Das Museum der Dinge is a fascinating treasure-trove. Its name translates into English as ‘The Museum of Things’ and its nearest equivalent in London is the Design Museum. The collection was started in 1970 by the ‘Werkbundarchiv’, (the archives of the German association of craftsmen) and has grown into a significant exhibition of objects that have documented German daily life since the late-19th century.
The first exhibit (pictured above) is a ‘Historicist Bench’ which was part of the luxurious interior of the villa of a director of the Borsig factory. Unique hand-crafted pieces had reached a high quality towards the end of the 19th century and reflected the new economic power of the industrial elite. Although the crafts industry drew on stylistic elements of earlier eras, it began increasingly to put cheaper merchandise of poorer quality on the market.
Early 20th century ‘kitsch’
Affordable, mass-produced glassware
There are scores of display cases packed with items that have historic or design significance; many of them now horrendously kitsch. After all, the word was invented in Germany in the 1920s to describe a low-brow style of mass-produced design using popular or cultural icons. A great feature of this museum is the clear and concise way that the information boards (in English as well as German) explain each period of modern design, covering the development of functional utensils, brand names, souvenirs and technical products to the evaluation and choice of products in our own era.
Designer TV – with explanation
Of course, the exhibits are specifically from German everyday life, but visitors with no background knowledge of German brands can still have a great time and appreciate how household goods have adapted and changed with the times. There is something for everyone in this place – including the first fitted kitchen, the ‘Frankurter Küche’ (1926), a display case full of household items produced during the Third Reich and one with more recent ‘green’ products. You can definitely find ‘your thing’.
A place for everything in the fitted kitchen
Spot the Hitler cushion…
The museum is located on the top floor of an old tenement building off Oranienstrasse in the heart of Kreuzberg. With its gritty buzz, this neighbourhood is the perfect location for an exhibition of such unpretentious, utilitarian ‘stuff’. It is open from Thursdays to Mondays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), from 12 noon until 7pm and entrance costs 6 Euros. Follow this link for a full explanation of the museum’s contents and its aims.
- Bunkers and Berlin are synonymous. Designed to protect people or valued materials from falling bombs, during World War II there were bunkers of every kind all over the city. When the air-raid sirens started to wail, making it in time to the nearest bunker was often a matter of life or death. Now bunkers have become tourist attractions and it’s just as well that Hitler’s infamous Führerbunker has been rendered inaccessible.
The Boros Bunker
Berlin Unwrapped has details of the underground bunker tours organised by the ‘Berliner Unterwelten’ and the contemporary art collection in ‘Boros Bunker’, which is so popular that tickets must be booked weeks in advance on the internet. Now, a new bunker exhibition is attracting attention – the ‘Feuerle Collection’, brainchild of art collector Desiré Feuerle, who owned a gallery in Cologne in the 1990s and specialises in exhibiting antiques alongside contemporary art.
The Feuerle Collection’s home is a raw, cast-concrete building that served as a telecommunications bunker during World War II. As it was owned by the Reichsbahn and therefore the property of the GDR, it was left abandoned and fenced-off during Berlin’s years of division. From the outside, the bunker has the bleak appearance of a brutalist-style fortress, but the interior space has been miraculously transformed by British architect John Pawson into something approaching the vast imperial feel of the Domus Aurea, Nero’s ancient Golden Palace in Rome.
A stunning underground setting
We booked our tickets for the Feuerle Collection on the internet a couple of weeks in advance, for a Saturday afternoon (the museum is currently only open at weekends) and took the U2 to Möckernbrücke. It was only a ten-minute walk along Hallesches Ufer, but already the overhead railway, the dark waters of the canal and the massive buildings on either side of the road combined to create a sense of severity. We arrived at the huge metal door of the bunker with a sense of some trepidation.
Entrance to the bunker
Visitors are ushered in semi-darkness to the lobby to place their bags in the lockers, then assembled as a group for basic instructions on how the tour will proceed. Photography is prohibited, so all the pictures in this post have been taken from official photographs provided by the Feuerle Collection on the internet. Our guide offered very little information about what we would find inside the exhibition itself; it was made clear that we would be making an individual discovery, although we could ask questions at any time. We were then ushered downstairs, where a pitch-black room awaited. When the door closed, a minimalist sound piece by John Cage was meant to be playing – a ‘gift’ from the collector, intended as a sort of musical prelude to the stark journey that each visitor was about to embark on. In fact, what we experienced was several minutes of total silence and were rendered both blind and deaf.
We were then told to ‘walk towards the light’ and found ourselves in a huge sub-terranean cavern, which felt like a hallowed tomb for art. Each ancient exhibit stood on its own pedestal or in a glass case with a few other similar creations and the clever lighting made everything seem precious beyond compare. Beautiful Khmer sculptures from the 7th to 13th Centuries made of stone, bronze and wood, cast imposing shadows across the bare floor. We wandered around in awe among the pillars that intersected the large space and made a framework for the exhibition. Mirrors had been strategically placed to enhance the experience and through glass we could see into an adjacent, empty section of the bunker with its tall regal columns gently illuminated.
On some of the pillars and walls were black-and-white photographs set behind Chinese Qing Dynasty-era furniture. Contemporary artwork juxtaposed with antiques is a Feuerle trademark and, in this case, the ‘erotic’ nature of the photographs provided quite a talking point later. One of the central pieces on this floor of the collection was a ‘stone mat’ from the Han Dynasty (200 BC) and hung behind it, a contemporary picture of a mattress. This seemed a brilliantly-conceived contrast. There were no labels or descriptions on any of the items on display, so visitors must ask the guide, who stands discreetly to one side, if they want to learn the origin of a work. Since everyone walks around in studied silence, it seemed wrong to break the spell and we kept our questions to ourselves and gave way to a ‘collapse of time’.
Stone ‘mat’ and mattress
We were allowed just over 20 minutes for the first part of the collection, at which point our guide noiselessly approached each individual or group and invited us to gather in one corner of the room. Together, we made our way up to another huge space where more treasures were on display. A contemporary metal installation shaped as a hillside fountain was the first object of interest, but it was the lacquer Imperial Chinese furniture that stole this show. These pieces, exhibited on plinths, were truly magnificent. But as if to unsettle this feeling of pure beauty, once again Feuerle had used ‘erotic’ images, this time of submissive young Asian women, to create a juxtaposition between antique and contemporary art. It is a point of view we did not share.
Contemporary metal fountain by Cristina Iglesias
Fabulous antique day bed
After a further 20 minutes or so, we returned to the lobby along a labyrinth of dark stone corridors, interspersed with high wells and hanging chains. Before leaving, I asked the guide for further reading material about the Feuerle Collection and was told that nothing was available yet. Perhaps it never will be. And perhaps it’s not important to know all the details. This bunker attraction needs little explanation, it just needs to be experienced. We had made a unique individual journey through time and space, among different periods and cultures and in the company of many a ghost. I will be back in 2017 when the ‘Incense Ceremony’ is added to this exhibition.
Entry to the Feuerle Collection costs €18. To book online follow this link.
I hope that last week’s blog about Spandau has encouraged you to visit this special part of Berlin. From now until the end of 2019, the wonderful Spandau Zitadelle has a stunning new exhibition. One of its huge neoclassical barrack buildings has been beautifully renovated to house a unique collection of Berlin monuments, ‘Unveiled – Berlin and its monuments.’ Statues that are symbols of the country’s turbulent past and yet have been removed from public view for years, have been rescued from neglect and despair and cleverly assembled to reveal a highly-charged political story from the 18th Century to the end of the 20th Century.
This exhibition has a real ‘wow factor’ from the moment you walk into the first vast room. Here you are greeted by the Prussian monarchy in the form of King Friedrich Wilhelm III, reunited with his Queen Louise who died so tragically young. The monuments erected in Berlin before the founding of the German Empire in 1871 were an expression of the military and political rise of the Prussian monarchy.
A royal couple reunited
King Friedrich II, ‘Frederick the Great’, was the first monarch in Europe to erect monuments to generals who did not come from the royal house, but who had distinguished themselves in war. There are scores of scarred heroes to admire in the next hall, many of them with limbs broken off or punctured with bullet-holes. Massed together in their spacious new surroundings, they make a commanding sight.
A particular highlight of the exhibition is the set of marble statues commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II to adorn the magnificent Siegesallee (‘Victory Avenue’) in Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. A whole summer’s day in the year 1907 is imitated acoustically by a sound installation, supported by a lighting choreography throwing shadows on to the park bench in the middle of the room. I stood there for a while, listening to the sound of people, carriages and birdsong and was transported back in time and place.
The Tiergarten in 1907
Germany’s defeat in World War I, which had cost the lives of over two million German soldiers, defined the erection of memorials during the post-war years of the Weimar Republic. The ‘Monument to the fallen Railwaymen,’ is especially touching. It depicts a strong man kneeling and bowing his head in mourning. There were many more such monuments erected all over the newly-created Greater Berlin, but the elected government of the day never realised a central ‘Reich Memorial’ in Berlin, something which would have certainly happened during the period of the Prussian monarchy.
The Railwaymen’s monument
During the period of National Socialism, it was architecture rather than monuments that played the major role as a means of demonstrating power and supporting the government’s claim to world domination. Adolf Hitler and his architect, Albert Speer, drew up plans to turn Berlin into the Reich Capital Germania. Statues were erected that conformed to classical Greek and Roman art, considered by Hitler to be art whose exterior form embodied an inner racial ideal and was both heroic and romantic. The one in the exhibition is a statue by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favorite sculptor. Also on display in this room is an eight-ton stone, whose purpose was to portray Germanic engineering prowess.
A rediscovered Breker bronze
In the National Socialism section of the exhibition there is a second sound installation, located in a small, empty, darkened room with a high ceiling. It symbolically depicts the Berlin Ruhmeshalle (‘Hall of Fame’) one of Hitler’s and Speer’s projects that was never realised. This cult hall was intended to hold 180,000 visitors and its purpose was to spread Nazi ideology. The inhumanity and incomprehensibility of this project is conveyed by an abstract sound installation and floor vibrations, which combine to induce feelings of anxiety and terror. It is a disorientating experience.
The grandiose design for Germania’s ‘Ruhmeshalle’
After World War II, the victorious powers divided Berlin into four sectors and East Berlin subsequently became the capital of the German Democratic Republic. In West Berlin, monuments were used to promote freedom and reunification in the ‘front-line city’ of the Cold War. They commemorated political events such as the blockade of 1948/1949, the people’s uprising in the GDR in 1953, and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. But it is mainly East Berlin monuments that are ‘unveiled’ in this exhibition, because so many were removed after reunification. On display is the memorial to the victims of ‘Fascism and Militarism’ from the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden, which I can recall from the 1980s. In the 1990s it was replaced by the more moving and less political Käthe Kollwitz sculpture of mourning mother.
The GDR’s memorial to the unknown soldier
There are many more monuments and statues in this last section of the exhibition, reflecting socialist ideology and German-Soviet friendship, as well as the struggle of the working classes against capitalism and fascism. But the show’s main attraction is undoubtedly one of its most colossal pieces – a granite head of Lenin, made famous by the 2003 film, ‘Goodbye Lenin!’ In a haunting scene, a piece of the torso of the gigantic statue of the Soviet leader is helicoptered along Stalinallee (now Karl-Marx-Allee), with hand outstretched.
The ‘Goodbye Lenin’ moment
The 1.7-metre-high Lenin head in the exhibition was part of a statue carved from Ukrainian pink granite that towered 19 metres above East Berlin. But after the fall of the Wall, amid considerable controversy, the first mayor of reunited Berlin ordered its removal to rid the city of an ‘unwanted icon’. The statue took months to disassemble, as Lenin was split into 120 parts, then transported to a secluded forest and buried in sandy earth.
According to the Director of the Spandau Zitadelle Museum, there were “endless debates” surrounding the decision to integrate the Lenin statue into this collection. There is also a widespread feeling that instead of dismantling and hiding the monuments, it would have been more appropriate to keep them up and publicly discuss their role and symbolism. But it is too late for regrets and this collection of rescued and scarred statues makes for a truly memorable exhibition in a unique setting. All the information is given clearly in English as well as German and you can reach out and touch the exhibits. Entrance costs €4.50 to include the Zitadelle Museum and the Juliusturm. The Zitadelle is open daily from 10.00 am until 5.00 pm.
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.
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 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.
When I landed at Berlin Tegel airport last week, a huge poster caught my eye: ‘Erlebnis Europa – Europa Experience’, advertising a new permanent interactive exhibition in the European House. ‘Discover the European Union in a completely new light!’ was the poster’s promise and just two weeks before the EU Referendum in the UK, this seemed a pretty good idea.
European House in the heart of Berlin
‘Europa Experience’ was opened in May by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission whose respective institutions were responsible for this initiative. It is designed to raise interest in the European Union and encourage debate. ‘Everybody who is interested in finding out about Europe, its values and its interests will find the way to the exhibition’, said the Chancellor in her words of welcome.
It’s certainly not hard to find your way there in a practical sense. European House is only a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden, next to one of the exits from the Brandenburger Tor underground station. Thousands of tourists stream past the door every day, so there is no better place to ‘sell’ Europe.
Stepping into the Europa Experience
The exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the history, politics and daily life of the European Union – all in 24 European languages. At its core is an impressive 360 degree cinema, the ‘Parliamentarium’. Here, you can join a virtual plenary session of the European Parliament or take part in a simulated game in the role of an MEP or a European Commissioner. I sat down and put on my headphones. And there, in the front row opposite me, was Nigel Farage. It all felt very real.
Inside the ‘Parliamentarium’
Outside the cinema you can record your parliamentary experience by having your photo taken against a suitably EU-style background and then emailed to family and friends. Visitors can also contact their MEP simply and directly by e-mail and anyone wishing to address a question or criticism to the EU, can simply hand it to one of the exhibition team. And there are plenty of clever-designed inter-active information points.
It was all very welcoming and user-friendly. I discovered a great deal more about the workings of the EU and took away some useful material. One brochure ‘Join the European Parliament’ gave details of applying for jobs and traineeships. Interestingly, all candidates must have a thorough knowledge of two of the official languages of the European Union, one of which must be English, French or German. Since foreign languages are no longer on the National Curriculum in England, it seems as if the English may be at a disadvantage in this particular job market.
A job in the European Parliament?
To mount a ‘Europa Experience’ exhibition in every major European city is an unrealistic dream. But its aim to increase dialogue between politicians and citizens of Europe is worthy. The words spoken by Angela Merkel at the exhibition’s opening ceremony couldn’t be more relevant at this time:
“We, the politicians, must explain our actions. We must answer questions… This applies to member states and to the European institutions. What becomes of Europe and how Europe develops, lies in our hands. It is up to us. ..It is important to fight for this Europe.”
Unter den Linden 78. Open daily from 10 am until 6 pm. Admission free.
Website: Erlebnis Europa
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’.