Fritze in Nieder-orschel
The two glass windows that can be seen from the entrance foyer of today’s European School Niederorschel are colorful and cheerful. Students in grades 9 and 10 explored the artwork, studied the motifs and symbols depicted in it, and met former companions of Karl Heinz Fritze. The artwork, made by former art teacher Karl Heinz Fritze, tells stories about the school life at GDR times.
At the beginning of the week, the students visited the Memorial Andreasstraße and got to know the former place of imprisonment. During a groupwork they made themselves familiar with the topics “Socialist Education,” “Unadapted Youth,” and “East German Art”. After that the groups presented their topics to the others in the corresponding exhibition room. In this way, the students gathered knowledge about East Germany that was helpful by doing the reasearch on the artwork in their school.
On the second day, the adolescents first delved into the motifs and symbols seen in the leadlight window of their school. In the picture there are 14 scenes on display showing everyday school life, including various school subjects such as art, sports and science, but also leisure activities such as cycling, folk dancing and the vacation camp. A large motif is implemented in the center of each of the two windows. It contains a quote from Goethe: “It is not enough to know / One must also apply it / It is not enough to want / One must also do it.” By looking comparatively at different artworks made in East Germany, the students learned about the GDR’s own visual language. In the artwork by Karl Heinz Fritze they rediscovered some of the most common motifs: young people learning, pioneer scarfs, the red flag and of course someone bearing the flag, peace doves, rockets and the sun.
The visual language of Socialist Realism is forward-looking and optimistic. The sun symbolises the GDR’s idea of progress and points to a positive future. The imagery in Fritze’s glass painting is thus also a symbol for the new school building in Niederorschel.
On the 4th day of the project, the students learned more about the creation of the painting, the artist, the construction of the school building and about former school life in the Eichsfeld region. Five former colleagues of Karl Heinz Fritze came to the school to share their memories and stories. Most of the information the students could get from this conversation was not available anywhere else. Heinz Hoffmeier was even involved in the creation of the glass picture. As supervisor in polytechnic classes, he constructed the basic framework. Together with students, he implemented another artistic idea of his colleague Karl Heinz in the polytechnic class: a metal picture showing “animals of our homeland”. This artwork is still known: it was made for the outside facade of the school and a small part of it can be still seen today. It has become a room divider on the first floor.
The school in Niederorschel – as became clear not least through the personal stories – was a heartfelt project of the entire village. The first stone laying was in 1964, the opening of the new building in 1966. At that time, the school was considered the “most modern” school in the region. Karl Heinz Fritze showed special commitment in the construction of the new school: With a fundraising campaign, he contributed significantly to the financing of the school’s interior and equipment. Parents donated 5 marks every month for a year to the school and received linocuts by Fritze with motifs of Niederorschel as gift.
In the 1990s, there was a dicussion about removing the leadlight window because of it’s socialist motifs. Again, teachers and parents were involved to preserve the artwork. In a joint action, they protested for the artwork to remain:
“The piece is German history. It was created with heart and soul. You can’t just let something disappear that has grown.”