Germany opening new office to help identify and research art stolen by Nazis

A new office within Germany's Institute for Museum Research is opening in January to help identify and research art stolen by the Nazis, Germany's culture minister said Wednesday. The office, which comes under the State Museums of Berlin, will help museums, libraries and archives identify items that were taken from their rightful owners during the Nazi period, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said. "I expect from this an important push in Germany in the clarifying of restitution questions," he said. Neumann founded a working group to look into how to deal with restitution issues, after Berlin sparked controversy with a decision last year to return Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" to the heirs of a Jewish collector who said the Nazis forced the family to sell it in the 1930s. Some art experts contested that the expressionist work was sold under duress and whether its return was legal. With the new office, which has a $1.47 million yearly budget, Neumann said he hoped the restitution process would be better coordinated and more transparent.