In a city where so many buildings were devastated in war or destroyed in its aftermath, it is incredible to find in its very heart an edifice that has not only survived intact, but which has become the perfect fusion of history and modern art. This massive, ugly, 18-metre tall concrete construction is the ‘Boros Bunker’, once a huge air-raid shelter, now transformed into a unique art gallery. It stands like an indomitable fortress on the corner of Reinhardtsrasse and Albrechtstrasse, very close to Friedrichstrasse Station and was originally built in 1942 to protect thousands of railway workers and travellers to Berlin from the allied bombing. The city authorities have never attempted to demolish it, for fear of damaging the nearby Deutsches Theater.
The Boros Bunker
When the war ended, the Soviets used the bunker briefly as a prison and then in GDR times it became a cold store for imported fruit and vegetables, earning it the nickname, ‘Banana Bunker’. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the labyrinth of rooms hosted techno dance parties and fetish raves. There are still visible traces of these former uses of the bunker; the bullet-studded façade has small rampart-like windows, faded neon graffiti decorate some of the interior walls and the two-way stone staircase, pipes and vents have been preserved. At the entrance, the original heavy steel door is held open with an ancient leather strap.
Detail of the scarred exterior
Advertising guru and contemporary art collector Christian Boros bought the monstrous bunker in 2003 and over a period of five years, a team of architects converted it into a 3,000-square metre exhibition space and added a stunning open-plan penthouse flat, complete with roof gardens and a pool, which has become the Boros family’s Berlin home.
Christian and Karen Boros and their penthouse home
Inside the bunker, floors and walls were cored out to create more height and airy galleries, enabling visitors to view the works of art from various vantage points. But the original oppressive and labyrinthine design by the Nazi architect, Karl Bonatz, has been retained. There is still a palpable sense of total exclusion from the outside world and of a refuge not only sought by the beleaguered citizens of Hitler’s Berlin, but also by hard-core partygoers in the reunified German capital.
The original ‘double’ stone staircase
Since opening the Sammlung Boros (‘Boros Collection’) in 2008, Christian Boros and his wife Karen have hosted two long-term exhibitions, comprising of selections from the family’s collection of 700 artworks. Boros #2 opened in 2012, featuring a total 130 exhibits. This second collection shows works from the early 1990s alongside more recent acquisitions. The installation of the artworks is as unusual as their surroundings and artists are invited to install their works themselves, in order ‘to create connections between the work, the artist and the space’. Artworks include sculptures, paintings, multimedia exhibits, drawings, photographs and sound pieces, each installed in varying rooms around the bunker. The Boros collection contains works by contemporary artists such as Damian Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Elizabeth Peyton, Wolfgang Tillmans, Anselm Reyle, Manfred Pernice, Tobias Rehberger, John Bock, Wilhelm Sasnal, Michel Majerus and Ai Wei Wei. No photography is permitted, but the pictures below (taken from the internet) are examples of thought-provoking installations featured in the current exhibition.
There are no information labels or brochures available in the Boros Bunker; the only printed material is a first-class catalogue of works on sale, which is a veritable collectors’ item. To visit this gallery, you have to book a guided tour in either German or English and learn about the history of the building and its contents from a knowledgeable guide. I have experienced both the first and the second Boros collections and was very impressed on each occasion by the young art historian who led our group. In just 90 minutes they managed to pack in a wealth of fascinating background details on the bunker itself and its owner, and shed welcome light on the significance of the artworks on display and the intentions of its creator.
Explaining the context
If you are in Berlin over the next couple of weekends of January 2017, you still have a chance to see the second Boris Collection before it is dismantled, although there are no guided tours available. Then the building will close until April, while the third Boros Collection is being assembled and installed. Booking opens online in March. Check out the Boris Collection website for full details and make sure you reserve your visit well in advance