A week before the national election, the Uferpromenade in Monbijou Park became a giant, open-air art studio as nearly two hundred people painted portraits of the soon-to-be ex-Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
“Mal die Merkel” (paint the Merkel) was organised by painting course provider ArtNight, which offers expert-run art sessions for wannabe Van Goghs and amateur Klimts. This unique event was free, put on to bring people together to say a creative farewell to Germany’s first Bundeskanzlerin.
“It’s very important for people to vote, and we wanted to do our bit in raising awareness for the election,” Miles Zornig, ArtNight’s Head of Communications, told me. “We didn’t want to present any particular political message with the event, but we wanted to at least pay tribute to the first female Chancellor and her 16 years of hard work. It’s an important moment in history”.
The venue was suitably picturesque: between the green palm fronds of Monbijou Park and the Spree, and overlooking the city’s home of ancient art – the Bode Museum. Luckily, the rain held off for the afternoon, and the drab autumn sky was soon to be brightened up by the dozens of colourful Merkels.
I was lucky enough to join in and, paint palette and brush in hand, I felt like a mini-impressionist. To my relief, I found we’d been given an outline of the motif to trace onto our canvasses with pencil, thus limiting the danger of doing too much of a botch job on poor Frau Merkel. The motif I followed was one of two options which had been specially designed for the event by ArtNight artists Maria Degel and Maureen Müller.
We sat facing our guru for the afternoon – Taisia Dmitrevskaa – who patiently guided us through the process of mixing and applying the colours, shade by shade, until a creation of our own emerged. Other ArtNight artists were on hand to keep our palettes topped up with dollops of acrylic and to steer wayward paintbrushes back in the right direction.
As my very own Merkel began to emerge, I felt a strange sense of closeness to the Bundeskanzlerin. As I stared into her eyes, I overheard a passer-by jokingly asking “what about paint Putin, or paint Erdogan?” and I thought, perhaps it says something about Angela, that she can be used as an uncontroversial muse for a public painting event.
The final touch on our impressionistic masterpieces were red lips – a rare sight on the Kanzlerin – and, as I looked around me, I saw many impressive artworks and satisfied painters.
“At ArtNight, we want to give everyone the chance to feel proud about creating something,” Miles told me, and that certainly seemed to be the case with those in attendance on Sunday. Everyone went home with a Merkel and a smile.
At the end of the session, I spoke to some my fellow budding artists about their paintings and their thoughts on the Bundeskanzlerin.
by Viktor, 43 – IT software developer
Born and bred in Berlin, Viktor happened to be passing by when he saw the event and managed to nab a last-minute spot.
“For me, she wasn’t a very memorable Chancellor. She wasn’t particularly bad, but she didn’t make much of an impact herself. She just managed the things as they came her way. We’ve had too much of the same person for too long.”
Opting for a Joker-esque smile, Viktor plans to keep his Angela in his office.
by Bianca, 42 – Hostel Manager
Hostel Manager Bianca is an ArtNight regular, which was evident from the ease with which she achieved her stunning Angela.
She came to the event for the fun of painting, rather than for the Merkel factor, and told me she was “neither for nor against Frau Merkel, but will be happy to have a change of leader”.
She would like to hang her interpretation in the reception of her hostel.
by Michal, 19 – Politics Student
A politics student from the Ostsee, now studying in Berlin, Michal will be voting next week in his first national election.
At 19, Frau Merkel is the only Chancellor he’s ever known, and he thinks it’s time for a change. “We need a fresh government who can deal with the big issues of the day – particularly climate change. In general, I find modern politics frustrating.”
Michal would ideally like to hang the picture along with portraits of the other former Chancellors in the Staatsministerium, but will instead make do with putting it on his desk.
Fancy an Art Night of your own?
ArtNight’s core belief is that art is for everyone, and over 500,000 people have painted with ArtNight so far. If you fancy trying out a session for yourself, you can check out their classes here.