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Jewish Art Collector Donates Works to His Native Berlin

September 7, 1996 GMT

BERLIN (AP) _ In the Berlin of 1936, Heinz Berggruen wisely perceived that Nazi Germany offered a bleak future for a young Jewish journalist.

With 10 marks in his pocket (about $3), he emigrated to the United States. Years later, Berggruen moved to Paris and began collecting paintings _ Paul Klee, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Alberto Giacometti.

Berggruen, now 82, has returned to Berlin to donate a collection of 113 modern art treasures, more than half of them Picassos.

``Exactly 60 years later I’m back _ with more than 10 marks,″ Berggruen said Friday. ``Today, a circle closes and I am able to fill a small museum with modern art treasures from this century.″

For the next 10 years, Berggruen’s legacy, including numerous Picasso sketches, paintings and sculptures, will be housed in a newly renovated four-story building of the Schloss Charlottenburg complex, not far from where Berggruen was born. The treasures had been in London’s National Gallery.

Surrounded by about 1,000 people, the wiry, white-haired man presided over Friday’s opening of ``Picasso and His Times.″ Among the guests was German President Roman Herzog, who praised Berggruen for his bringing his collection ``back to Berlin, of all places.″

``I know how to appreciate the symbolism of that action,″ Herzog said. ``Germany thanks you.″

Herzog alluded to Germany’s Nazi past, ``when barbaric forces considered such art to be degenerate.″

``That this circle is being closed by someone who was forced into exile by those same dark forces is a remarkable example of tolerance and humanity,″ Herzog said.

Ralf Cremer, who lives on the block where Berggruen grew up, said he understands and appreciates Berggruen’s desire to return to Berlin, known for its cultural diversity and tolerance before Hitler’s rise to power.

``Even though horrible things happened here, his roots were here, and I can understand that he wanted to come back here,″ Cremer said at the opening.

After studying at the University of California at Berkeley, Berggruen wrote about art for the San Francisco Chronicle. He returned to Europe as a U.S. Army soldier, then settled in Paris.

He gave up his American citizenship for that of his native Germany, saying he considers himself an apolitical ``world citizen″ who is comfortable in Europe and the United States.


He said the presence of his collection in the former capital of the Third Reich has been criticized by some American Jews. Time will tell, he said, whether such criticism was warranted.

``One of the most fulfilling times of my life was the day that I met Picasso for the first time,″ Berggruen said. ``I hope that in the future I will treasure this day as another such time.″