Simply called “The Hand” by the locals, the “Hand with Watch” sculpture is one of Berlin’s many iconic public sculptures by German artist Joachim Schmettau.
Schmettau was commissioned to adorn the annex to the local school in 1975. The original wrist watch stopped working after just a few years. Helplessly exposed to the weather and Berlin’s notorious graffiti sprayers, the sculpture quickly fell into disrepair and was reduced to a 1970s eyesore before being taken down in 2008.
The local schoolchildren and their parents wouldn’t have it and started collecting donations for the hand to be put back up. The kids missed it dearly: suddenly the school’s trademark sentence “Meet me at the Hand” had no meaning and future generations of students at Gymnasium Tiergarten would have to do without it. After years of campaigning, the hand was refurbished and put back up in 2012, including a brand-new watch with a black frame and red digits that still works today.
The bronze sculpture stands perpendicular to an orange concrete cube, which is mounted on a larger white concrete slab. The black hand’s fingertips softly grasp the orange cube. From the ground to the wristwatch, the sculpture measures 4.5 meters. It looks over a busy intersection just outside the Hansaviertel, a no less iconic neighborhood in the central district of Tiergarten. Once an upper-middle-class area, the Hansaviertel was destroyed during WWII and famously rebuilt by 48 world-class architects between 1950 and 1960, including Oscar Niemeyer, Max Taut, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius.
The Hand is the first of many public sculptures in Berlin built by Schmettau, who is also the creator of the “Weltkugelbrunnen” (1984), a sculpture and water fountain in front of the Europa-Center in Wilmersdorf, and “The Dancing Couple” (1985) on Herrmannplatz in the Neukölln district, which is a sculpture of exactly that. Schmettau was a founding member of the Gruppe Aspekt, a group of eleven artists from Westberlin in the 1970s, and a professor at Berlin’s University of the Arts for several decades.
To non-locals, the hand is probably most famous for a brief appearance in the 1983 video for “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode. The British band has had a long and loving relationship with Berlin that has included recording their album, Some Great Reward, at the Hansa-Studio and performing a legendary concert in socialist East Berlin in 1988. To this day, the band has a large and dedicated following in Germany’s capital, particularly in the East. In the video to “Everything Counts,” the camera rotates around the hand during the song’s last chorus. The band’s members are lined up around it while Dave Gahan sings “The grabbing hands, grab all they can.”
Know Before You Go
The Hand is a 5-minute walk from U9 station Hansaplatz.