Berlin is not among the prettiest cities in Europe, at least not on the surface. But it is undeniably one of the most fascinating. Much of its beauty lies entangled in history and drama and its inherent determination and generosity of spirit has brought it into the 21st Century with new vitality. For an insight into Berlin’s unique attraction, the art exhibition, ‘Die Schönheit der grossen Stadt’ (‘The Beauty of the  Big City’), at the Ephraim-Palais Museum until 26th August, is an absolute must.

Showcase with original copy of Endell’s book

The title of the exhibition is taken from a book published in 1908 by philosopher and architect August Endell. He invited readers to open their eyes to the big city and also to picture its future development. Using Endell’s basic ideas as a starting point, the exhibition shows how artists over the past two centuries have interpreted the urban and social structure of Berlin. The paintings are grouped into themes and clearly demonstrate how the city’s external appearance has, over the years, reflected its inner beauty and its soul.

Inside the exhibition

Any exhibition at the Ephraim-Palais is worth a visit, if only to pay homage to this gem of a building, once home to Veitel Heine Ephraim, a wealthy Jewish court jeweller, banker and mint master to Frederick the Great. His exquisite rococo palace was built between 1762 and 1766 and soon became known as the “most beautiful corner in Berlin”. In 1936, the Ephraim-Palais was dismantled when the Mühlendamm was extended as part of Hitler’s grandiose plans for his new capital of ‘Germania’. Sections of the façade were stored in the district of West Berlin borough of Wedding. Eventually, they were handed over to the East Berlin authorities who reconstructed the building as a museum to form part of their official celebrations for Berlin’s 750th Anniversary in 1987.

Ephraim-Palais today

The Ephraim-Palais now stands just a few metres from its original location in the Nicolaiviertel, the heart of medieval Berlin, and belongs to the Berlin Stadtmuseum (Berlin City Museum). The exterior is still wonderfully ornate and the gold spiral staircase is breath-taking. The exhibition rooms are arranged over three floors and are quite plain and relatively small. But many of them have large windows looking on to the streets below and with their combination of natural light and polished parquet flooring they provide a perfect setting for an exhibition of paintings of Berlin.

The stunning staircase

This exhibition challenges the visitor to look at Berlin from diverse perspectives. The theme chosen for each room of paintings is introduced on a large display board and the paintings themselves each have an explanatory paragraph giving their context. All this information is given both in German and in clear English. I took photographs of the paintings which, for me, had the most appeal and summed up the theme of the room best. But there were so many others which made an impact and captured the essence of the city at a particular time and from a different angle. After reaching the last room on the top floor, suitably showcasing Eduard Gaertner’s rooftop paintings, I walked back down to the reception area to buy a couple of postcards. Quite by chance, I noticed that a rather zany black and white film of pre-war Berlin was running in the room to the left of the entrance door. It added another dimension to the ‘beauty’ of the big city and echoed August Endell’s words, displayed elsewhere in the exhibition:

“Because this is the astonishing thing: the big city, despite all the ugly buildings, despite the noise, despite everything for which it can be condemned, remains a miracle of beauty and poetry for those who would wish to see it, a fairy-tale more colourful, more varied, more manifold than anything ever told in a poet’s word.”

Exhibition poster

Below is my selection of paintings from ‘The Beauty of the Big City’ exhibition, listed by theme. The Ephraim-Palais Museum is only a few minutes walk from either Alexanderplatz or Klosterstraβe Station and is open from 10am until 6pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and from 12pm until 8pm on Wednesdays . Entrance to the exhibition is €7 for adults, with free entrance on the first Wednesday of each month. For further details, including tours in English, follow this link.

Building city

Young Bricklayer, 1953, Otto Nagel

Under a pale sky

Knaackstraβe, 1974, Harald Metzkes

The city and the human being

Man in front of Wall, 1988-89 and Man with Suitcase, 1983, Klaus Killisch

Nights in the big city

At Friedrichstraβe Station, 1888, Lesser Ury

Above the rooftops

Witzleben Broadcasting Station, 1982, Ernst Fritsch

Architecture and texture

Urban Landscape, 1982, Joachim Böttcher

On the edge of the city

Winter Landscape at Lichterfelde, 1912, Waldemar Rösler

The city torn apart

On Potsdamer Platz, 1973, Karl Oppermann

Landscapes of history

East Berlin, 1982, Julie de Bastion

Metropolitan impressions

Playground in Friedrichshain, 1913, Paul Paeschke

Quiet city

The Big Window, 1938, Willy Robert Huth

Traffic arteries

Wittenbergplatz, 1960, Werner-Viktor Toeffler

In the neighbourhood

Berlinbild, 1920, Ernst Fritsch

The city as a metaphor

Nollendorfplatz, 1912, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

City of work

Borsig’s Engineering Works in Berlin,1847, Carl Eduard Biermann

Berlin from above

View of the Friedrichsforum, 1835, Eduard Gaertner

Athens on the Spree

The Granite Bowl in the Lustgarten, 1831, Johann Erdmann Hummel

 

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