Spire atop the Russian Pavilion, photo by maeshelle

The former Soviet Pavillion

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Some of you may remember that long before Leipzig Glocal I (maeshelle) wrote for Leipzig Zeitgeist. From time to time I’ll be digging up my articles and sharing them with you. Since my Openings and Premieres post for today includes a panel discussion about the book Situation Room detailing a series of large scale site-specific installations at the Russian Pavillion, I asked Christina Nielsen-Marsh if I could share the bulk of her LZ article that appeared in the May/June issue 2010  and she graciously accepted. Enjoy!

Like a rocket trail blazing into space, the golden, glittering spire shoots straight into the sky, an eye-catching landmark on Leipzig’s skyline. At its tip, the red star-emblem of Soviet might and dominance- balances poised and ready to send its message to the waiting world.

But in this part of the world, its message of communism became outdated and unwanted over twenty years ago. The Former Soviet Pavillion, upon which the spire rests, is no longer an emblem of the here and now, or a “glorious” future; but, as a protected building, has been duly identified and catalogued as another noteworthy chapter in Leipzig’s history.

The Pavillion began its exhibiting life at the 1925 Spring Trade Fair, as the new Messehalle 12 (exhibition hall 12), in Leipzig’s trade fair complex in the east of the city (now the Alte Messe). Looking very different to its later Soviet incarnation, it was designed by the Dresden architect Oskar Pusch and resembled a classical temple, with its row of elegant columns stretching across the facade. Following some recent maintenance work to the building, some of these original columns can again be seen. In 1950 new architects turned this “temple” into an advertisement for Soviet ideology- removing the grace and replacing it with a fortress-like facade; beefing up and raising some of the columns, adding a grand archway, and topping the whole edifice off with a monumental spire. The result, a building which would look much more at home on Moscow’s Red Square, than at a trade fair.

So, Leipzig can add another interesting gem to its architectural chest. But what of the future? Although by no means consigned to the dustbin of history, the Pavillion currently looks forlorn and bereft, its front steps cordoned off by railings. To add to its embarrassment, it is surrounded by the success stories of its former comrades. Halle 11 to its right is enjoying a new life as the HIT supermarket, and futher down the block, the Volkspalast (People’s Palace) is now a stunning venue for all things entertainment, boasting 6000 visitors a week through its doors.

And this is precisely what Gregor Bogen and Oliver Obermann would like to see in the Pavilion’s future- transformation into a busy and valued public space. Gregor, as the head of the WEP-Projektentwicklungs-GmbH & Co. KG, is repsonsible for finding investors and buyers for the Alte Messe complex (5000,000 sq mtr in total- a lot of which has already been put to good use by the automobile industry and science), and Oliver deals with the media and PR side of things. Both are very keen to see the Pavillion find an appropriate use. But the building’s unique design is not such a postive factor in attracting suitable investors. It could never really be used as an office building, which would counteract the heritage protection that part of the building enjoys. The spire and the classical columns can not be altered, but other parts could be negotiable, depending upon the investor and their requirements.

An idea which has already been put forward and agreed as suitable, is to use the space for a holocaust museum.

All involved are very positive about the idea, but the project still requires financing, and until the required amount is obtained, further negotiations have been shelved.

And so the hunt goes on. In the meantime, the Pavillion occasionally gets to live it up a little as a venue for various one-off events. In the last few years it has been used for various cultural projects, including as a theatre for a dance production, a performance space for the Opera, and MTV hired its rooms for a muscial extravaganza- lighting up the building spectacularly in the process (Pimp my Pavillion??)

by Christina Nielsen-Marsh

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