Art for the world

German Parliament opens its doors virtually

Dirk Herzog
9 November 2012

3 min read

The German Bundestag houses more than the country’s parliamentarians. It is also home to roughly 4,000 works of art by modern and contemporary artists. As part of an ambitious 3D project, the collection is set to be digitized and made accessible to the world via the Internet.

Georg Baselitz, Pablo Picasso, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Neo Rauch – these are just some of the illustrious artists whose pictures and sculptures adorn the walls, offices and corridors of the German Parliament buildings. For decades, 2% of the funding set aside for construction and maintenance of the parliamentary complex has been spent to buy art to decorate it.

For generations, members of Parliament (MPs) and official visitors have been able to marvel at leading artwork from a number of eras, but the rest of the world could not. That is about to change.

“We have some wonderful and in some cases very valuable pictures in the German Parliament buildings,” says Siegfried Kauder, Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs of the German Parliament and member of the Arts Council  and the man behind a project to put the entire art collection online in 3D. “Often, the works funded by the taxpayer are displayed in places that are inaccessible to the general public. I wanted to do something about this and, together with media arts expert Martin Zimmermann, came up with the idea of displaying them in 3D animated form on the Internet for everyone to see.”


Decisions about which works of art the German Parliament buys are made by the Arts Council, a nine-person committee made up of representatives of all five political parties currently sitting in the Parliament. The works are distributed over several buildings, including the iconic Reichstag. They are hung on the walls of the MPs’ offices as well as in corridors and niches. They grace inner courtyards and hang loftily as floating installations. Reliefs of the artists Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke stand out from the walls, and every MP passes Joseph Beuys’s “Table with Accumulator, 1958/85” each   day before they enter the chamber.

Making these treasures available to the general public via the Internet is a daunting challenge. Every picture, sculpture and installation must either be photographed from all sides or recorded using 3D scanners. These images are then converted into digital, 3D data using computer software that allows each work of art to be realistically visualized on a computer screen. Labels and annotations also will be digitized, presenting visitors with beautiful artwork along with information about the work and its creator.

“3D can illuminate the entire surroundings of an object of artistic significance.”

Siegfried Kauder
Chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs of the German Parliament and member of the Arts Council


Soon, the Parliamentary website will display artworks that few people ever get to see, including those displayed in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office. Merkel is well known for drawing inspiration from art, including a portrait of the first German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and from a picture of Catherine the Great that stands on her desk. A painting by Emil Nolde, which Merkel looks upon from her chair, is of a giant wave and bears the title “The Breaker,”  which some might consider symbolic of the Chancellor’s resolve. Arguably the most significant work of art in the Chancellor’s office is the monumental iron sculpture entitled “Berlin,” by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida. With its almost-touching arms, the sculpture, which is 5.5 m (18 feet) tall and weighs 87.5 tons, invokes associations such as rapprochement, division and unification, making it an appropriate political symbol.

Also of incalculable historic value is the Berlin Wall memorial, which has been moved to the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus. In view of its tremendous significance for German history, the Arts Council decided that the wall memorial would launch the 3D project. lt has been online since November 9, 2011.  This is extremely gratifying for Kauder, who believes that 3D technology offers enormous possibilities not only for displaying art, but for actually communicating it. “3D can illuminate the entire surroundings of an object of artistic significance,” Kauder says. “Often, there are books, sets of pictures and lithographs that we have also bought but which would be hard to display due to their sensitivity to light. Thanks to modern 3D animations, some of the things that would previously have been impossible are now becoming possible.”

Before the 3D project, the government tried several approaches to displaying the parliamentary art collection. One is the “Art Room,” an exhibition directly on the banks of the Spree river that is open to everyone. The Berlin Wall memorial is located on the same promenade and is now accessible via the virtual project as well. Art and architecture tours through the generally accessible buildings are free and easily enjoyed by Berlin’s residents. Non-residents, art lovers and school groups, however, have only been able to enjoy these artistic treasures by journeying to the German capital.

Thanks to the 3D project, the collection will be easily accessible with a click of the mouse from a home or classroom computer. And while only a handful of people ever enter the Chancellor’s office in person, the same artwork that inspires Angela Merkel will now be available to the world.

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