Germany and Switzerland, 1900 A.D.–present

  • The Businessman Max Roesberg, Dresden
  • Tea infuser and strainer
  • High School Student
  • Guitar
  • Comedians Handbill
  • Beginning
  • Three Men Walking II
  • Watertowers
  • Tizio table lamp
  • Bohemia Lies by the Sea


1900 A.D.

1925 A.D.

German Empire, 1871–1918
Weimar Republic, 1919–34
Swiss Confederation, 1291–present

1925 A.D.

1950 A.D.

Weimar Republic, 1919–34
Third Reich, 1934–45
German Federal Republic, 1945–90
German Democratic Republic, 1945–90
Swiss Confederation, 1291–present

1950 A.D.

1975 A.D.

German Federal Republic, 1945–90
German Democratic Republic, 1945–90
Swiss Confederation, 1291–present

1975 A.D.

2000 A.D.

German Federal Republic, 1945–90
United as German Federal Republic, 1990–present
German Democratic Republic, 1945–90
Swiss Confederation, 1291–present


In the first half of the twentieth century, Germany and Switzerland are profoundly affected by world wars, although Switzerland maintains its neutrality throughout. After World War I, the severe penalties placed on Germany by the Allies create harsh economic conditions that fuel the rise to power of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), who will lead Germany into fascism and World War II in 1939. Hitler also heads a regime that orchestrates the Holocaust, a horrific legacy with which subsequent generations struggle to come to terms. The period immediately following World War II is occupied with rebuilding the devastated country, which is now split into two separate entities, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the latter a member of the Warsaw Pact allied with the Soviet Union.

The postwar period in Germany is colored by the Cold War between communist and democratic states, with which East and West Germany are respectively aligned. Germany is reunified with the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the twentieth century. The reunification brings together countries with two vastly different economies, the industrialized and prosperous West Germany and the comparatively impoverished East Germany. By the mid-1990s, the rise of support for far-right political parties in Switzerland and Germany is accompanied by an escalation of violence against immigrants and opposition to membership in the European Union.

Throughout the century, Germany and Switzerland are at the forefront of all fields of the arts. In Germany, artists engage new conceptions of the inner self formulated by Sigmund Freud; at the same time, they respond to industrialization with programs for reforming the design and production of architecture and furnishings. The rise of fascism politicizes artmaking as the Nazi regime equates modernism with degeneracy and drives many avant-garde artists out of the country. After the war, many German artists—East and West—produce works that reflect their personal experiences of its attendant horrors. Cultural production in East Germany is subject to the political climate, fluctuating between periods of vigilant ideological scrutiny and liberal thaws. Reunification of the nation, and particularly of the city of Berlin, occasions an enormous building campaign by internationally recognized architects, producing important postmodern monuments.

Key Events

  • 1900

    German physicist Max Planck (1858–1947) formulates quantum theory. His work marks a turning point in the development of physics in the twentieth century. In 1918, Planck receives the Nobel Prize for physics.

  • 1905

    Die Brücke (The Bridge), a group of painters and printmakers who contribute to the development of Expressionism, is founded in Dresden, continuing there and in Berlin until 1913. Members include Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938), Erich Heckel (1883–1970), and Emil Nolde (1867–1956). Unlike the French avant-garde, Expressionists privilege the artist’s inner emotional state, focusing on the anxieties of modern life and taboo subjects such as sexuality, expressed in bright, unnatural colors and distorted forms.

  • 1905–7

    The Palais Stoclet in Brussels is constructed by German architect Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), embodying the contemporary German concept of theGesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”) with furnishings designed by the architect and murals by Gustav Klimt (1862–1918).

  • 1907

    The Deutscher Werkbund, predecessor of the Bauhaus, is founded in Munich, led by Friedrich Naumann (1860–1919), Karl Schmidt (1873–1954), and Hermann Muthesius (1861–1927). Dedicated to combining the skills of art, craft, and industry, the Werkbund’s membership includes architects, industrialists, economists, artists, and craftsmen. Its initial goals are modest ornamentation and functionalism in all aspects of the decorative arts, but a rapidly expanding membership will lead to disputes over mass production and standardization. In 1914, the Deutscher Werkbund Ausstellung exhibition of modern decorative arts is held in Cologne.

  • 1908

    The Hochzeitsturm (“wedding tower”) at Darmstadt, the focal point of the artists’ colony founded there by Archduke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse (1868–1937), is completed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908). Darmstadt becomes the center of the Jugendstil, the German equivalent of the Art Nouveau movement.

  • 1909

    Peter Behrens (1868–1940) completes the AEG Turbine Factory, Berlin. Behrens also designs some of the products manufactured by the AEG, as well as the company’s publicity materials. In this connection, as well as through training a number of modernist architects, Behrens plays a central role in design and architecture in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

  • 1910

    The journal Der Sturm begins publication in Berlin, combining essays on topical issues such as women’s rights and nationalism, cutting-edge art criticism, and work by leading European avant-garde artists and writers. Editor Herwarth Walden (1878–1941) opens Galerie Sturm in 1911.

  • 1911

    The arrival of the German gunboat Panther in Agadir, Morocco, which represents a threat to French interests there, creates an international crisis. War is averted when the Germans relinquish claims to Morocco in exchange for French-controlled land in the Congo with access to the sea.

  • 1911

    The Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group of avant-garde artists is founded in Munich and will continue until 1914. Among its members are Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944), the title of whose painting gives the group its name, as well as German artists Franz Marc (1880–1916), Paul Klee (1879–1940), and August Macke (1887–1914). The group is united, not by a single style or theme, but by a search for aesthetic forms through which to convey spiritual ideals.

  • 1914

    The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914) and his wife in Sarajevo sets off World War I. Austria-Hungary attacks Serbia, and Germany invades Belgium. The Germans defeat the Russians in the Battle of Tannenberg and the Russians defeat the Austrians at the Battle of Lemberg. Also in 1914, the First Battle of the Marne is fought. Although German troops are prevented from entering Paris, the successful German retreat means that the war will be prolonged. The Germans are engaged in bloody battles in Belgium, France, and elsewhere from 1915 until 1918, when the Allies are victorious and Armistice is signed, thus marking the demise of the German and Habsburg empires.

  • 1916

    The Dada movement begins in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire—a gathering place for artists, performers, and intellectuals—and flourishes in France, Switzerland, and Germany until about 1920. Romanian-born poet Tristan Tzara (1896–1963) writes the founding manifesto. Appalled by the destruction of World War I and the nationalist and materialist values that produced it, Dadaists celebrate irrationality and anarchy in works of visual art and staged events. Austrian artist Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971) and German artists Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) and Hannah Höch (1889–1978) are among those associated with the movement.

  • 1918

    German artist Christian Schad (1894–1982) creates his first “Schadograph,” a cameraless photograph that reproduces the negative image of textures placed on photosensitive paper.

  • 1918–19

    The November (German) Revolution is triggered by a mutiny of sailors in Kiel who set up Soviet-style workers’ councils. The kaiser abdicates and the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) heads the new government, fracturing left unity by allying with conservative forces. The rebellion spreads to major ports and cities, including Berlin, where the Spartacist Uprising is led by socialists Rosa Luxemburg (1870–1919) and Karl Liebknecht (1871–1919), both of whom are assassinated by government militia. The revolt is ultimately suppressed and the Weimar Republic proclaimed.

  • 1918

    Allied with the November Revolution and its ideals, artists and architects form the Novembergruppe (November Group) and the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers’ Council for Art) in Berlin. Their programs for state support of art and other projects are later taken up at the Weimar Bauhaus, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius (1883–1969). The educational program is based on the integration of the arts and crafts and aims at nothing less than a revolution in German culture, from bourgeois parochialism to a socially transformative art.

  • 1919

    German architect and urban planner Bruno Taut (1880–1938), a member of the Novembergruppe, publishes his utopian drawings, Alpine Architecture, in which he reinvents architecture in response to the devastation of World War I and demonstrates his Expressionist approach to design. Taut’s ability to use modern materials to achieve Expressionistic effects is also apparent in his Glass Pavilion at the 1914 Werkbund Exhibition.

  • 1919

    The German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is directed by Robert Wiene (1880–1938). The unnerving effect of the film is a consequence of its multilayered plot and its sets, which convey the feeling of a twisted and distorted medieval village.

  • 1920s

    The Weimar Republic proves more hospitable to elements of the old military-industrial regime than socialists and other proponents of radical change. Artists respond with increasingly harsh pictorial attacks on the “New Germany” through prints, broadsides, and illustrated magazines. Berlin Dadaists George Grosz (1893–1959) and John Heartfield (1891–1968), both members of the Communist party, collaborate on various publications featuring bitter caricatures of the “pillars of bourgeois society”—corrupt capitalists, the military, and the clergy—for which they incur the wrath of authorities. Both artists are also early and vociferous critics of the Nazis, who organize as a party in 1920.

  • 1920

    The League of Nations is established in Paris, with Switzerland as one of the original members.

  • 1920

    Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922) devises the “inkblot” test. His book Psychodiagnostik is published in 1921 and quickly becomes a classic psychoanalytic text.

  • 1920

    Erwin Piscator (1893–1966) opens the Proletarian Theater in Berlin. Pioneering the use of mechanized sets and films in his dramatic productions, Piscator envisions an agitational, propagandistic theater whose sociopolitical context supersedes emotive content or aesthetics.

  • 1920

    German-born choreographer Mary Wigman (1886–1973), creator of Expressionist dance, opens a school in Dresden. Employing spontaneous movement, repetitive pattern, and often musicless choreography, Wigman’s innovations will influence European and American modern dance for decades.

  • 1921

    German astronomer Max Wolf (1863–1932) shows the true structure of the Milky Way for the first time.

  • 1922

    Naum Gabo (1890–1977) brings Constructivism from his native Russia to Germany, where he lives until 1932.

  • 1923

    Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) makes his first attempt to seize power, in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. During a brief imprisonment for treason, he writes Mein Kampf. The value of the German mark drops dramatically and the ensuing economic instability contributes to the popularity of the Nazi party, which Hitler reorganizes in 1925.

  • 1924

    German artist Otto Dix (1891–1969) records the horrors of trench warfare in a book of etchings called The War. Like fellow veteran George Grosz, Dix devotes his art to stinging social commentary, focusing on the social negation of disabled ex-soldiers in paintings such as War Cripples (1920). When The Trench (1923), a depiction of decomposed corpses, is shown at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, public outcry forces the museum’s director to resign.

  • 1925

    Hungarian-born architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) becomes head of the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau, where he begins to experiment with tubular steel in various chair designs (i.e., the Wassily) and develops a line of modular furnishings. Breuer will tap new technologies and unusual materials—plywood, cane, mortared rubble, concrete, aluminum—throughout his career in Germany and the United States, where he emigrates in 1937.

  • 1925

    Austrian-born industrial and graphic designer Herbert Bayer (1900–1985) becomes director of printing and advertising at the Bauhaus. In 1938, Bayer will emigrate to the United States, where he will exercise a profound influence on graphic and industrial art.

  • 1925

    The Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) exhibition opens in Mannheim. The socially engaged movement is based on the use of stark realism to convey the sense of disillusionment engendered by the Great War and the failures of the Weimar Republic. Among the artists associated with the movement is Max Beckmann (1884–1950).

  • 1926

    Germany is admitted to the League of Nations but withdraws in 1933, the year in which Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) is declared chancellor, combining that position with that of president in 1934 to become Führer (“Leader”). In 1938, Hitler declares himself war minister.

  • 1926

    The Bauhaus school building, designed by Walter Gropius (1883–1969), is completed in Dessau, Germany. First established in Weimar in 1919, the Bauhaus relocates to Dessau in 1925, then to Berlin in 1932. It will be closed by the Nazis in 1933 because its progressive education program and modernist aesthetics are considered threats to the regime. Among the teachers at the Bauhaus is painter Paul Klee (1879–1940), who joined in 1921 and teaches in a variety of fields, including bookbinding, painting, and weaving, through 1931.

  • 1926

    The film Metropolis by German director Fritz Lang (1890–1976) premieres in Berlin. The popular futuristic film imagines a world transformed by modern production methods in which capitalists live comfortably on the surface of the Earth while workers toil in deprivation below ground.

  • 1927

    Berlin, Symphony of a City, a film directed by Walter Ruttmann (1887–1941), premieres. The film documents one day in the life of contemporary Berlin and uses a variety of effects to capture the excitement, speed, and vibrancy of the German capital.

  • 1927

    The Weissenhofsiedlung model housing exhibit, directed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), opens in Stuttgart. In 1929, Mies exhibits his “Barcelona” chair in the German Pavilion (also of his design) at the Barcelona International Exposition. The building is composed of abstract planes that intersect under its flat roof. Despite its manifest modernism, the structure employs materials, such as travertine marble, associated with traditional monumental public buildings. In 1937, Mies leaves Germany for Chicago, where he heads the Architecture Department at the Armour Institute of Technology (later the Illinois Institute of Technology) from 1938 to 1958.

  • 1927

    Equating modernism with degeneracy, and degeneracy with Jews and Bolsheviks, Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg (1893–1946) founds the Kampfbund für Deutsche Kultur (Militant League for German Culture) to purge the arts of “corrupt” elements.

  • 1928

    Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) writes The Threepenny Opera with composer Kurt Weill (1900–1950), in which he employs “alienating effects” intended to destroy theatrical illusion and maintain the audience’s critical detachment. The play is the greatest theatrical “hit” of 1920s Berlin. With the rise to power of the Nazi party, Brecht will become a prominent member of the antifascist movement.

  • 1928

    The Kellogg-Briand Pact declaring an end to war is signed by sixty-five countries, including Germany. Although the pact does not prevent World War II, it does establish the legal concept of crimes committed against peace, for which a number of defendants in the Nuremberg Trials (1945–46) are convicted.

  • 1928

    CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) is founded at the Château de La Sarraz in Switzerland by twenty-eight European architects organized by Le Corbusier (1887–1965) and historian Siegfried Giedion (1888–1968) to formalize the principles of modern architecture and promote functionalist design in urban planning. CIAM’s ideas are widely adopted by city planners in the rebuilding of Europe following World War II.

  • 1929

    The Deutscher Werkbund organizes the groundbreaking Film und Fotoexhibition in Stuttgart, an international showcase for avant-garde photography and film.

  • 1929

    Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970) publishes All Quiet on the Western Front, a book later banned and burned by the Nazis. In the late 1930s, Remarque flees Germany for Switzerland, then the U.S.

  • 1930

    A period of worldwide economic depression and unemployment begins. In 1931, the Austrian bank Creditanstalt crashes, causing a financial panic in Austria and Germany.

  • 1930

    German artist John Heartfield (1891–1968) begins an eight-year association with the Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper, or AIZ), for which he creates dozens of photomontages, often ruthless satires of Hitler and the Nazis. Many of these photomontages—a technique in which Heartfield has become a master—will be featured in his solo exhibition One Man’s War Against Hitler, mounted in 1940 at the Arcade Gallery in London.

  • 1930

    The German production of The Blue Angel, directed by Josef von Sternberg (1894–1969) and starring Marlene Dietrich (1901–1992), is released. The film, in which Dietrich plays Lola, a cabaret singer, and famously performs the song “Falling in Love Again” which will become her trademark, makes the star’s career.

  • 1933

    The Nobel Prize for physics is awarded to the Swiss-English Paul Dirac (1902–1984) and the Austrian Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) for the discovery of new forms of atomic energy.

  • 1933–45

    Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) becomes chancellor of Germany and creates a one-party state under the National Socialist (Nazi) regime. The doctrine of an Aryan “master race,” central to Nazi ideology, is translated into concrete policies designed to exterminate German Jews. In March 1933, the first concentration camp opens at Dachau. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprive German Jews of citizenship. Before the end of World War II, some six million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe will be deported and murdered in a systematic program of genocide. Gypsies, homosexuals, communists, the mentally ill, and other groups will also be targeted.

  • 1934

    German director Leni Riefenstahl’s (1902–2003) film Triumph of the Willpremieres, a glorification of Hitler and his regime. The next year, her film of the Olympics in Berlin, titled Olympia, is a paean to “Aryan superiority.” Riefenstahl’s willingness to propagandize for the Nazis makes her a controversial figure after World War II.

  • 1936

    German Marxist social and cultural critic Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) writes the essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (also commonly translated as “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”). In this influential essay, Benjamin theorizes the loss of the aura of the original artwork in the age of photography and film. In 1940, he commits suicide at the French-Spanish border while fleeing the Nazis.

  • 1937

    The National Socialist (Nazi) government organizes the exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), which includes the work of many modernist artists. Opening in Munich, the exhibition is attended by literally millions of visitors in its dozen German and Austrian venues. The show includes only a fraction of the 16,000 artworks confiscated from German museums by order of Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945); thousands of these works are burned, the rest auctioned off. Among the artists deemed “degenerate” are the Expressionists Kirchner, Marc, Kokoschka, and Nolde, as well as Beckmann, Klee, Chagall, Dix, Grosz, Picasso, Van Gogh, and Kandinsky. Other cultural forms are subjected to the same rites of “purification.” For instance, a Degenerate Music exhibit is mounted in 1938 to educate the listening public on the dangers of atonalism and jazz.

  • 1937

    Germans participate in the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by fascist forces, an event memorialized the same year in a large-scale painting (Guernica) by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). In 1999, the German government officially apologizes to the citizens of Guernica for its part in the bombing.

  • 1938–45

    Germany annexes Austria. In 1939, World War II starts when German troops invade Poland, and France and Britain declare war on Germany. Hitler (1889–1945) and Mussolini (1883–1945) sign a ten-year “Pact of Steel.” The same year, the Hitler-Stalin Pact of nonaggression between Germany and the Soviet Union is signed. In 1940, Germany invades Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Germany invades Russia in 1941 and Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S. In 1943, Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, established by the Germans after the invasion of Poland in 1939, rise up against their Nazi captors. In 1943, the German military surrender at Stalingrad and in Tunisia; Italy declares war on Germany. In 1944, Paris and Rome are liberated from German occupation and German forces retreat from Russia. In 1945, World War II ends with German surrender and the suicide of Adolf Hitler. Germany is divided into four zones of Allied military occupation: French, British, American, and Soviet.

  • 1941–46

    Sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966), earlier associated with the Cubist and Surrealist movements in Paris, returns to his native Switzerland for the duration of the war.

  • 1942

    Switzerland closes its borders to Jewish refugees. During the war, Swiss neutrality ensures that its important financial institutions will continue to function and to be used by both sides of the conflict.

  • 1948–49

    The Soviet Union stops road and rail traffic between Berlin and the West. In a key event in the Cold War, Western powers begin the Berlin Airlift of necessary supplies to the city, which is surrounded by the Soviet zone of Germany.

  • 1949

    Germany is partitioned. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), comprised of the sectors occupied by France, Britain, and the U.S., is proclaimed in May. The remaining Soviet zone becomes the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in October. Berlin is similarly divided between East and West, although it is a detached enclave 110 miles from West Germany.

  • 1949

    The Fourth Geneva Convention revises and ratifies standards established by earlier Geneva Conventions (1864, 1906, 1929) relative to the treatment of battlefield wounded, prisoners of war, civilians in wartime, and other related matters.

  • 1949

    After wartime exile in the United States, Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) settles in East Berlin, where he is given a theater in which to perform his works. Many other artists and intellectuals who had fled the Nazis return to East Germany, attracted by its antifascist stance and the possibility of realizing their socialist ideals. Within a few years, the migration will be reversed, from East to West.

  • 1951

    East Germany’s governing Socialist Unity Party (SED) launches a campaign against formalism and “decadence” in art, literature, and architecture. The Ministry of Culture prescribes Socialist Realism as the only appropriate form of aesthetic expression. Artists enjoy a privileged status in the GDR, including freedom to travel from East to West, as long as they follow the government policy of glorifying socialism and proletarian struggle; otherwise, they risk censorship, forced immigration, or imprisonment. Within these constraints, several painters of the Leipzig School create a distinctive body of work in the Socialist Realist mode, including Werner Tübke (born 1929), Bernhard Heisig (born 1925), and Wolfgang Mattheuer (born 1927).

  • 1953

    Soviet control over the Eastern Bloc begins to loosen after the death of Joseph Stalin. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s official denunciation of Stalin at the XX Party Congress in 1956 is the first step in a gradual process of “destalinization” in the Soviet satellites.

  • 1953

    A workers’ uprising against increased production quotas results in work stoppages throughout East Germany. The workers demand the government’s resignation. The rebellion is suppressed by Soviet military forces and hundreds of workers are wounded or killed.

  • 1955

    West Germany joins NATO and participates in the establishment of the European Union along with Italy and France. This increasing coordination among the Western powers is balanced by the Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact with East Germany as one of its original members.

  • 1955

    The first documenta exhibition of contemporary art is held in Kassel, Germany.

  • 1957

    Germany is among the signers of the “Rome Treaty,” which launches the European Economic Community (the EEC or Common Market; later renamed the European Community [EC]). The other signers are France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

  • 1957

    The Zero group is founded in Düsseldorf by Otto Piene (born 1928) and Heinz Mack (born 1931) to explore the possibilities of light-based art.

  • 1959

    The Bitterfeld Conference formulates appropriate artistic subject matter and the obligations of artists in East Germany. Artists/writers and workers should “exchange their tools,” so that the former can better understand and depict the life of the proletariat.

  • 1959

    West German writer Günter Grass (born 1927) publishes the novel Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), a picaresque account of one man’s journey through the nightmare of Nazi Germany and the country’s postwar “economic miracle.”

  • 1960

    Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925–1991) is among the signers of a “Constitutive Declaration of the New Realism.” The movement supports work that embraces realism through assemblages of found objects. One outgrowth of Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism) is kinetic sculpture, by artists such as Tinguely, and it is the subject of exhibitions throughout Europe.

  • 1961

    The construction of the Berlin Wall divides the city into Communist East Berlin and Democratic West Berlin. The wall stands for nearly thirty years.

  • 1961–62

    The Fluxus Internationale Festspiele, held in Wiesbaden, Germany, marks the official launch of the Fluxus movement, organized by American artist George Maciunas (1931–1978). Fluxus continues into the 1970s, based primarily in Germany but having adherents throughout Europe and North America. Closely related to the Dada movement, Fluxus artists aim for a “total art” that transgresses traditional aesthetic boundaries, combining visual art, music, poetry, and electronic media into staged events or “happenings.” Participants in Germany include video artist Nam June Paik (1932–2006) and Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). In the 1970s, Beuys presents performance works concerning national history and personal biography.

  • 1963

    Gerhard Richter (born 1932), Sigmar Polke (born 1941), and Konrad Lueg (1939–1996) respond to American Pop with the formation of the group Capitalist Realism in Düsseldorf. Lueg and Richter (who, like Polke, immigrated from East Germany) organize their first event, Life with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism, in a department store, inviting friends to view the artists sitting on furniture from the store’s inventory displayed as works of art.

  • 1963

    The Berlin Philharmonic Hall is completed by Hans Scharoun (1893–1972), who has long been affiliated with the Expressionist movement. This first major work by the architect leads to commissions in the last decade of his life.

  • 1965–66

    During a liberalization in cultural policy, the East German film company DEFA produces a number of films critical of contemporary socialist life, including I Am a Rabbit by Kurt Maetzig (born 1911) and Traces of Stone by Frank Beyer (born 1932). Although both films are banned in a subsequent crackdown, they are ultimately voted among the top 100 German films of all time by an international jury.

  • 1968

    Construction is completed on the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969). The minimalist sensibility of Mies’ building stands in sharp contrast to the other structures in the Kulturforum complex, all designed in an expressionist mode by Hans Scharoun (1893–1972).

  • 1969

    When Attitudes Become Form, a landmark exhibition of Conceptual Art, opens at the Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland. The show provokes a national scandal and curator Harald Szeemann (born 1933) is forced to resign.

  • late 1960s–'70s

    Various manifestations of Conceptual Art flourish in East Germany, particularly Mail Art, in which official exhibition venues (and censors) are bypassed in favor of distributing work via the postal system in the form of illustrated letters, postcards, zines, and stamps. Among the practitioners are Robert Rehfeldt (1931–1993), who establishes an archive of Conceptual Art in East Berlin, and Joseph W. Huber (1951–2001), whose project Nature Is Life—Save It (1977) consists of mailing sunflower seeds to artists all over the world for planting.

  • 1970

    German painter Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) produces a watercolor entitledEveryone Stands Under His Own Dome of Heaven (1995.14.4), in which he depicts himself enacting a parody of the “Heil Hitler” salute. An early work by Kiefer, it illustrates his ongoing concern to come to grips with the Nazi legacy, an objective shared with other painters associated with Neo-Expressionism and Neo-Abstraction in Germany in the 1970s and ’80s, among them Georg Baselitz (born 1938) and Markus Lüpertz (born 1941).

  • 1971

    In most Swiss cantons, women are granted the right to hold federal office and vote in national elections, but are still barred from voting in many local elections.

  • 1973

    Renowned East German writer Stefan Heym (1913–2001) publishes The King David Report, a novelistic exploration of the intellectual’s role in a socialist society. Heym’s uncompromising pro-socialist but anti-Stalinist journalism and literary works land him in constant trouble with authorities.

  • 1974

    The West German avant-garde group Kraftwerk, the first electronic band, release the classic album Autobahn. Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”), whose wholly synthetic sound influences American New Wave, develop techniques and equipment that become standard in contemporary music.

  • 1975

    West German photographers Bernd (born 1931) and Hilla (born 1934) Becher publish Anonyme Skulpturen (Anonymous Sculptures). The Bechers’ black-and-white photodocumentation of—often derelict—industrial architecture such as water towers, coal silos, blast furnaces, grain elevators, and oil refineries, taken throughout Europe and North America, is allied to the practice of a number of American landscape photographers who, eschewing traditional notions of untainted beauty, record the impact of industrial culture on the land. This practice is labeled the “New Topographics” in a seminal 1975 exhibition held at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York.

  • 1976

    Popular singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann (born 1936) is stripped of East German citizenship and expelled from the country for his vocal advocacy of democratization. The event, ending a period of relative optimism among cultural workers in the GDR, sets off a flurry of protests, prompting a government crackdown on more than a hundred dissident writers.

  • 1978

    Austrian architect Hans Hollein (born 1934) completes the Tourist Office in Vienna. This is followed by other projects in Austria and Germany, and Hollein’s receipt of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1985.

  • 1978

    The Marriage of Maria Braun, the first film in German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s (1945–1982) postwar trilogy, premieres. Fassbinder is associated with the New German Cinema.

  • late 1970s

    The German Green Party (Die Grühnen) is founded by environmentalists and peace activists, including Petra Kelly (1947–1992) and artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986). In 1983, the Greens win twenty-eight seats in the federal parliament, the first European Green Party to gain a strong presence in national government.

  • 1981

    Swiss architect Mario Botta (born 1943) designs the Casa Rotonda in Stabio, Switzerland, in his trademark stark, geometric style: a concrete drum punctuated with openings to admit light into the interior. Among Botta’s international projects is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, completed in 1994.

  • 1983

    The Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, by British architect James Stirling (1926–1992), is completed. It is an important monument of postmodern architecture.

  • 1987

    Wim Wenders’ (born 1945) film Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) is released. The film captures life in West Berlin immediately prior to unification of the city and the two Germanys.

  • 1989

    The Communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapse. This event is followed in 1990 by the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West Germany. Unified Germany then becomes a member of NATO.

  • 1990

    London-based, Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid (born 1950) completes the Music Video Pavilion in Gröningen, Germany. Her Vitra Fire Station is built in Weil am Rhein, Germany, from 1991 to 1993, and her Exhibition Hall in the same city is completed in 1999. Hadid’s reputation as one of the foremost practitioners of Deconstruction in architecture is based as much on her drawings as on her executed buildings.

  • 1992

    The Maastricht Treaty, creating the European Union, is signed. Among the signatories is Germany.

  • 1995

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude (both born 1935) wrap the Reichstag in Berlin. It is the culmination of a planning effort that began in 1971. The building is wrapped with 100,000 square meters of polypropylene fabric with an aluminum finish.

  • 1997

    Hans Haacke (born 1936), known for socially critical installation art, exhibits at documenta X in Kassel his Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time System, as of May 1, 1971, a work that prompted the cancellation of his 1971 solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

  • 1999

    Germany is among the European nations that adopt the Euro as a unit of currency for electronic transactions.

  • 1999

    In Switzerland, the right-wing People’s Party receives one-quarter of the total vote in national elections, becoming the second strongest political force in the country.

  • 1999

    The Jewish Museum in Berlin, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind (born 1946), is completed. The metal-clad, zigzag-form building demonstrates Libeskind’s association with Deconstructivist architecture.

  • 1999

    American architect Peter Eisenman (born 1932) wins the competition for the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The memorial consists primarily of thousands of concrete columns. The project illustrates the ongoing German need to deal historically and psychologically with the Holocaust.

  • 2001

    Germany signs an historic agreement to phase out nuclear energy by 2020.

  • 2001

    Berliners elect an openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit. In his coming-out speech before the election, Wowereit stated, “I’m gay, and that is good.”

  • 2003

    The right-wing Swiss People’s Party wins 28 percent of the vote in general elections, making it the largest force in parliament.


“Germany and Switzerland, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)