Germany gets a picture of the Nazi past

Muscular idols of Stalin's Russia and Aryan heroes of the Third Reich met yesterday on the fault-line of European history, brought together on the Unter den Linden by a British exhibition dealing with art under tyranny.

"Art and Power", first shown 18 months ago at the Hayward Gallery, in London, offers Germans a rare view of the oeuvres that whipped them into a frenzy more than half a century ago. Much Nazi art is held in quarantine in the US and at a guarded warehouse in Munich, lest it should infect the nation again.

The show, imported almost unaltered from London, is presented as a British view. It is meant to be "thoughtful and reflective", said Henry Meyric Hughes, curator of the original exhibition and who is also involved with its Berlin revival. "It is an attempt to make people reconsider history in a less emotive way."

In London, learned brows were furrowed at suggestions that images projected by the creeds of the epoch - Francoism, Italian Fascism, Nazism and Soviet Communism - bore more than a passing resemblance. But Berliners, who have had a front-seat view of the cataclysmic events of this century, are unlikely to be troubled by such comparison.

From today, they will be able to judge for themselves. For instance, those blond athletes, clutching bouquets and saluting the man on a dais wearing military fatigues, are Ubermensch of a different kind: the banner of Lenin in the background gives away their land of origin.

The Nazis were as fond of using beefcake to glorify the working man as Stalin's war artists. Whatever their ideological differences, neither camp could find any room on its canvas for a less than outstanding human specimen, down to the size of the genitals.

In both Moscow and Berlin, the supreme leaders of the nation took a personal interest in the arts. Many of the German works were commissioned by the century's most infamous amateur painter, and early evidence of the Fuhrer's budding talent, a sketch of a building, is also on display. There is a lot of fine art, too. Works labelled "degenerate" by the Nazis are presented side-by-side with what Hitler preferred.

The poignant choice of Berlin as the show's venue was deliberate and its importance was underlined by the presence of Chancellor Helmut Kohl at the opening ceremony.