Saturday NoonSong

Saturday NoonSong

Berlin loves Saturday lunchtime – there’s a sense that the weekend starts here. It wasn’t so long ago that the German school week didn’t finish until Saturday lunchtime and the shops closed for the weekend soon after midday. Some traditions haven’t changed though, and many Berliners still head for their local market to do the weekend shopping, then find a good café for lunch. They might even call into the church on the market square for musical and spiritual refreshment.

Karl-August-Platz Market in Charlottenburg with Trinitatis Church

A notable example is the Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (Church on Hohenzollern Square) where a choral concert and church service called ‘NoonSong’ takes place every Saturday at noon. ‘NoonSong’ is a play on the name of the Anglican service of Evensong, and its aim is to offer peaceful respite from busy city life.

NoonSong Brochure

Outside the church is a hive of activity around the stalls of the local street market but inside you can escape into ‘thirty minutes of heaven’ provided by the beautiful a cappella singing from centuries of sacred music by the professional vocal ensemble ‘sirventes berlin’. There are organ voluntaries as well and the congregation joins in with the two hymns. Every seat was taken when I went there recently, so it’s worth arriving early.

Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz

The stark 1930s Brick Expressionist church building contributes to the rarefied atmosphere and on a sunny day, the light streams in through the high, stained glass windows turning the whole experience into something quite ethereal.

After feeding the soul at NoonSong, it was time for Saturday lunch and there is no shortage of restaurants and cafés near Hohenzollernplatz. I can highly recommend Tian Fu on Uhlandstrasse, only a two-minute walk from the church and Hohenzollernplatz Underground Station. This very well-reviewed restaurant serves spicy Sichuan-style food and is a favourite with the Berlin Chinese community.

On my last visit, we started with Tian Fu’s excellent Dim Sum, then chose various dishes of lamb, duck and calamari which were all delicious. Despite being very busy, the service was efficient and friendly. I loved the décor too – a Chinese twist to Berlin urban retro charm. A great place to start our multi-cultural Berlin weekend. 

History set in stone

History set in stone

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.


Rescued angels

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.


Broken heroes

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.

Schlüter’s Beautiful Baroque Berlin

Schlüter’s Beautiful Baroque Berlin

bp0-startseite-bg-de[1]Andreas Schlüter (1684-1714) was the ‘ Schloss Baumeister’ (Palace Master-builder) who was largely responsible for transforming Berlin from a provincial medieval city into an impressive baroque royal capital. If you are in Berlin over the next few weeks you still have time to catch a wonderful exhibition in the Bode Museum marking the double anniversary of his birth and death. But even if you can’t make the exhibition, read on – as much of Schlüter’s legacy can still be seen and appreciated in 21st century Berlin. Schlüter (unlike Schadow) cannot be claimed by the Berliners as one of their own; he was born and died in Danzig and summoned from the Polish court to Berlin in 1694 by the Brandenburg Great Elector Friedrich III (who became King Frederick I of Prussia in 1701). As court architect and sculptor from 1696 until 1713, Schlüter is most famous for his design of the exterior of the Stadtschloss (City Palace) and for his statue of the Great Elector on horseback – the ‘Reiterdenkmal’. A copy of this imposing statue stands in the grand domed hall  of the Bode Museum, making it the perfect venue to host an exhibition to honour Schlüter’s work in Berlin.


The original Reiterdenkmal is surrounded by four cowering slaves in chains and oversees the main courtyard of Charlottenburg Palace. During the war it was removed from Berlin for safe-keeping, but the barge carrying it back in 1949 sank in the Teglersee in West Berlin. When the statue was salvaged a year later it found itself in a divided city and was never returned to its rightful place on the Lange Brücke opposite the Stadtschloss. The magnificence of this setting is shown in the picture below and must surely have helped secure Berlin’s claim to the title of Capital of the German Empire when it was formed in 1871.


Together with two other great Berlin architects, Langhans and Knobelsdorff, Schlüter was hugely influenced by the genius of the European Renaissance. The 16 rooms of this exhibition document Schlüter’s accomplishments in Berlin but also display works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Mochi, Francois Girardon and Antoine Coysevox so that visitors can clearly see how important it was for Schlüter to travel in Europe before he started work in Berlin. The paintings, bronzes and marble statues from Italy, France and The Netherlands show how European art and history influenced Schlüter’s creations such as the mounted statues of Marc Aurel and Louis XIV and how Bernini and Girardon were the godfathers of his most celebrated statue of the Great Elector. Schlüter also immortalised his patron, Frederick I, in bronze on horseback but this work was lost in the Second World War bombing along with many of Schlüter’s wonderful architectural masterpieces in the city centre

In 1945 his Stadtschloss also stood in ruins and the exhibition has original film footage (without soundtrack) of how its skeletal remains were finally demolished in 1950. You can watch its dome and the remaining statues adorning its roof fall silently fall into a mass of stone and ash as a single car drives eerily past the dusty mound of rubble. Fortunately, some of Schlüter’s decorations on the palace façades were preserved and you can view them in all their intricate detail in the exhibition. But if you don’t manage to visit Berlin before mid-July, all is by no means lost. The reconstruction of the Stadtschloss as the Humboldt Forum is now well underway and Schlüter’s carvings will be incorporated into the walls.


Current progress on the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss/Humboldt Forum 

Five other Berlin city sites are included in the Schlüter exhibition: the Deutsches Historisches Museum (originally built as the Zeughaus – Royal Armoury), the Berliner Dom (Protestant Cathedral), the Marienkirche, the Nikolaikirche and of course Charlottenburg Palace. You can see Schlüter’s tomb of the Männlich family in the Nikolaikirche, his ornate sarcophagi for Frederik I and his wife in the crypt of Berliner Dom and his beautiful baroque pulpit in the Marienkirche. But the most awe-inspiring of all Schlüter sculptures can be found at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Schlüter was responsible for giants’ heads above the round-arched windows and for the warriors’ death masks which line the magnificent rose-pink inner courtyard (known as the Schlüterhof). This is how they are described by the Bode Museum:

Their faces are wracked with pain but with eyelids drooping as if a compassionate spirit has granted the final favour bestowed on the deceased, these expiring heads make plain the deadly serious purpose of the Zeughaus. And yet these heads, reminiscent of trophies, must now serve as adornments on the very building that stored the weapons that brought about the warriors’ deaths.”

What this website extract fails to point out, however, is the macabre fact that Schlüter had the actual heads of the warriors on which to model his sculptures. This is clearly demonstrated in the exhibition by a clay model showing how Schlüter’s own head was also used as a template. It is hard to imagine a more poignant way for a sculptor to depict the horrors of war.






‘Our Schadow’ and ‘Heavens,  Berlin!’

‘Our Schadow’ and ‘Heavens, Berlin!’

There are currently two excellent exhibitions worth catching at the Ephraim-Palais until 17th August. For the princely sum of five euros you can feast your eyes on the classic sculptures of Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850) and gaze at the surreal sky-filled canvasses of Matthias Koeppel (born 1937).  They are on display on separate floors of a stunning Rococco city palace, built for the Jewish court jeweller, Veitel Heine Ephraim, in 1762. The palace had to be knocked down in 1935 to make way for the construction of the Mühlendamm bridge but the façade was kept and stored in Wedding, West Berlin for several decades. Reconstruction eventually took place only a few metres from its orignal site in the Nikolaiviertel and it opened in 1987 as part of East Berlin’s celebrations for the 750th Anniversary of Berlin. Now the elegant Ephraim-Palais forms part of the Berlin Stadtmuseum (City Museum) and mounts temporary exhibitions.


Ephraim-Palais exterior

Schadow is most famous for designing the Quadriga on top of the Brandenburg Gate and he is 250 years old this year. The Stadtmuseum is celebrating his birthday with their exhibition, ‘Unser Schadow’ (Our Schadow – pronounce ‘Shar-do’ ) and claiming this great Berlin sculptor as their own – with good reason. Since the first Berlin Stadtmuseum (Märkisches Museum) opened back in 1874, Schadow’s works have been a feature of their permanent collections, and include a large copper horse’s head, the only original part of the Quadriga to survive the bombs.


The surviving horse’s head – on display at the exhibition

Schadow was the son of a Berlin tailor who rose in Berlin society to become a Director of the Berlin Academy of Arts. This exhibition brings togethers over 300 sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints and documents, mostly from private collections, to tell the story of Schadow’s life as artist and man. It is divided into themed sections, each with a large poster summary in English.   Among the exhibits are some exquisite smaller sculptures. The bust of Goethe, the pair of royal princesses, the woman from Weinsberg carrying her husband on her back and Bacchus comforting Ariadne all have special appeal.


Bacchus and Ariadne

Larger Schadow works, such as the portrait statue of Crown Princess Luise and her sister Frederica and the moving tombstone for the nine-year old Count Alexander von der Mark, are in the Alte Nationalgalerie and there are many grand Schadow statues gracing the streets of Berlin. But this exhibition celebrates the real-life Berliner as well the artistic genius. Schadow may have been court sculptor, great artist and expert in physiognomy but he was also a man of the people and a popular fellow. He shared his talents by becoming a respected teacher, he was an amiable host, a member of many societies, a committed Freemason, a keen chess-player, a music-lover and an amateur dramatist. He was proud of his two sons who followed in his footsteps as artists and this exhibition portrays a man  with a good sense of humour. ‘Our Schadow’ is a title he would surely appreciate. I certainly enjoyed getting to know him better.


 Buchhorn’s portrait of Schadow (1821)

And now for something completely different… ‘Himmel, Berlin!’ (which can be interpreted as a call for help, or an expression of surprise or admiration) features the amazing paintings of Matthias Koeppel, a (West) Berlin artist born in 1937. His subjects are set against the huge Berlin sky (‘Himmel’ can mean sky or heaven in English) and deal with contemporary history, politics or society. This is definitely art with a message and Koeppel uses surrealism and irony to get his point across. The Berlin sky is a central feature of each painting and it usually features light clouds. I couldn’t help being reminded of Wim Wender’s 1987 film ‘Himmel über Berlin’ (Wings of Desire) where invisible, immortal angels populate a divided Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants, comforting those who are in distress. And there is plenty to be distressed about in the scenes in Koeppel’s Berlin world. Many of them depict destruction and desolation and there are cruel parodies and harsh warnings. These grandiose canvasses demand attention and I found them fascinating. There are some interesting links with Schadow too, for example Koeppel’s repeated use of the Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate either wonderfully silhouetted against the Berlin sky or in some way under attack.


Occupy (2012)

The most obvious connection with Schadow is Koeppel’s painting of two German rock sisters standing in exactly the same pose as Schadow’s royal princesses, with the mausoleum in the Charlottenburg Palace park in the background. The contrast with Schadow’s original vision gives this painting special impact.



Detail from Requiem für Luise (1984)

References to art and politics abound in Koeppel’s work and a background knowledge of post-Wall Berlin history is vital for a detailed understanding of the subject matter of some of the paintings. But even a basic tour of the main tourist sights of Berlin would give some context and Koeppel’s sharp social comment always hits home. There is humour too, especially in the scenes which are parodies of well-known paintings.


Sportschau (2012)

Yet although Koeppel repeatedly forces us to take look on the dark or surreal side of life, the Berlin sky is always there to draw us upwards and away. It seems to have magical qualities.


 Hotel Adlon (2000)

After all, what is it made of other than the famous ‘Berliner Luft’ (Berlin air)? If you want some to take home, it’s sold in cans at most souvenir stalls.