With 612 square metres, Erich Enge’s mural in Erfurt-Rieth project “Before It Disappears” but also one of the largest murals in Europe. Young adults immersed themselves in the history of the artwork and created their own mural on the grounds of their vocational school Jugendberufsförderung ERFURT (JBF) as part of the project.
The group started the project with a visit to the Andreasstraße Memorial and Educational Site. Through a guided tour of the permanent exhibition, they gained a comprehensive overview of daily life in the State Security prison in Erfurt and the history of East Germany in general. Following the tour, the group chose the theme “State Security” for in-depth exploration, examining surveillance methods through exhibits in the permanent exhibition. The first day of the project concluded with an introduction to “Art in East Germany,” discussing how artists were constrained by state regulations and how artistic freedoms were still expressed.
The following day focused on the direct encounter with Erich Enge’s mural. Together with restorer Julia Hurlbeck and museum educator Lisa Ströer, the young adults explored the motifs and preservation status of the artwork. To fully grasp the mural, one must walk around the building. Through careful examination, the group realized that the mural tells a story, beginning with the October Revolution of 1917 and illustrating how the revolution spanned the entire world, bringing positive effects to society. It depicts the development of modern agriculture and future technologies. The philosophical foundation of the work is based on a quote by Karl Marx: “Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” However, Erich Enge also embedded criticism in the mural, symbolized by an owl hanging upside down on a curtain, representing false truth and stupidity. This interpretation was shared after the end of the GDR. Julia Hurlbeck explained the unique features of the artwork, including coloration and technique, noting that the colors were chemically manufactured for durability. The colors are limited to blue, red, and ocher because other colors are not producible with this technique. Hurlbeck shared photos from the time of creation, indicating that Erich Enge worked on the mural for 190 days during the summer months of 1977 and 1978. While the artwork has defined the cityscape around the Vilnius Passage for many years, the plaster has been deteriorating. The funding for restoration remains uncertain. After lunch, the young adults delved into the history of the mural, engaging in the debate through newspaper articles from recent years.
Two weeks later, the group created their own mural. Bursting with ideas and creative energy, they completed their mural in just two days (August 3-4, 2023). The process was under the guidance of Felix Schwager, a graphic designer and artist from Erfurt. The mural on the exterior facade of the JBF building in Storchmühlenweg reflects the group’s interests and hobbies. Sports, vacations, travel, gastronomy, and favorite animals inspired motif groups for their simultaneous picture, developed collaboratively with Felix Schwager. The shared design was then projected onto the surface to trace the outlines.
Inspired by Erich Enge, the predominant colors of orange and blue were used for the mural. The JBF group passionately created a dynamic and colorful artwork for a previously drab exterior wall, working well beyond regular hours on Friday to complete their masterpiece.
The project concluded on August 18, 2023, in the recently opened special exhibition on the “Vor dem Verschwinden” project series. The exhibition offered insights into the investigations of other groups, showcasing the created artworks and the researched stories behind building-related artworks from East Germany. As the first group of visitors, the yound adults from Erfurt explored interactive stations and actively contributed to the community artwork in the exhibition’s final room.
At the project’s end, participants reflected on many positive experiences. They enhanced their historical understanding, deepened their knowledge of the GDR, and witnessed how ideas and brushstrokes can create something not only aesthetically pleasing but also capable of telling stories — their own stories.