Skateboarders VS the Berlin Neue Nationalgalerie: vandalism or bigotry?

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After six years and a $165million renovation, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin reopened on August 2021. Its paved terrace has been a big part of the Berlin skateboarding culture for over thirty years, so, after the reopening, skateboarders came back to enjoy this particular spot.

The Neue Nationalgalerie, courtesy of the Neue Nationalgalerie

However, in October, the museum authorities decided to ban this activity from the site, explaining that the sculptures on the terrace and the building suffered scratch marks from skateboard’s wheels.
Do we want, does society want to accept this drastic wear and tear? The Neue Nationalgalerie is admired for its aesthetic clarity and perfection”, says Jäger, the director of the Nationalgalerie. “We want to talk to the skaters to find a way to keep the building in good condition and keep the skating.”

This is not the first time that this kind of conflict arises: in 1997 the administration scattered sand around the structure to drive away the skaters, as they were thought to be damaging the glass panels of the museum.

Still from Mexico Skate Team takes the City of Berlin, courtesy of VANS

Skaters launched a petition, already signed by more than 2500 people, to ask for an agreement between them and the museum and for skateboarding to be allowed outside the structure, at least when the museum is closed.
Artists seem to appreciate the presence of the skateboarders, as Veronika Kellndorfer, who had work featured in the gallery, stated: “If you stand in the hall on a Sunday afternoon and see the skaters outside, then this famous flow from inside to outside really arises, then, to come back to your question, it really tips into a work of art”.
Furthermore, this activity is celebrated in other countries by some of the major cultural institutions as well. Examples of this can be found in Porto, at the Casa de Musica, and in Barcelona, at the Macba Museum, which are two of the most famous skate spots in the world. Combining the institutions together with the skating activity helped the museums gather international attention and tourism, and it transformed them into places to meet, hang out and have fun. Another important landmark of this kind is in Arles, at the Luma Foundation, where the artist Koo Jeong A built a skate park which also is an artwork: the ramps are painted with fluorescent colors and the skaters become part of the art themselves, demonstrating their artistic loops, creating something which is halfway between sculpture and performance.

“OooOoO” - Koo Jeong A, courtesy of Ctrl+Z

One of the main aims of cultural institutions is to be inclusive, accessible for all citizens: but the Neue Nationalgalerie seems to still adhere to an idea of museums as silent temples which can only be approached quietly and devoutly.
But if culture really belongs to everyone, then everyone must have access to it. In order to make that happen, shouldn’t institutions allow people to try out new forms of expression, even if that means using the places for different purposes than those strictly intended?

Written by
Valentina Ricci