Jackson Porlock

Coleridge and Porlock collaborated on a wonderful work of a little more than 50 lines, which goes by the name of Kubla Khan. Knowing about the seminal influence that Porlock has had on the arts and letters, I was not surprised to find his signature (featured) on the door of an utility box.

Neither was it surprising to find an unsigned work by him on the walls of an abandoned building. You think Banksy gets around? Look for Porlock. He’s responsible for some of the best work around, and is also known to send some of the worst to their Graves. Both these canvases come from Bielefeld in Germany, a town that is as famous as Porlock.

Graffiti 0521

I walked around the neighbourhood of a high school which was dense with graffiti: layered on top of each other. There is so much new that is happening today in this art space: the teenage gangs and their signatures remain, but there is also brilliant nature-inspired artwork. Internet and the TV continues to bring images of nature right into our homes; the tapir and jellyfish are perhaps a sign of that. There was also an underpass wall which looked like Persian calligraphy to me, but, on closer look, was not.

From Weaving to German Expressionism

I’d passed the statue in the featured photo several times before I looked it up. The initial descriptions were bland, but referred to the sculptor, Hans Perathoner. When I looked him up, I found a minor artist whose life was, nevertheless, spent in tumult and movement.

Hans Perathoner was born in the South Tyrole (where he trained under Franz Tavella), moved to Munich to study art (where he won the highest student honours), and then, in 1903, took up a position teaching painting and sculpture in Bielefeld. He created the statue of the linen weaver which stands behind the church St. Nicholas (featured photo). Heinrich Heienbrok from the nearby town of Jollenbeck was the model, along with (possibly) the footballer Harry Breitsohl.

When the German expressionist style statue was unveiled it instantly became a local hit, and has since come to stand for the main medieval industry in the region. I’d found a few days ago that in the beginning of the 13th century CE the town of Bielefeld already had a population of 3000, and needed its own parish church. Weavers and merchants made up the main portion of the town’s population at that time.

Perathoner moved on to Berlin and was already established there as a teacher of sculpture in 1914. he made various other sculptures, very few of which survive. In 1930 he created a sculpture of Jesus writhing in agony on the cross. This work became controversial, he was accused of blasphemy, and the statue was removed from several of the locations where it was placed. It is now in a church in Marzahn in Berlin.

A reconstructed church

In the middle of the old town in Bielefeld, with its post-war shops and restaurants, is the tall church of St. Nicholas (Nikolaskirche). I found very little written down about this church. It is the oldest in Bielefeld, having become an independent parish church as long back as 1236 CE. The beautiful altarpiece (photo above) is noted as having been carved in the Antwerp workshops of St. Luke’s guild and delivered in 1524 CE.

Door of Saint Nicholas church in Bielefeld

I was captured first by its doors (photo above). They were made in 1963 by the sculptor Gerhard Marcks, who was one of the founders of Bauhaus. Although I’ve passed them before, I never managed to enter the doors before they close at 6 in the evening. I made a determined effort yesterday, surprising The Family by reaching the church at 4:30. We were the only people inside for a while.

Nikolaikirche, Bielefeld

The old town center does not give you much space to stand back and admire the building. From any place which gives you a clear view, it looks high and imposing. The tower is just over 80 meters tall. Inside the church I saw photographs taken after the 1944 air raid on the center of the town when only the bottom of the tower and the walls remained. A reconstruction started in 1954, and was completed by 1963.

Interior of Nikolaikirche, Bielefeld

Perhaps this hurried reconstruction is the reason why the church looks so bare inside. The vaulting looks like it has been made of bricks. The tall lancet windows have a simple post-war look that you find across Germany: tiles of tinted glass (you can see the reflection of one in the photo below). The pulpit, which was made in 1989, just has text carved into wood. Even the stairs up to the organ are modern constructions. There is a clear rejection of pomp in the design. This is one of the refreshing changes that happened in the public sphere in post-war Germany.

I understand that the church is not known for its acoustics. I asked a friend who is a bit of an expert on organs about the one you see in the photo above. He said that the straight lines and rectangular boxes are definitely 20th century, perhaps from the 1950s or 60s. I can’t find any record of pre-war organs in this church.

Figure on display in Nikolaikirche, Bielefeld

In the featured photo you can see a painted wooden statue near the altarpiece, and the rose window. This was designed by Karl Muggly in 1954. The chandeliers are baroque and date from between 1637 and 1707. Apart from these and the altarpiece, the only older work is a little statue inside a glass case in one corner of the church. From the explanatory text near it, I gathered that it is a remnant of an external decoration.

It is interesting to see a church which might have been built first in the mid-14th century, but was reconstructed almost entirely within living memory. I suppose that if you look hard at many places in Germany, you will find histories of this sort.