Spandau Revisited

Spandau Revisited

Stations at the end of the line always have a magnetic attraction.Traveling westwards on the Berlin underground (U- Bahn- Linie 7), trains have ‘Rathaus Spandau’ (Spandau Town Hall) as their destination. If you haven’t yet ventured to the end of this line, I can promise it will be worth the journey. Spandau is the furthest west and the fourth largest of the twelve Berlin boroughs. It is steeped in history and swathes of river, lakes and forest account for 40% of its area.


Aerial view of Spandau’s historic town centre

This blog concentrates on the Altstadt (Old Town), clustered around the imposing Rathaus (Town Hall) and the 14th Century St Nikolai church. From here, Spandau spreads out into many newer neighbourhoods and surburbs, some of them on the edge of the forest. But the borough’s real gem is the Spandauer Zitadelle (Citadel), one of the best-preserved Renaissance forts in Europe. Parts of it go back to the 13th Century and its ancient tower, the ‘Juliusturm’ has wonderful views across the River Havel.


Spandauer Zitadelle

When I lived in Spandau in the mid-1980s, there was some bold white graffiti painted across the railway bridge connecting Spandau to West Berlin, ‘Es war schon immer etwas Besonderes, ein Spandauer zu sein’, which translated into English means, ‘It has always been something special to be a Spandauer’. The pride of Spandauers in their birthplace is well-known in Berlin and has even been compared to the nationalistic fervour of the Bavarians, who see themselves as separate from the rest of Germany.In the latter part of the 19th Century, large industrial concerns, including Siemens, brought wealth to Spandau. By 1913, when the new Rathaus was built, Spandau was an extremely prosperous town.


Spandau Rathaus in 1913

Then, at the end of the First World War, there were boundary changes in Prussia and – against the will of many of its citizens – Spandau voted to become the eighth borough of the newly-formed Greater Berlin.  Even now, despite being an integral part of Berlin since 1920, people still talk of ‘going to Berlin’ if they visit the city centre, and going ‘into town’ if they are referring to Spandau. Ernst Reuter, the first Mayor of post-war West Berlin, once said that his city had 11 boroughs and one republic, called Spandau.


The Berlin boroughs today

So what makes Spandau so special? First, it has ancient roots. In fact, it’s five years older than Berlin to which it eventually lost its independence. Officially founded in 1232, archaeological finds have proved that it was an important settlement on the route from the west towards Prussia and Poland long before then. The town grew up around the points where the River Havel meets the River Spree and was a military stronghold, often referred to as the ‘Soldiers’ Town’  and it still retains these associations.  People used to connect Spandau with its military prison, built in 1876 and demolished in 1987 after the death of its last inmate, Hitler’s Deputy, Rudolf Hess, who was incarcerated there for 45 years.  And ‘Spandau Ballet’, the English band, was accidentally named after the ghoulish slang used by Allied troops in the trenches in the First World War, which referred to the Spandau machine gun fire from the German lines.


Changing the guard at Spandau Prison, 1951

But today, these grim memories of war have largely faded and the pretty Altstadt of Spandau attracts large numbers of visitors.  It covers an area bounded by the Rivel Havel and the Mühlengraben (Millrace) and still contains the original criss-cross formation of cobbled streets with a large open market place (where the Spandau Christmas market is held) and pretty timbered houses, such as the ‘Wendenschloß’ in Jüdenstraße which dates back to 1700. The stone-built ‘Gotisches Haus’ in Breite Straße was constructed at the end of the 15th Century and houses the Spandau Tourist Information Centre and a small museum. It’s well worth strolling around the old streets and along Lindenufer, on the banks of the River Havel.


The Wendenschloß

The main Church of St Nikolai on the Reformationsplatz was built in the 14th Century. The first Protestant communion service in Brandenburg was apparently held here after the Reformation in 1539. Inside the church are a Renaissance altar and the vault of the family of the Duke of Lynar, one of the master masons who built the Zitadelle. Outside is a statue of Archduke Joachim II and a war memorial designed by the illustrious Prussian architect, Friedrich Schinkel, dedicated to Spandauers who died in the Wars of Liberation. The St Nikolai Church has had a significant role to play in recent history too. During the Third Reich, it was one of the centres of the ‘Bekennende Kirche’ (Confessing Church), which offered resistance to the Nazi reign of terror.


St Nikolai Kirche

But historically speaking, it is the Zitadelle which takes price of place in the Spandauer’s hearts and makes Spandau such a special part of Berlin. I went back there twice recently, for the first time in many years; once on a rainy April day and then again in glorious June sunshine. There is a U-Bahn station called ‘Spandauer Zitadelle’ but I would recommend continuing to Rathaus Spandau and then walking through the Altstadt to the Zitadelle to get a feel for the town. The U-Bahn only takes 30 minutes from the city centre or you can take the S-Bahn which is even faster. These links didn’t exist when I first moved to Spandau. The Spandau underground stations weren’t built until1984 and the S-Bahn station reopened after the fall of the Berlin Wall when the city rail network was reunified.


Map of Spandau, showing the stations

On our April visit, we headed straight for the Rathaus and looked around its imperious entrance hall, for old times’ sake. Then we walked through pedestrianised area of the Altstadt, where very little seemed to have changed. This is in stark contrast to the new shopping malls that have sprung up on the other side of the railway lines. We stopped for coffee at the well-named ‘Satt und Selig’ (‘well-fed and blessed’) opposite the church, and noticed that the locals had already moved on to beer and schnapps with their breakfast. The Spandauers have always known how to enjoy themselves.


‘Satt und Selig’ on Reformationsplatz

Continuing across the main road ‘Am Juliusturm’, into the cobbled streets of Kolk, we walked down to the Spandau lock, below the Zitadelle across the Havel. There are more pretty timbered houses in this small enclave, which is the oldest part of the Altstadt and you can see the remains of the original 14th Century town wall in Viktoria Ufer and Hoher Steinweg. There are a couple of good traditional German restaurants here too; the Spandauer Zollhaus restaurant on Möllentordamm and the Brauhaus on Neuendorfer Straße which has large beer gardens and boasts 13 different house beers.




Images of ancient Kolk

From Kolk, it was only a short walk along the road bridge to the Zitadelle and its impressive entrance across the moat. We were immediately greeted by scenes of a wedding group enjoying the photo opportunity of the stunning surroundings and saw no fewer than four wedding parties that morning in the Zitadelle grounds.


One of the happy couples..

Once inside the Zitadelle, there are plenty of attractions on offer. You can wander around the ramparts and climb the 32-metre high Juliusturm, with great views of the moat and Spandau town, as well as the forests to the west, once divided by the Wall between West Berlin and the GDR.


View of the moat from the Juliusturm

There are also two large exhibition halls; one with armaments including cannons from the early days to the large field guns used until recent times, and the other displaying the various trades and businesses from around Spandau. But for me, it was the museum in the former Commander’s House which held most interest. It tells the story of the Zitadelle from its 13th Century beginnings to the present day and has a wealth of fascinating models and exhibits. The large information boards are in English as well as German and each chapter is absorbing.


Model of the original fort


An impressive display of military helmets 

During the Second World War, Spandau was heavily bombed because of its military and industrial importance. It also suffered terribly during the Russian attack with fierce fighting around the Rathaus and the Charlottenbrücke. A small group of leading Spandauers, including civilians, managed to defend the Zitadelle for a few days and hold out against the besieging Russian tanks. Then, in the years that followed, when Spandau had to rebuild so much of its infrastructure, it became part of the British Sector of West Berlin and contained the main British garrison. Relations between the British and Spandauers were always very friendly – another reason that makes Spandau so special. It has also had close links with its partner towns of Luton, England and Asnière-sur-Seine, France, since 1959.


We rounded off our April visit to Spandau with lunch in the ‘Zitadelle Schänke’ located in the cellars of the fortress. The rain had started to fall quite heavily, so we were very happy to be under the medieval vaulted ceiling and ordered some Alt-Spandau fare of Boulette (meatballs), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and mead. The Spandau service was as friendly as ever and, as added entertainment, we were treated to the arrival of a wedding party, led by a lute-playing court jester.



A medieval meal


Outside the Zitadelle Schänke

More about Spandau follows in the next blog. It will feature the must-see new exhibition, ‘Unveiled. Berlin and its monuments’, which opened in the Old Barracks of the Zitadelle on 29th April and runs until the end of 2019.

A Private Collection

A Private Collection

Berlin_-_arm_aber_sexy[1]In recent years, Berlin has been much vaunted as ‘poor but sexy’. This reputation has attracted the young, the arty and the creative from all corners of the globe. For tourists, street art tours are all the rage. But now an increasing number of private collectors are choosing to make the German capital their home and this is changing the art landscape. The artists’ squats are disappearing and being replaced with ‘Privatsammlungen’ (private collections). The 9th Berlin Biennale, a contemporary art exhibition which comes to Berlin every other year, will run ‘at various venues’ from 4th June until 18th September and one of the most exciting locations to have been announced is the home of the new ‘Feuerle Collection’, due to open permanently in October 2016.


DIS – the curatorial team of the 9th Berlin Biennale

The ‘Feuerle Collection’ is a private museum located in a World War II telecommunications bunker opposite the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, in former West Berlin. The land originally belonged to the Reichsbahn (‘Imperial Railway’) and was under GDR ownership until the fall of the Wall, so the bunker remained fenced off and disused for many years. Now it has been transformed by the British Architect, John Pawson, and will be dedicated to Désiré Feuerle’s art collection, which ‘juxtaposes international contemporary artists with Imperial Chinese furniture and South East Asian sculptures’. For further information, follow this link.


The refurbished bunker which will house the Feuerle Collection

Over the past few years, Axel Haubrok in Lichtenberg, Thomas Olbricht in Mitte and Timo Miettinen in Charlottenburg have become well-established names on the private collection scene. The Morenz Lettrist Collection in Charlottenburg is attacting a lot of interest and the Julia Stoschek media art collection in Düsseldorf is opening exhibition rooms in Leipziger Strasse in June. But the Sammlung Hoffmann and the Sammlung Boros, in the vanguard of Berlin’s private collections, both remain a huge draw and are a must for contemporary art lovers. I last visited the ‘Boros Bunker’ in 2011 and it was an amazing experience. Go and see for yourself. Entrance is only with a guided tour and these have to be booked well in advance. Further details about this collection can be found on Page 71 of ‘Berlin Unwrapped’.


Inside the Boros Bunker

A couple of weeks ago, I joined an English tour of the Sammlung Hoffmann, which opened its doors to the public as far back as 1997. It’s only open on Saturdays and again you need to make an appointment a few weeks ahead. This private collection was started over 40 years ago in West Germany by Erika and Rolf Hoffmann and was moved to the heart of old East Berlin when the Hoffmanns bought a former factory there after the Wall came down. They turned an industrial space of 1400 square metres over two floors into a home for their collection – and for themselves. Rolf Hoffmann died in 2001 but his widow still lives in the vast apartment off the courtyard complex in Sophienstrasse. She sometimes even shows visitors around herself. Rory Maclean’s 2013 interview with Erika Hoffmann on the Goethe Institute website makes fascinating reading. Just follow this link.


Stop for a coffee in the courtyard below the Sammlung Hoffmann

On the day we visited the collection, Erika was abroad. Our guide was a charming Art Historian who greeted us at the reception desk and handed out pairs of felt slippers. From there we noiselessly followed her into a room lined with Andy Warhol paintings of sunset once intended for a hotel. We were invited to say a few words about ourselves and discovered that our small group consisted of visitors from Sweden, Turkey, Israel, China and Britain, some of them clearly knowledgeable artists. Our guide explained that the aim of the tour was to provoke a dialogue about the works and offer an insight into living with art on a daily basis. My first thought was that some of the discussion might go way above my head. But I needn’t have worried – the whole experience proved to be both enlightening and inclusive.


An Andy Warhol sunset

In the hour and a half allocated to each tour it is impossible to see the entire collection, but we were introduced to a fascinating selection of works of art and encouraged by our guide to enter into an exchange of views. The exhibits are not displayed with information panels as they would be in a museum, so the guide gives a brief background then invites comments and questions. Photography was forbidden, as we were walking around a private home, so the pictures that illustrate this blog are all from the internet.


The living room – ‘decorated’ by Katharine Grosse

At the end of the tour we were handed a list of the works of art we had seen. This has prompted further research about the background of the artists. Many of them are local, such as Katharina Grosse or Chiharu Shiota, but the exhibition displays works beyond the current scene and time.


Chiharu Shiota’s ‘Inside-Outside’ installation using old window frames

The Hoffmann Collection includes a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, video and sound. The sheer space in many of the rooms allows for some large installations – my favourite was the St. John-Series by Gretchen Faust, a huge assembly of brass plates that looked as if they had been taken from the entrances of apartment blocks. But instead of the names of residents, they were engraved with the words of the St John Passion. Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down a photoand will have to keep the evocative picture in my mind.


Eran Schaerf’s ‘Wanderblog’ on Little Red Riding Hood, now in Erika Hoffmann’s office

Once a year, in July, Erika Hoffmann changes things around. This is a good time to see the collection. Some of the works of art are put into storage, while others are moved to another room. Works from the depot are joined by new acquisitions. The collection is then closed for August. Otherwise tours are between 11am and 4pm on Saturdays. All booking details can be found on the Sammlung Hoffmann website.


‘Caviar-Painting’, Georg Herold

It will be interesting to see how the growing number of private art museums will affect the public art gallery landscape in Berlin. After all, they are competing for the same audience. Private collectors, however, have the luxury of picking and choosing for themselves, creating a dialogue between the old and the new, linking different eras with different cultures and presenting ideas in every possible medium. The desire to ‘connect’ sounds remarkably similar to the stated aim of the Humboldt Forum, due to open in 2019 in the historical heart of Berlin. “It will be entirely dedicated to the dialogue between the cultures of the world and will act as a forum for debate and analysis of historical and current issues of global significance, viewed from a multitude of fresh perspectives.”  There are exciting times ahead in the Berlin art museum world – whether the collections are in public or private hands. Still sexy, but no longer so poor.


The  design for the entrance hall to the Humboldt Forum

N.B. As a final footnote, in German a ‘Public Viewing’ is a public event with a large TV screen. For the English term ‘private viewing’ they use the French word ‘Vernissage’.