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German government seeks to buy Hamburger Bahnhof museum from investor

Move means the venue can continue to operate as Berlin’s main contemporary art museum

The Hamburger Bahnhof's current show is a huge painting by Katharina Grosse that covers the main hall of the museum, the courtyard and the facade of the Rieckhallen Courtesy KÖNIG GALERIE, Berlin, London, Tokyo / Gagosian / Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder, Wien © Katharina Grosse / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020 / Photo: Jens Ziehe

The German government is in negotiations to buy the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin after the museum’s owner, an Austrian property investor, said it will end the lease on the extension to the museum and demolish it to make way for new office buildings.

The museum is owned by the Austrian property company CA Immo. A spokesman for the Culture Ministry wrote in an email that purchase negotiations between the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben (BIMA) and CA Immo are “on the right track.” In the long term, the government plans to renovate the museum and build a new extension.

CA Immo plans to demolish the existing extension, the Rieckhallen, after the rental contract expires in September 2021. The planned demolition prompted the collector Friedrich Christian Flick to end the loan of his collection to the Berlin State Museums, which oversees the Hamburger Bahnhof.

He will take back 1,500 works by artists including Alberto Giacometti, Marcel Duchamp, Bruce Nauman and Georg Baselitz. These were primarily on view in the Rieckhallen, a building that once housed a shipping company and whose reconstruction Flick funded. Berlin State Museums has described the collector’s decision as “painful.”

If the BIMA successfully acquires the museum’s main building, it would let it to the Berlin museums authority, the Culture Ministry spokesman said. There is as yet no “reliable timetable or financial plan” for a new extension to replace the Rieckhallen.

The question-mark over the Hamburger Bahnhof’s future has added to concerns that Berlin is in danger of losing its status as a major global hub for contemporary art. Another private collector, Thomas Olbricht, has announced he will move his collection to Essen. Julia Stoschek, whose video art is housed at the former Czech Cultural Centre, is also considering taking her collection elsewhere because of a hefty rent hike.

First built as a railway station, the Hamburger Bahnhof was repurposed to serve as an exhibition hall in 1904. After suffering serious damage in the war, the building lay unused in the no-man’s land between East and West Berlin for many decades. It first opened as a museum of contemporary art in 1996. Its current show is a vast, spectacular painting by Katharina Grosse. It covers the floors and walls of the main hall of the museum, extends across the courtyard behind and is splashed over the facade of the Rieckhallen.

The area around the museum, near the city’s main station and in the centre of the city, is part of a development project known as Europacity. Occupants include the accountancy firm KPMG and the French oil company Total, which has set up its German headquarters there. A number of new chain hotels have also been built there in recent years.