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Compelling Photographs by Harald Kirschner Reflect the Religious Life in the GDR

  • Harald Kirschner exhibition
  • Harald Kirschner exhibition
May 21, 2016
A philosophy graduate interested in theory, politics and art. Alias of Jelena Martinović.

Traditional religious celebrations, pilgrimages, jubilees, Catholic congresses, congregational life and ecumenical practices – this is the backbone of the Harald Kirschner exhibition CREDO – Church in the GDR opening at the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig. This celebrated German photographer has developed his unique language with his powerful imagery from the GDR era where he has focused on the portrayal of the people who lived there and their lives. With a profound authenticity and truthfulness, the images presented at this exhibition reflect on the religious life in the GDR during the 1980s and a contentious relationship between the church and state.

Harald Kirschner exhibition
Harald Kirschner – Eröffnung des Luther-Jahres auf der Wartburg, Eisenach, 1983

The Church in DDR

After graduating from the School of Visual Arts Photography in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Kirschner found his new inspiration after the trip to Krakow in 1979 during the first visit of Pope John Paul II. There he has first started artistically exploring the topic Church in the GDR. Engaged in documentary photography, Kirschner created a series of powerful and compelling images. Armed with his miniature camera, Kirschner visited and documented various church events such as pilgrimages, church anniversaries and youth meetings, events that have become symbols of faith, vitality, perseverance and hope. Using the camera as a medium to capture reality, he observed people with respect and empathy and created haunting images that provide an insight to the one aspect of the life in GDR.

Harald Kirschner exhibition
Left: Harald Kirschner – Katholikentreffen, Dresden,1997 / Right: Harald Kirschner – Leidensporozession am Palmsonntag, Heiligenstadt, 1981

Anniversaries, Pilgrimages, Proceedings

The exhibition features Kirschner’s view on several ecclesial events. One of those events is the 500th birthday of Martin Luther King, the clash of the Protestant church and politics where GDR leadership saw a chance to present themselves as cosmopolitan regarding religion and culture. The Sorrows procession in Heiligenstadt in 1981 that Kirschner documented followed a several hundred years old Catholic tradition and presented a celebration of the vitality of faith. The meeting of Taizé brothers in Magdeburg Cathedral presented a symbol of overcoming the differences within Christianity and an opportunity for reconciliation among nations. Kirschner also documented the opening of two new buildings that Protestant and Catholic churches built in 1982 in the Leipzig-Grünau house estate, a new home for 85,000 inhabitants coming from all around DDR. The exhibition will also feature Kirschner’s view of another two important events –  the 750th anniversary of Kloster Marienthal monastery in 1984 that was visited by 25,000 people, and the Catholic meeting in Dresden in 1987, an important symbol of the cohesion of 1 million Catholics in the GDR, that attracted more than 100,000 believers.

Harald Kirschner exhibition
Harald Kirschner – Grundsteinlegung des katolischen Gemeindezentrums St. Martin, Lepizig-Grünau, 1983

Harald Kirschner Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig

Mainly in black and white, the photographs of Harald Kirschner are a document of a bygone time. As a testament to the social circumstances of a certain time in history, his photographs portray the cultural diversity of everyday life. The exhibition CREDO – Church in GDR at the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig is a contribution to the 100th German Catholics Day that will be celebrated from May 26th to May 29th in Leipzig. The exhibition will be on show from May 22nd to August 28th, 2016.

Featured images: Harald Kirschner – Jugend-und Erwachsenenbildungshaus Marcell-Calo, Heiligenstadt, 198; Harald Kirschner – Eröffnung des Luther-Jahres auf der Wartburg, Eisenach, 1983. All images courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig.