Germany has just bought its museum of contemporary art from a real estate company for 170 million euros

The federal government and Berlin have bought the Hamburger Bahnhof museum and the adjoining Rieckhallen, after lengthy negotiations with property developers.

The Hamburger Bahnhof, a former terminus station that linked Hamburg to Berlin, houses one of the most important collections of contemporary art in the country. The adjoining Rieckhallen is a former freight depot converted into a showroom.

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

Hermann Parzinger, chairman 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!”

View of the Rieckhallen during the open-air exhibition “It Wasn’t Us” by Katharina Grosse. Photo: Sven Braun/picture alliance via Getty Images.

He added that it was exceptionally remarkable that the Federal Government and the State of Berlin were able to make “such an investment at this time, giving one of the most important and renowned places in the world for the contemporary art a sustainable perspective”.

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

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

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 was granted the first right of refusal to purchase the two buildings from the federal company Deutsche Bahn. Having passed up this opportunity, they were acquired instead 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 expires in 2021 and use the site for 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 to the museum, taking with him pieces by Duchamp and Bruce Nauman.

The two cultural places will be saved and will belong to the State. Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s senator for culture, saw this action as “the definitive rescue of the Rieckhallen”, according to a report by 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,” said Till Fellrath, co-director of the Hamburger Bahnhof with Sam Bardaouil. Zineb Sedira’s project for the French pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2022, curated by Fellrath and Bardouil, will be presented from February 24 to July 30, 2023. Los Angeles artist Christina Quarles will make her first solo presentation in Germany in early March 24.

Hamburger Bahnhof’s program will also include collaborations with partner institutions, including a new site-specific light installation by New York 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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James C. Tibbs