Double art theft: The theft of Thorsten Goldberg’s golden nest and the ignorance in dealing with this case
The list of reports in the media is long, the case highly prominent: “The treasure”, “The police were warned - and the perpetrators acted with lightning speed”, “Stolen gold nest. Did the thieves get their tools of crime from the fire department?”, “It’s worth 80,000 euros!”. Gold nest stolen from Berlin elementary school”, “Why it might not be a good idea to display gold in a Berlin elementary school” - to quote just a few of the blaring headlines of the media response to an extraordinary work of art and its special fate . Thorsten Goldberg’s ‘Golden Nest’ engages the Berlin public like a work of art rarely does.
Unfortunately, however, this unusual appreciation applies less to the artwork itself, which the Berlin artist had created for the Fuchsberg Elementary School in the Berlin district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf, but above all to the spectacular theft of this extraordinary work. And so we are robbed twice: once as a result of the criminal act on the night of May 14-15, 2019, in which the Gold Nest was stolen by professional means; and a second time, ultimately much more lasting, caused by the reaction of the political as well as media publicity triggered by it. Thus, much more than the loss of a single work of art is now at stake: the canon of values reflected in it, with which we confront art and its democratic legitimation. More generally speaking: the status of culture in our society. As if in a magnifying glass, the questions about our attitude to these values are now raised in the reaction to the robbery of Goldberg’s ’nest’ in the political as well as media space, as if this had been part of the artist’s conceptual strategy. For these are in fact precisely the questions that were inscribed in Thorsten Goldberg’s ‘Golden Nest’ from the outset, albeit without the scandalizing and art-remote exaggerations that the work and the artist have now had to endure.
The Berlin artist’s ‘Golden Nest’, created as part of an ‘Invited Art in Construction Competition’, was stolen with the utmost criminal energy from a glass safe in the Fuchsberg Elementary School, conceived as part of the artwork and specially designed for this purpose. The nest, made of golden branches, had a material value of €30,000. Therefore, it was technically secured in a way that only a few precious objects in the world are, and thus exceeded, for example, even the protective measures of the ‘Big Maple Leaf Coin’ previously stolen from the Bode Museum. Nevertheless, a large part of the filigree golden branches spun into a nest was stolen with the professional use of heavy equipment (previously specially stolen from the special stock of the fire department) and with the simultaneous obvious failure of the security services. These were then presumably immediately melted down, sold and turned into cash. To make it unmistakably clear at this point: Neither the work of art nor the artist can be blamed for any of this.
But, as if the criminal act of robbery was not in itself a very sad story, the real tragedy of the ‘Golden Nest’ case was to follow: through the reactions of the media, the city of Berlin and its responsible authorities. Instead of blaming the security services or complaining about the extent of the brutalization that became visible, the artist as well as the selecting jury members are now the focus of accusations. They are accused, for example, of having acted irresponsibly and wastefully, since such a valuable precious metal was used to attract the thieves in the first place . Does this mean that, for example, only churches, castles or exclusive representative buildings should enjoy the dubious privilege of being allowed to symbolize their values with corresponding precious items, while a school in Marzahn-Hellersdorf is to be denied this right? This, although the gold used here does not serve the consolidation of post-feudal or clerical claims to power? Should something as valuable as gold therefore be reserved only for more exclusive places and have no justification as a sculptural image for one of the most valuable goods of our society - school education as a basic right for all citizens of this country?
The court decision now pronounced on 12.07.2021 by the Tiergarten Juvenile Court unfortunately continues the consequence of the disdain that has taken place towards artistic work: it demands compensation of € 30,000 for the loss through theft, a sum that roughly corresponds to the equivalent value of the gold used in the work of art, but not to the artistic value of the work and its production costs.
The court decision now spoken on 12.07.2021 of the juvenile court Tiergarten continues the consequence of the taken place disdain opposite the artistic work unfortunately: It demands for the loss by theft a value substitute of 30,000 €, a sum, which corresponds approximately to the equivalent value of the gold used in the work of art, not however to the artistic value of the work and its production costs at a value of approximately 80,000 €, thus for a re-establishment and/or a new production by no means would be sufficient. Just imagine at this point that the robbery had been for a painting by Picasso - would the court decision then have set as compensation only the equivalent value for the materials used, canvas, oil paint, etc.?
It is this humiliating disrespect for an extraordinary work of art, which runs like a thread through the public reactions, that represents the actual loss in the robbery of the gold nest. However, the fact that with Thorsten Goldberg’s ‘Gold Nest’ a unique and top-class symbol was stolen, which stands for the most valuable treasure that our society possesses at all - the future of our children and their educational opportunities - seems to be lost in the discussion of the public responsible for the work as well as in the media.
The occasion for the creation of the artistic work was the construction of a new, well-equipped elementary school, urgently needed in Marzahn-Hellersdorf after many years of waiting. The appreciation expressed in this new school building with its modern equipment for the children of a district that is otherwise considered rather neglected was to be visually underlined with a special work of art: The artistic design, selected in a competition in 2014, was to be a cause for justified pride on the part of the students as well as the starting point for countless identity-forming stories: “We are something special! We are worth something!”.
With his ‘Golden Nest’, Thorsten Goldberg has wonderfully succeeded in implementing these requirements by countering the structural as well as financial investment in the children of this district with an artistically multi-layered image without lapsing into superficial sentimentality. On the one hand, the golden branches of his nest can be understood as a radiant symbol of the social value of such a school, in which the students can fledge like little birds in a nest; on the other hand, however, they can also be understood in financial terms as a monetary investment that is worth its weight in gold - for a need that, according to the artist’s rules, may only be redeemed in the future. In accordance with a contract drawn up by the artist and to be understood as part of the work of art, the gold treasure could be sold by the school after 14 years and the proceeds thereby generated used for other school purposes. The only condition for this: According to the contract belonging to the work and to be observed, politics, school and parents must agree by majority and in a democratic negotiation process whether the sculpture will be sold or not; This freedom of decision opened by the artist himself makes it possible to confirm or question the artistic validity of the work and its public value more than a decade later. The artist thus opens up the possibility of the legal melting down and capitalization of his own work - a process now ominously anticipated and to the school’s disadvantage. Yet little is heard about this dimension of content, which is so crucial to the work, and the gold composition, which is therefore by no means interchangeable, despite considerable media coverage.
It may therefore hardly come as a surprise that a long overdue compensation of the artist or at least an offer to replace his work has not been made so far - a circumstance that almost reads like the premature fulfillment of a pessimistic prophecy contained in the artwork (contractual possibility of self-destruction of the work). Because, clear supporting statements of the policy or an expected clear commitment to the work of art as well as to the artist: predominantly missing. And this is the real scandal. Instead of understanding the “Golden Nest” as an alarming indicator of our handling of contemporary art and our claim to educational justice, and instead of fighting with all our might against the culture-destroying tendencies that become apparent in dealing with it, Goldberg’s work is reduced to the value of a material financial investment. Worse still, the artist is accused of negligent handling of the gold and the materiality he deliberately uses as an essential component of the work’s content is negated by official sources: the responsible city councilor is publicly quoted as saying that it would be better “in the future to do without works of art made of pure gold. ‘The material probably rather arouses criminal energies.’ ”
Here, too, one could identify that “vandalism from above” that Benjamin H. D. Buchloh diagnosed as early as 1989 in his essay of the same name for the erection and dismantling of the monumental sculpture ‘Tilted Arc’ (1981-89) by Richard Serra in New York, and which has since been discernible as a constant threat to art in public space. With Buchloh, one must now also ask in Berlin what validity is still accorded to an artistic category, from which, due to its special conditions, both public visibility and interference in public concerns are to be expected, if it is at the same time exposed to a “rage of destruction” by the “rulers,” even if they initially commissioned the work. 
Paradoxically, art in public space now seems to come under particular pressure to justify itself precisely where it accurately targets predetermined breaking points in our society. What value do we assign to art, what tasks, what places do we concede to it? Can gold, in its symbolic significance, also be used to distinguish a school? Isn’t it precisely exceptional works of art in public space that are capable of triggering such debates outside of exclusive art reserves and thus pointing to the basic values of public coexistence? Where is the oath to this potential?
In this respect, the theft of the ‘Golden Nest’ and its reception paradoxically underlines the core of the statement of the artwork, which reveals its quality even in its scandalizing destruction: a call for the protection of an endangered treasure that cannot be valuable enough for us and touches the basic values of our society - yet is obviously trampled upon. It would be a fatal signal if those forces that question these values, steal and destroy them, or do not oppose their dismantling with words or lack of action, were now allowed the upper hand. To now let the physical as well as content-related robbery of the work of art stand unrequited as a final act would be to cower - before the audacity, criminality and ignorance towards art and the associated fundamental values of our society.
Therefore, the immediate restoration of the work of art would be the only correct and at the same time necessary consequence of what happened. Only the early reconstruction of the work of art would make that clear statement that our society does not accept the theft of such a ‘treasure’, which is symbolic in many ways. The artistic concept worked out by Thorsten Goldberg for this purpose, according to which the ‘Golden Nest’ could be materially recreated, but now stored in a non-public place protected from further access - and would appear in the wall showcase of the elementary school in which it was originally located only as a permanent projection - is ready in the artist’s drawer and has already been presented to the responsible district councilor. The risk of a renewed theft could be minimized in this way, without renouncing the existence of the nest in its materiality of golden branches, which is essential for the work of art. This process could be accompanied by a moderated public debate about the content and background of the artwork, of course also directly in the school. Such a package of measures could not only compensate for the concrete theft, it would - beyond all lip service - also set a confidence-building exclamation mark for the support in dealing with art both in Berlin and beyond the city limits. We are eagerly awaiting a corresponding commission from the Senate of the City of Berlin to the artist Thorsten Goldberg.
 The following is a selection of the extensive media coverage:
Theft of the gold nest was probably “a demonstration of power” by the clans, Welt 17.05.2019.
Stolen gold nest. Artist sure: It was better secured than a museum treasure, Berliner Kurier 16.05.2019
Stolen gold nest. Did the thieves get their tools of crime from the fire department? Berliner Zeitung May 16, 2019
Thieves steal gold nest. Burglary in Berlin school: huge damage - were there clans?, Münchner Merkur 17.05.2019
IT’S WORTH 80,000 EUROS! Gold nest stolen from Berlin elementary school, Bild 15.05.2019.
Why it may not be a good idea to display gold in a Berlin elementary school, Vice 15.05.2019
Gold nest stolen: Was it the R. family again?, FAZ 16.05.2019
Gold bird’s nest stolen: Police investigate clan milieu, Süddeutsche 16.05.2019
Manuela Heim on stolen art, nest on the run, taz 16.05.2019
“This was a demonstration of power,” FAZ 16.05.2019
A golden nest for 92,500 euros, The Taxpayers Association has presented its black book of waste, Thüringische Landeszeitung 25.11.2019
Loser of the year, The Schüler:innen of a Biesdorf elementary school, taz 11.01.2020
Spectacular art robbery with hammer, axe and glass saw: gold nest thief flutters into jail!, Berliner Kurier 12.07.2021
 Cf. B.: “We are of the opinion that this is properly exemplary of what is going wrong. We have a renovation backlog … and the Senate has nothing better to do than to hold up art in construction and put solid gold in there …” (Bund der Steuerzahler) Abendschau rbb24 15.05.2019;
“So I’m quite happy that this is gone. Because, I’ve always been afraid, comes one, hostage-taking, because they want to steal the gold, that’s why I’ve always been afraid. So I’m actually quite happy about it - they should also no longer make it in there, the nest” (parents) Abendschau rbb fernsehen 16.05.2019;
“Why does the district have money for art but not for proper toilets?” “Unfortunately, I can’t take it for myself or for other things that would be important in our district, but it has to be explicitly for art.” (Councilman G. Lemm) Abendschau rbb24 15.05.2019
 Cf. Tagesspiegel 15.05.2019
 Cf. Buchloh, Benjamin Heinz Dieter: Vandalism from Above. Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc in New York. In: Walter Grasskamp (ed.): Unwanted Monuments. Modern Art in Urban Space. Munich 1989, pp. 103-119.