Cool Summer Culture

When the temperature rises, it’s good to escape the crowds and get out of the city centre. In Berlin, there’s a host of cool culture just off the beaten track. You just have to know where to look. Take a trip to Dahlem, a leafy district in the borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf in south-west Berlin, where you can discover the Museum of European Cultures (‘MEK’), founded in 1999 by merging the 110-year-old Museum of Folklore with the European collection of the Museum of Ethnology. This museum, which belongs to the SMB (State Museums of Berlin), has a colourful permanent collection and runs interesting temporary exhibitions with a European theme.

Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK)

The displays in the main rooms are organised under themes such as transport, costume, religion and migration. Eye-catching exhibits include a Venetian gondola from 1910, an opulent cart brought back from Sicily by Emperor Wilhelm I and uniforms from traditional festivals. But the most striking of all is a giant mechanical ‘Weihnachtsberg’ (Christmas nativity scene) hand-carved in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in the 19th Century. Just press the start button to watch the wooden figures move, culminating in the Resurrection.

Giant ‘Christmas Mountain Scene’

The two current temporary exhibitions are both based on photography: ‘Fragments of Life: A Ukrainian Dairy’ and ‘We are from here: Turkish-German Life in 1990’ run until February 2023 and have compelling stories to tell. Information boards are all in English as well as German. Another exhibition, ‘Document Scotland’, opens in August.

Kviv - the day after the Russians invaded Ukraine

It is easy to get to MEK, only a four-minute walk from Dahlem Underground Station on the U3 line. The immediate surroundings include the campus of the Free University of Berlin, founded in West Berlin in 1948 as part of the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now renamed Humboldt University). Last week, I walked to from the Botanic Gardens to MEKand my route took me along shaded cobbled avenues past beautiful fin de siècle villas and quiet university buildings. It was a peaceful escape from the bustling of the city centre.

Part of the Freie Universität campus in Dahlem

If you prefer more edgy culture without the crowds, there are literally hundreds of little private galleries in Berlin. It’s always fun to wander up and down Auguststraβe in Berlin-Mitte and see how many art galleries you can discover, including the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Brunnenstraβe is a good area for galleries too, as is Potsdamer Straβe. But for something more Bohemian, head for hippy Neukölln.  The Retramp Gallery is a small gallery that rents out space to avant-garde artists. Its location on Reuterstraβe, just off busy Sonnenallee, is wonderfully shaded by tall maple trees and further up the street are plenty of cool cafés. ‘Barettino’, offering a lively drinks menu and sharing platters, was a great find.

Chilling at ‘Barettino’ on Reuterstraβe, Neukölln

Finally, here’s a more traditional suggestion for cooling off on a summer’s day – an organ recital in one of Berlin’s many beautiful old churches. There are free Friday afternoon concerts in the Nikolaikirche in the old city centre and regular recitals at the Berliner Dom (cathedral). But on Wednesdays at 7pm you could go a little further afield (a few stops on the 200 bus from Alexanderplatz) to the gothic-style St Bartholomäus Church on Friedenstraβe. This regular event with 45 minutes of fabulous organ music is well-attended and was a welcome haven from the heatwave outside. Just across the road from the church is the magical Märchenbrunnen (‘Fountain of Fairy Tales’) in the Volkspark Friedrichshain. Another perfect place to cool off and catch some sculpture culture – . For further details of the fountain and the park, check out pages 88-89 in ‘Berlin Unwrapped’.

St Bartholomäus Church

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