Dancing (on) Spree: Molecule Man

 In Berlin experience


When crossing famous Oberbaumbrücke in Friedrichshain, a phenomenal view across the glittering water towards the east is your reward. And in that view, something odd catches the eye: Three gigantic men seem to float over the water surface, tall like a high-rise building, while they are joining their hands in a mysterious dance. What sounds a bit surreal is nothing other than Molecule Man, a giant sculpture by American artist Jonathan Borofsky. The monumental artwork is a famous part of East Berlin’s skyline and is being photographed by millions of visitors every year. But what’s the story of these giants made of aluminum?

The artwork was created in 1999. Boston-based sculptor Jonathan Borofsky had experimented with sculptures riddled with holes as early as the 1970s. “I was fascinated by this molecule idea”, the artist wrote, “because of the simple fact that even though we appear to be quite solid, we are in fact composed of a molecule structure which, in itself is mostly composed of water and air.” The location was not chosen by coincidence: Three boroughs join up here, Friedrichshain, Treptow, and Kreuzberg. While the first two were part of the German Democratic Republic before the fall of the wall, Kreuzberg belonged to West Germany. Thus, the point where the three metal figures join together their hands marks the former border between the two Germanies. For Borofsky, there lies powerful symbolism in all this, since it “not only refers to the lightness inside our own solid bodies, but also […] to the molecules of all human beings coming together to create our existence.

The three 100-feet gentlemen were put up in 1999, not on, but literally in the Spree river halfway between the bridges Oberbaumbrücke and Elsenbrücke. Around the millennia, a lot of arguing took place over the controversial project “Media Spree”, an urban development plan for the construction of numerous office buildings along both shores of the Spree river in East Berlin to give home to tech and media companies. Since the Molecule Men were, in the eyes of many a Berliner, a symbol for this gentrifying process, they had a rather hard time making friends among the locals at first. Due to its distinctive design the giant sculpture has since becoming a popular sight and one of the most recognizable attractions of East Berlin though. So even most gentrification-stricken locals have made their peace with it.

One incident in 2016 brought the sculpture back into the news though: Many passers-by had started noticing a strange, silver-colored BMX bike hanging from the sculpture in the middle of the river at considerable height. The papers went wild over this mystery and people were wondering: How on earth does a bike end up 80 feet up in the air dangling from a giant aluminium man? The answer to this question followed a week later, in the shape of a 5-minute YouTube video. It shows Berlin-based trash-art activist PARADOX cycling through the streets of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, before balancing on the roof of a moving subway car crossing Oberbaumbrücke on his bike.  Later on, his bike is being spray-painted silver and hauled up Molecule Man in a daring climbing expedition starting on a little rubber boat on the river. Practically every single bit of this art performance is illegal, yet you can watch the crazy video below:

Picture: Datei: #55006846 | Urheber: carol_anne – Fotolia

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