ran aground…

“Eisbergfreistadt” (Iceberg Free State) depicts the creation and decline of a short-lived utopian state, with the same name, in the port of Lübeck.

Bear Parade detail by Kahn & Selesnick.

Lesson / Koan :

In 1923, a colossal iceberg drifted into the Baltic Sea and ran aground off the German port. The people of Lübeck declared the iceberg a free trade state, with the hope that Eisbergfreistadt would become an offshore financial heaven.


Postcards from Eisbergfreistadt detail. 26 x 26 inches. Vintage 1920's German postcards by Kahn & Selesnick.

Many people traveled to Lübeck to view the berg – it was even possible to travel to the iceberg by zeppelin. Many souvenirs were created, including playing cards, serving sets, songs, etc. It was painted by a number of prominent artists, but most significantly became a major source of fascination to the utopian movement known as the Crystal Chain.

Billion Mark Notgeld by Kahn & Selesnick.

Eisbergfreistadt became an important source of inspiration for artists, including the utopian movement of the Chrystal Chain founded by artist and architect Bruno Taut and of which Walter Gropius and Wenzel Hablik were influential. The Chrystal Chain designed utopian cities, and issued manifestos on behalf of Eisbergfreistadt’s imaginary socialist government. Many of their drawings were used on the emergency money called Notgeld, which was issued in Germany to supplement the shortage of small currency during the economic crisis.


The Iceberg Free State came to an end when a large masked ball was held to celebrate the creation of the Eisbergfreistadt bank. During the celebration, the iceberg split under the weight with one of the parts drifting towards the arctic and the other melting.

"Ice Yachts", 2009, (Detail), by Kahn & Selesnick.

Eisbergfreistadt is an exhibition of photographs, paintings and objects that chronicle the developments of an imaginary utopian state during a period of economic and ecologic disaster. In their signature style, Kahn & Selesnick tell their story by blending together fact and fiction.