Art and Culture for an old quarter

Interview with Holger Leidel

"The IBA cannot achieve over night what was not possible in 40 years”
Holger Leidel owner of the Tiefer Keller gallery and Chairman of the association Merkunst e. V.

You operate an art gallery in Tiefer Keller and are thus a “space pioneer” in a quarter that is steeped in history but which does not have much to offer in the way of flair …


Holger Leidel: That is very true. The gallery is surrounded by houses that to a large part have been “run down” and now stand empty. Yet Tiefer Keller is one of the oldest living areas in Merseburg, parts of the Burgberg reach all the way here. The old cellar vaults show this. Establishing a gallery has more to do with a number of coincidences, but the quarter always had great potency for me. It is as if you are holding on to a claim. Developing the quarter for art and culture is an old idea …

… that was only given shape with your gallery …

Holger Leidel: There have been plans for a gallery in another property – a pottery school or an antiques shop. There have also been discussions about rooms for amateur painting groups. They were looking for a studio. We took the basic idea, developed it over a bottle of red wine and realised it in the Tiefer Keller Art House.

The courtyard is a gem-modestly reconstructed and beautifully laid out.

Holger Leidel: The property was in a catastrophic state when we took it over. In the context of the IBA we have been able to reconstruct everything piece by piece, adding a studio building and investing a total of EUR 300,000 including funding money. Still, it is the last – now preserved – enclosed medieval courtyard in the town.

Why do you engage in such a venture? Doesn’t an art gallery need a certain clientele?

Holger Leidel: Of course, clients come and say, “You are probably having a difficult time here with art”. And a gallery is without doubt, and caustically put, a rare hobby in a town that doesn’t make it easy for you. To that extent, the IBA topic of “New milieus – new chances” is also of interest for me. But a venture? I had little choice. I am now 58 and so not interesting for the jobs market out there. I want to earn money by myself. That’s why I am always undertaking a lot. For example, I offer guided tours of the old cellar vaults. And without the support of my wife, Silvia, it would not be possible with the gallery – not really.

Is this the home of the association Merkunst e. V.?

Holger Leidel: The association was founded on the occasion of the cultural discussion based on a student project. There were already seven upstanding citizens. The association today has 40 members, and I am Chairman. Our aim is promote art and culture in Merseburg. In this spirit, we are also represented on the IBA committee and have followed and shaped the ideas relating to urban development. Thus, for example, it is planned to hold the concluding presentation here in Tiefer Keller Gallery …

How do you see the future of the quarter?

Holger Leidel: I am full of optimism. The quarter will continue to develop, the proximity to the town centre makes it interesting. I know Merseburg from when I was a child as a small, idyllic medieval town, but it was totally “run down”. Old photos show that there was not much you could do with it. But a lot has been preserved. If you experience Merseburg in one day you will have a cultural shock. There are so many things to see. Not just the cathedral and castle ensemble, the Incantations and the Sitte gallery. There are the banks of the Saale, the Ladegast organ …

Has the IBA been able to give impetus for new milieus and new chances?

Holger Leidel: There are the first signs. For example, an inquiry from a group of elderly people for an ambitious residential project here in the Tiefer Keller quarter. They alone would be a new, potential clientele for the town. That’s where the municipal housing association, which administers most of the houses in the quarter, must get moving. However, it all needs patience. The IBA cannot achieve over night what was not possible in 40 years.

Info: Merseburg

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 47.232
2009: 35.894
2025: 28.704 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 54,73 qkm 

IBA-Website of Merseburg