Every few minutes a subway thunders past the garden. The yellow wagons flash briefly between tufts of bamboo and Brandenburg pines, which enclose a top-notch, renovated Shell gas station in the lively design of the years of the economic boom like a protective hedge. Cappuccino instead of fuel: what a magical place for a museum café in the middle of the city!

The way to this green oasis leads past kebab shops, cheap bars and street prostitutes. The bourgeois, the flashy and the offbeat live close together on Bülowstrasse, despite the massive renovations by Neue Heimat since the 1960s.

Today, the state-owned Gewobag, as the largest landlord in the area, protects the milieu and alleviates the pressure of gentrification and has the multi-storey residential building facades painted by international street artists. She is also behind the foundation that runs the Urban Nation street art museum on Bülowstrasse. The street between Potse and Nollendorfplatz is becoming an art mile.

A George Grosz Museum fits in well there. It’s loud and raw on Bülowstraße, like in Grosz’s big city pictures, which are 100 years old and haven’t aged a bit. Everything about this museum location seems a bit surreal and dadaistic.

The corner property on Frobenstrasse with the gas station was bought a few years ago by Grosz lover Juerg Judin, who runs a gallery in the former Tagesspiegel printing works on Potsdamer Strasse. He had the gas station converted into a private villa with a garden in accordance with the monument requirements. Now Judin is changing his place of residence and renting the property to the association “George Grosz in Berlin”, which has been looking for a suitable location for a permanent presentation in Berlin for some time.

The circle of Grosz admirers is led by Ralph Jentzsch, the artist’s estate administrator, who curated a Grosz retrospective in the Bröhan Museum in 2018. Works on paper from all creative periods can now be found again in the smaller permanent exhibition that fills the ground floor of a former residential extension: from the poisonous lithographs of the “Kleine Grosz-Mappe” published in 1917, to which the name of the Kleinen Grosz Museum alludes, to the shrill photomontages with which the artist satirized US consumer culture after the Second World War.

A narrow staircase leads to the upper floor, where there is space for temporary exhibitions. There are currently 50 early works on display under the motto “Gross vor Grosz”. The artist was born Georg Ehrenfried Gross in Berlin in 1893, and from 1916 he called himself George Grosz. The oldest exhibited works are caricatures, painting tasks and punishment work from the eleven-year-old’s exercise books.

A large sketch sheet with dozens of figures and scenes from 1907/08 proves the irrepressible pleasure in drawing and satirical exaggeration. A landscape watercolor in muted tones shows a winter view of the industrial landscape in Pomeranian Stolp, where the boy sometimes lives with his mother and attends high school. There he becomes conspicuous when the 15-year-old responds to a teacher’s slap in the face with a slap in the face.

In 1910 the Berlin satirical newspaper Ulk published a work for the first time. Grosz hoped for a career as a comic book illustrator. The training at the conservative Dresden Art Academy bored him, in 1912 he switched to the more progressive educational institution of the Berlin Museum of Decorative Arts, headed by Bruno Paul, himself a famous caricaturist.

Grosz roams through the young metropolis with its wastelands and construction sites: “I drew drunks, people throwing up, men who curse the moon with clenched fists, murderers of women who are sitting on a box playing skat in which you can see the murdered woman. I drew wine drinkers, beer drinkers, liquor drinkers and a man looking anxious, washing his blood-stained hands. I drew fleeing men running lonely and madly through empty streets.”

During the First World War, Grosz taught himself oil painting and found his unmistakable, aggressive drawing style. He reacts to the exploding violent relationships with the relentless exposure of authorities, the intensified depiction of brutality, shabbiness, poverty. As razor-sharp as he is with the pen, he is just as little good as a soldier.

Twice after being called up for military service, he immediately fell so ill that he ended up in the hospital instead of in the trenches and was declared unfit for service. On the way back from the front in 1915, he captured the unheroic nature of warfare.

A country road is strewn with the corpses of civilians in front of the ruins of shot-up houses. Grosz merely sketches the outlines of the twisted bodies. How timeless does this drawing sheet seem these days!

It’s not a new realization that George Grosz wasn’t a child of the 1920s, when he rose to fame. He already unmasked the society and the Berlin of the imperial era with a sharp line, found himself in this confrontation. The exhibition and the extensive catalog draw attention to a young talent in an authoritarian society, in a pre-war and war situation. There is something shocking and comforting about how anger and world disgust are contained in his furious art.

The Kleine Grosz Museum is to live on the gas station site for rent for five years. During this time, ten special exhibitions on various topics and creative phases are planned. An ambitious project for a citizens’ initiative. But the calculation should work out, thanks to the unique location and the attraction of Grosz. His new museum is really small, but powerful.