedrich Christian Flick to withdraw the long-term loan of his collection of 1,500 works from the museum, taking with him pieces by Duchamp and Bruce Nauman.

Both cultural sites will be saved and become state-owned. Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s senator for culture, saw this action as “the definitive salvation of the Rieckhallen”, according to a report in Monopoly.

“Today is a historic day for the Hamburger Bahnhof. We are delighted to be able to realize a diverse, inclusive and sustainable program together in the heart of Berlin,” says Till Fellrath, who is co-director of the Hamburger Bahnhof with Sam Bardaouil. Zineb Sedira’s project for the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022, curated by Fellrath and Bardouil, will be on view from February 24 to July 30, 2023. The Los Angeles artist Christina Quarles will have her first solo presentation in Germany at the beginning of March 24.

The program for the Hamburger Bahnhof will also feature collaborations with partner institutions, including a new site-specific light installation by New York-based artist Liam Gillick that responds to the historic Pergamon Museum on nearby Museum Island. It will be on view from April 7 to October 15, 2023.

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