The Wende Museum throws a glam housewarming party to celebrate its new digs

By Christina Campodonico

Photos by Maria Martin

Cold War history was the hottest ticket in town last Saturday, when the Wende Museum celebrated its grand reopening in Culver City’s newly refurbished 1940s National Guard Armory Building with the help of some Hollywood elite.

German-born art book publisher Benedikt Taschen headed up a host committee that included movie star Tom Hanks, musician Moby, TV actor Mark Valley and multi-hyphenate Tim Robbins, who heads The Actors’ Gang theater company at the Culver City Substation, about a mile due east along Culver Boulevard.

“There’s a corridor from the museum to our theater that Culver City is interested in filling with art or museums or theaters. I’m here to support that,” Robbins said.

Hanks sent his regrets but lent the evening’s ambiance his baby blue 1989 Trabant (or “Trabi”), known as the “people’s car” of East Germany and a symbol of German reunification. The Petersen Automotive Museum also lent a jet black 1962 Chaika that had belonged to Nikita Khrushchev.

Artist-activist Shepard Fairey stealthily made his way through a sea of revelers sipping Soviet-red vodka cocktails and munching on mini sausage hors d’oeuvres.

Valley reflected on his time stationed in Berlin as a U.S. soldier during the real “Wende,” or fall of the Berlin Wall.

“There were 10,000 of us over there, more like a human trip wire in case the Soviets wanted to invade the city,” he said. “It’s just fantastic to look at pictures and paraphernalia from a place where I could only guess what was going on, over the wall, when I was there.”

Taschen, a self-proclaimed “child of the Cold War” and a major financial backer of the Wende, stood next to museum founder Justin Jampol as state Sen. Ben Allen and a representative for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors handed out certificates of recognition.

Later, he recalled worrying as a young boy that the Soviets would drop an atom bomb on his home city of Cologne, then part of West Germany.

“I recall the biggest threat in the Cold War time was a nuclear attack. … Maybe that was why I left Germany and moved to Los Angeles,” said Taschen, who went on to praise Jampol and Culver City for making the Wende’s new home possible.

“I’m just delighted to have a chance to finally serve the community in the way that we always envisioned,” he said.