The PalaisPopulaire

The PalaisPopulaire

Deutsche Bank has opened a new exhibition and event space on Unter den Linden in a seriously prime location next to the Staatsoper and opposite the Neue Wache. According to its creators, it is a ‘new and innovative concept intended to give as many people as possible access to art, culture and sport’. I went along to the PalaisPopulaire last week to find out the exact meaning of this bold statement.

First, some background history is needed. The PalaisPopulaire’s home is the former Prinzessinnenpalais, a rococo palace built at the beginning of the 18th Century and owned by the Hohenzollern dynasty until 1918. Designed by Prussia’s most renowned architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, it was the residence of the daughters of Prussian King Frederick William III, three princesses, one of whom married Russian Czar, Nicholas I. After the fall of the German monarchy after World War I, it enjoyed a brief spell in the 1930s as the Schinkel Museum until it was badly damaged by the bombing in World War II.

 

Photo taken in 1881

After the bombing

The historic exterior of the palace was restored by the Bauhaus-trained GDR architect Richard Paulick in the 1960s, but he insisted on a modernist interior and after reunification in 1990 there were further historic renovations to the inside of the palace. Now, Deutsche Bank architects Kühn & Malvezzi have stripped its interior to the precast concrete of its 1960s design in contrast with the historical pastiche reconstruction of the Stadtschloss (City Palace), due to open at the end of 2019 as the Humboldt Forum.

Minimalist interior

During GDR days, the palace was known as the Opernpalais Unter den Linden. It housed a disco and a restaurant, both popular meeting places for East Berliners. After the Berlin Wall came down, the Operncafé became famous throughout Berlin for its huge selection of cakes and gateaux; the Queen of Sweden, Sophia Loren, Alain Delon and Placido Domigno were among star guests. On sunny summer days the outside terrace would be packed full, and in the evenings, the restaurant was frequented by audiences from the neighbouring Staatsoper. I had great affection for the place.

Photo from 2009

At the end 2011, the Operncafé had to close its doors because the rent had become too expensive. There was a great deal of consternation about what would become of the building. Berliners hoped it would be accessible to the public and continue to be part of the Unter den Linden café scene and it looks as if their wish has been granted. Deutsche Bank has renovated the historic exterior, completely transformed its interior to accommodate 750 square metres of exhibition and event space, and also included a good-sized café. The name PalaisPopulaire suggests that is a palace for the people – the fact that its name is in French entirely befits this area of Mitte and its historic French connections. Francophile Frederick the Great would be well pleased.

The neighbouring Staatsoper

After spending the afternoon at the PalaisPopulaire last week, I feel very positive about its impact on Berlin. The whole building has a light, bright feel with three generous floors of gallery space and a stunning spiral staircase. I am also confident that the café on the ground floor – and especially outside on the terrace in summer – will become quite a magnet for Berliners and for tourists alike. There may not be such a huge array of cakes as in the old days of the Operncafé, but the same confectioner is providing them and the dozen or so creations on offer were very tempting, including the specially-commissioned Prinzessin Luise Torte. The lunch and dinner menus and drinks list are equally imaginative, and the service was excellent, with efficient, cheerful staff. When the galleries close in the evening, the restaurant will remain open until 11pm.

Feature staircase

Luise’s Torte

Gift shop

The opening exhibition “The World on Paper” until 7th January is well worth a visit. It comprises 300 highlights and new discoveries from the Deutsche Bank Collection and shows the fascination that the medium of paper has exerted on artists since post-war Modernism, including famous names like Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter. There are various audio guides for adults and children with text, audio and video information on specific artworks and a . Below are a few photographs of exhibits that had personal appeal. This link will take you to a full description of the exhibition. https://www.museumsportal-berlin.de/en/exhibitions/the-world-on-paper/

 

It’s important to stress that the PalaisPopulaire intends not only to mount art exhibitions, but also to showcase the Deutsche Bank’s activities in other cultural areas and in sport. There will be parkour workshops in and around the building and during exhibitions there will be music and DJ sets, with promenade concerts moving through the building. Athletes will discuss issues with actors and artists and the aim is to decidedly break away from disciplines and categories. On one floor of the current exhibition there is an installation that works with ‘Tiltbrush software’ which translates physical movements into digital brushstrokes. I tried it out for myself and experienced how athletes can create artwork that represents their own sport. It was nothing short of amazing.

The Tiltbrush technology

For further details of the PalaisPopulaire, including future events and exhibitions and how to download their App, just follow this link to their website. The PalaisPopulaire is open daily except Tuesdays and admission is free on Mondays. https://www.db-palaispopulaire.com/index_en.html

Dream Garden Café

Dream Garden Café

It’s been a long hot summer in Berlin and cafés with shaded terraces and gardens are in high demand. A great location for fine al fresco food and drink is the Königliche Gartenakademie (Royal Garden Academy) in Dahlem, just a five-minute walk from the Berlin Botanischer Garten. The café there is a unique place where you can either sit outside on the lawn in the shade of a giant 100-year old Weymouth Pine or retreat into the light, bright greenhouses surrounded by stunning greenery and flowers.

Lunch on the lawn

As its name suggests, the Gartenakademie is a school for horticulture and the present building dates back to 1903. It was originally founded in Potsdam in 1823 by Peter Joseph Lenné, Germany’s most influential 19th Century landscape gardener, who established English landscape garden design in Germany. Since 2008 the Gartenakademie and its grounds have been run as a successful business by Gabriella Pape, a horticulturalist, garden designer, journalist and author of several gardening books, who trained at Kew Gardens.

Aerial view of the Gartenakademie

Gabriella Pape in the garden centre

The Academy itself offers a wide range of lectures, courses and workshops for keen amateurs, as well as professional gardeners from all over the world. The surrounding grounds feature show flower-beds and borders and two gardens – the Bee Garden and the Japanese Garden. The large herbaceous border is my particular favourite and reflects the English gardening tradition of the Berlin Gartenakademie.

Herbaceous border

There is an extensive plant sales area, both outside and in historic greenhouses, and customers can also buy garden furniture, accessories and books or avail themselves of the garden design service. The whole site is beautifully maintained and wonderfully colourful in summer. You can simply wander through the grounds and the greenhouses and enjoy the experience of being in a rarefied gardening world. Everything is beautifully kept and aesthetically pleasing. As a Londoner, it reminds me of a blend between Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Among the roses

Plants under cover

For Berliners and other visitors who are not intent on buying plants or bulbs to stock their garden, the main attraction of the Gartenakademie is its wonderful café culture. There are tables and chairs dotted around on the lawns and inside the greenhouses, and the whole ambience has an artlessly Impressionist feel to it.

Light, bright interiors

Coffee and cakes

Bon viveurs head to the Gartenakademie for their delicious breakfasts, light lunches and home-made cakes. Apart from good coffee and teas, there are locally-produced beers and lemonade and fine wines. I recently visited the Gartenakademie for Sunday Brunch (advisable to book ahead) which is a set price of 22 euros. The buffet spread was as colourful as a summer flower garden, with plenty of seasonal dishes and the house cocktail, Gambrinus Spritz, slipped down a treat. 

Seasonal buffet

For further information, including an interesting video presentation by Gabriella Pape herself, follow this link to the Gartenakademie website. The opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday (closed on Mondays) from 10am until 6.30pm and Sundays from 10am until 4pm. From October to March the Gartenakademie closes at 5.30pm on weekdays. The nearest underground station is Dahlem-Dorf.

A Multiverse of Courtyards

A Multiverse of Courtyards

To explore the German capital, it is not enough to walk the length and breadth of its streets. If you want to catch the Berlin Feeling and understand what makes this city really tick, you must enter a world that lies hidden behind the façades – the parallel universes of the Berlin courtyards. There is no other city in the world where this style of building construction is so seminal to its architectural style. Berlin’s ‘Höfe’ (singular: ‘Hof) contain apartments, offices, workshops, shops, galleries, cafés and gardens. They may be chic or shabby, interlinking or individual, but one thing is sure, this multiverse of courtyards pumps energy into Berlin street-life in a unique and fascinating way.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – My very own Berlin courtyard

The history of the Höfe goes back to the second half of the 19th Century when Berlin’s population began to boom. In the 1870s, there were over one million people living in Berlin; whereas in the 1820s, it stood at about 220,000. This massive population increase had dramatic effects on the social and economic aspects of city life. The city centre residential districts had to be utilized as much as possible and this resulted in the construction of tenement blocks called ‘Mietskasernen’ (literally ‘rented barracks’). These blocks were often built behind the prestigious street-front buildings that served as homes for the bourgeoisie and housed domestic employees, workmen, and poorer families.

Berlin courtyards

Kreuzberg Hinterhof today

The ‘Hinterhof’ (‘backyard’) separated the various social strata and there were sometimes three or four such courtyards in a row, with the buildings at the very back having little sunlight and a darker atmosphere. Yet these courtyards were also the focus of daily life – even the bathrooms could be located there. Most of these historic tenement buildings have now been renovated and are highly-coveted residential properties. And with their varying garden styles and sizes, the back courtyards are a large part of their charm.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – 21st Century chic courtyard

There are several well-known refurbished and renovated courtyards in the central borough of Mitte in the ‘Scheunenviertel’, a poor working-class area just outside the old city walls. Although they are firmly on the tourist route, I always take visitors to the Hackesche Höfe. The eight intercommunicating courtyards have been wonderfully restored and now contain upmarket apartments, galleries, boutiques and cafés. The main entrance at 40, Rosenthaler Straβe opens into to Hof I, festooned with art nouveau tiling and containing restaurants, a cinema and the Chamäleon cabaret theatre. Hof VII leads to the romantic Rosenhöfe with its sunken rose garden and elegant balustrades.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – Hackescher Hof I

An absolute must is a walk through the Hinterhof of Haus Schwarzenberg, at 39, Rosenthaler Straβe where the buildings have not been gentrified. This backyard is now famed for its street art, but it also contains three excellent small museums about Jewish life in Nazi Berlin and an art-house cinema that shows films outside in summer.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – Central CInema in Haus Schwarzenberg

Around the corner in pretty Sophienstraβe, there are more courtyards to explore. At number 21, the Sophie-Gips-Höfe boast both the Hoffmann Art Collection and Café Barcomi in the shaded Hinterhof. The high walls of the first courtyard are inscribed with an interesting list of German adjectives expressing opposites. It is also worth looking into Paulinenhof, just along the street at number 28/29, an earlier example of the courtyard style, built in 1842.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – Sophie-Gips-Höfe

On the opposite side of Rosenthaler Straβe is Münzstraβe, a gently curving street lined with shoe boutiques and coffee shops. Until recently, the courtyards at number 21 still gave a wonderful impression of pre-war Berlin. Now they too have been spruced up and are clearly one of the on-trend places to hang out in Mitte.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – Breakfast in Münzstraβe

Nearby Auguststraβe is a street oozing with history, well-known for its galleries and restaurants. The KW Institute for Contemporary Art at number 69 has a pretty courtyard with a café and the legendary Clärchens Ballhaus, set back from the street at number 24, looks on to what was originally a Hinterhof – although in this case the Vorderhaus was destroyed in the bombing and no longer exists. Further along Auguststraβe, just before Tucholskystraβe, there is a sign into the Heckmannhöfe, a courtyard complex which links Auguststraβe with Oranienburger Straβe. This idyllic urban retreat dotted with shops and restaurants surrounding a small playpark, comes as a complete surprise and gives a photogenic view of the golden dome of the Neue Synagoge.Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – Lunch in the Heckmannhöfe

For a final courtyard visit in the Scheunenviertel of Mitte, I recommend the Missing House Memorial at 16, Groβe Hamburger Straβe, created in 1990 by French artist, Christian Boltansnki. Here, a tenement building on a Hinterhof was destroyed by bombing in 1945. There is now just an empty space with large plaques bearing the names of the people who lived placed at the relevant level the plain walls of the surviving buildings on either side. The café next door to the memorial is called ‘You’re so welcome’  and lives up to its name. Its terrace opposite the Jewish School and the Jewish Memorial outside the Jewish Cemetery is a perfect place to reflect on the pre-war life of the courtyards in this part of Berlin.

Berlin courtyards

Berlin courtyards – The Missing House

I never miss an opportunity to walk through entrances and open gates to see if there is more discover behind the buildings that line the pavements; the Hinterhöfe are the Narnia of the Berlin. For further reading, follow this link to an interesting article on the Deutsche Welle website.

Meet me at Dussmann

Meet me at Dussmann

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus. Berlin may be famed for its dark history and decadence, but it also has a reputation as a city bursting with culture. Music, literature and the arts have always flourished in Berlin and never more so than in its current 21st Century, post-unification era. What other cities in the world can boast a huge ‘Cultural Department Store’, open Monday to Friday from 9am until midnight, on Saturday until 11.30pm and on some Sundays, too?

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

The iconic Dussmann building

‘Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus’ is a unique store, offering an amazing selection of books, CDs, DVDs, sheet music and stationery. In fact, every product that a culture vulture could dream of. There are also regular cultural events such as readings, book signings and musical performances, and a brilliant café in the basement. The owner, Catherine von Fürstenberg-Dussmann describes her store as “the beating heart as the city” and compares Dussmann to a church; a place where people come together, reflect, and communicate with one another. How much better to browse at Dussmann, with the help of expert advice, than alone at home on the internet.

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

Inside Dussmann

Dussmann originally opened in 1997 and immediately raised the bar for international book and music stores. For the past twenty years, whenever I have been anywhere near Friedrichstrasse, the main shopping artery of Berlin’s ‘City East’, the draw of this Aladdin’s cave has proved irresistible. Since February 2017, all five floors of the store have been reorganised and refurbished. Dussmann remained open during the building works and despite the upheaval, the loyal customers kept coming in. Now, everything seems more spacious than ever, as dividing walls have been removed, storerooms knocked through into the shopping area and more seating areas provided.

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

The towering atrium

On the third floor are text books and a Berlin Wall Memorial display with touch screens, complete with a piece of Wall signed by Ronald Regan. On the floor below are popular non-fiction books and children’s books. The first floor has novels, audio books and a huge selection of international DVDs. On the ground floor is the most comprehensive selection of books about Berlin in the capital, hundreds of Rock, Jazz and Pop CDs and a tempting range of ‘papeterie’. If you walk through to the back of the ground floor, there is even a separate two-floor English bookshop where ‘Shakespeare meets Auster’. And the basement has a wonderful classical music department with sheet music as well as CDs and space not only to listen to music, but to try it out yourself on an electronic piano.

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

DVDs of films set in Berlin

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

Classical listening space

Dussmann is a great place to meet up. It’s situated in the cultural heart of Berlin and is not only a unique shopping experience, but also boasts ‘Café-Restaurant Ursprung’ (Source) open from 9am until 9pm, six days a week, where you are encouraged to ‘eat-drink-dream’. Hype aside, this basement refuge has a relaxing vibe and an imaginative menu. You walk through the ‘nave’ of the store to be greeted by a sphinx at the top of the staircase and a vast back wall featuring a 270-square metre vertical garden of over 6,000 tropical plants. This spectacular ‘Mur Végétal’, designed by French botanist and garden architect, Patrick Blanc, has quite a wow factor – rather like the whole Dussmann experience.

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

An impressive café entrance

Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus

Inside Café Ursprung

 

City Centre Magic Christmas

City Centre Magic Christmas

Last December I wrote about two fairy-tale Christmas markets on the outer edges of West Berlin. For this year, here are four city centre markets with great atmosphere and historic charm. The setting is a key factor and even without the merest sprinkling of snow, these markets have backdrops that make them special. They are most magical after dusk, when the stalls and trees are strung with lights. Look out for the traditional ‘Herrenhuter Sterne’ (Moravian stars) which originated in 1830; they hang outside stalls and shops all over Germany and have a unique glow.

3_4wurzeln_stern11

Traditional Herrenhuter Stern

The market in the grand courtyard of Schloβ Charlottenburg has a tempting variety of food stalls on offer, many of them in festive-shaped constructions. Try the venison goulasch, the suckling pig or the fried green cabbage, as well as any kind of sausage imaginable. Mulled wine comes in different flavours with extra shots and the mug only costs an extra two euros as a souvenir.

weihnachtsmarkt_charlottenburg_dpa_picture_alliance_21

Magical skyline at Charlottenburg

img_55332543

Every kind of ‘Wurst’

The Charlottenburg market has plenty of Christmas decoration and craft stalls too. Here the traditional wooden ‘Weihnachtspyramide’ and carved figures are better value than in the shops, but make sure they originate from the ‘Erzgebirge’ (Ore mountains) if you want the genuine article. The huge wooden nativity scene and the musicians playing Christmas carols add to the nostalgic feel, but there’s an element of the modern fairground in the mix.

 

img_55122545

img_55132565

Carols and the ‘candy train’

Another popular market laid out in front of beautiful historic buildings is the ‘Weihnachtszauber’ market on Gendarmenmarkt, where the Konzerthaus, flanked by the impressive twin French and German churches, provides a dream setting. There’s a charge of one euro to enter this market, although it doesn’t seem to keep the numbers down. Last Friday evening it was extremely full and we had to fight our way through the crowds. In the middle of the market is a stage for the live entertainment and many of the stalls are crammed into large tents. It’s all very jolly, especially in the food tents with their Bierfest atmosphere and cheerful service. The Gendarmenmarkt market runs until New Year’s Eve.

img_55392557

In front of the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt

If you are looking for something more low-key and smaller-scale, take a stroll along Sophienstrasse, just a couple of minutes from the Hackescher Markt. This an ‘Ökomarkt’, where all the goods have ecological or organic pedigree and are generally hand-crafted. Sophienstrasse is lined with beautifully-restored buildings, including the oldest baroque church in Berlin, Sophienkirche. The shops have traditional medieval metal signs hanging outside and the old-fashioned street lamps and metal railings of the church cemetery contribute to a Dickensian atmosphere. This market is only open on Advent weekends until 7pm. No Easyjet revellers here.

img_55742554

img_55752555

The Advent scene on Sophienstrasse

You can also escape the tourists at the ‘Lucia market’ in Prenzlauer Berg, named after the Nordic goddess of light. Set up in the ‘Kulturbrauerei’, a former brewery complex from the 19th century, the market stalls feature traditional Scandinavian handicrafts, food and drink. The historic brick buildings form a spectacular backdrop and there is a family feel to this market, with its carousels and children’s art gallery. The Glühwein flows for the adults, including several unusual Scandinavian varieties. Next to one of the drink stalls is an added attraction; a wood-fired stove where market-goers can sit on benches warmed by electric radiators and slip their arms into a thick sheepskin coat.

img_55242544

img_55322563

Something for all the family at the Lucia Markt