Where have all the blowballs gone?

If you arrive by train at Dresden Main Station and you follow our directions to the meeting point of the DresdenWalks tours, you will come across a fountain whose spouts will remind you inevitably of blowballs.

Blowballs at Dresden Prager Strasse

© SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek / Steuerlein, Asmus

International Style” on the way from the main station to the old town

The Prager Straße presents itself since the end of the 1960s very cosmopolitan and international with tourists hotels, tourist gardens, the “rotund cinema” and fountains that invite to linger. In the book: “Historic streets and squares today. Dresden” by W.Volk, 1974, the following quote can be found:

“This southern part of the new boulevard Prager Straße gets a festive touch through the cascading sequence of basins with differently designed water features. They were designed and produced by Leonie Wirth and the blacksmith Karl Bergmann. Especially popular as a photo scene are the “Blowballs” in front of the ice cream parlor. Very charming and designed differently is the fountain with an overflow basin at the staircase that divides the boulevard into a northern and a southern section.”

The fountains of Leonie Wirth dominated for decades the appearance of the pedestrian zone and created resting places to linger. These works were not the only ones of its kind, but today  they seem to be the last mementos of the sculptor. The “glass fountain” at Pirnaischer Platz square is also a memory by her. Unfortunately, the German reunification was not a friend of the socialist urban architecture. Although the boulevard Prager Straße was not such typical East German design, furthermore was regarded as the end of the national tradition, and more oriented at the pedestrian zone “Lijnbaan” in Rotterdam.

Blowballs today at Dresden Prager Strasse

© Deutsche Fotothek / Sørensen, Inger

So are they still there?

If one walks today from the main train station in the direction of the historic city centre, it seems one can still see the original “Blowball fountains” by Leonie Wirth. Even today there is a fountain basin and 3 small blowballs, that fit not quite to the scale of the big wide area but especially delight children. The tourist hotels shine today as Ibis hotels with modern covered passages at the door to keep pedestrians dry and invite them to go in the numerous shops. But it is no longer the same Prager Straße! In 2004, there were extensive conversions that transformed a long boulevard into an enormous square. Entire design structures were removed. Individual paving had to make way for monotone concrete. And of the great fountain basin by a Mrs.Wirth only a small water area was left, where there was just room for three of the fountain elements. Thereupon Leonie Wirth filed a suit, because she saw her copyright infringed.

Rescue as small consolation

Although she achieved not the complete return of her water installation, there is still a small ray of hope. In Dresden Prohlis, on Albert Wolf-Platz square, a really typical plattenbau area, the larger blowballs have been preserved in their old beauty. And with the addition of other elements of the former fountain they can be admired again today. To the delight of residents and the really few tourists who find their way there. So if you really want to know, what it was like when former East Germany was a little bit on a tear and the government wanted to give its citizens an international feeling, the boulevard Prager Straße is not the best example. You should rather look elsewhere in Dresden in order to not succumb the epigram “In the past – everything was grey”.

A special exhibition as a tribute

Leonie Wirth would have turned 80 this year (1935-2012). On this occasion the Kunsthaus Dresden dedicates her a special exhibition from November 1st 2015 to March 3rd 2016 with the theme:

Site visit with Leonie Wirth – models and designs from the studio of Leonie Wirth and contemporary persepectives to abstraction and modernity

Address: Kunsthaus Dresden (Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art), Rähnitzgasse 8, 01097 Dresden

The Kunsthaus Dresden is located in the Inner Neustadt and is within walking distance of our meeting point at Schlossplatz square.