For the final blog of 2016 here is something joyful – a recommendation for a tip-top night out to a Berlin comic operetta; something to lift the spirit and warm the soul. It is dedicated to those people who were tragically involved in the terrible Christmas market massacre of 19th December. I had been standing on that very spot only a week before, buying Christmas Lebkuchen hearts, and while the dreadful event was unfolding I was posting my last blog about four magical markets. It is a very sombre scene now on Breitscheidplatz, where a mass of candles and flowers marks the scene of the murders.
Flowers and Candles on Breitscheidplatz
But Berlin is the ultimate city of resolute survival. Tonight, there will be more fireworks than ever at the Brandenburg Gate and the show will go on at every venue imaginable. For a night out that conjures up the cabaret atmosphere of pre-war Berlin, I can recommend the Tipi am Kanzleramt, a marquee theatre hidden away in the Tiergarten, only a stone’s throw from Angela Merkel’s office and the Reichstag. The Tipi is a permanent venue for variety acts, cabaret, musicals and chansons, but has the nostalgic feel of a Spiegeltent, where travelling artistes bring music, magic and a touch of decadence to the general public.
The Tipi am Kanzleramt
Until the end of January, Berliners are flocking to see ‘Frau Luna’ (Mrs Moon), a ‘burlesque and fantastic operetta’, composed by Paul Lincke, and first performed in 1899. Lincke had previously worked at the Folies Bergères in Paris and in 1908, he became principal conductor and composer for the Metropol Theater, whose spectacular revues were the capital’s biggest attraction. He is considered to be the father of operetta in Berlin, and has the same significance for the German capital as Johann Strauss for Vienna and Jacques Offenbach for Paris. On his 75th birthday, Lincke was made an honorary citizen of Berlin. Now this new production marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.
The original cast of Frau Luna in 1899
German postage stamp commemorating Paul Lincke
Frau Luna has a crazy storyline, which involves a group of ordinary Berliners going to the moon on a home-made craft. It’s full of mad scenes and characters, but the main theme of escapism and chasing dreams comes clearly through. There are plenty of foot-tapping and hand-clapping songs, especially ‘Das ist die Berliner Luft’, (‘That’s the Berlin air’) which is Lincke’s most famous composition and has become the well-loved anthem of Berlin. (Follow this link to see the Berlin Philharmonic perform it as a march). Frau Luna is not considered suitable for non-German speakers because of the German dialogue and jokes, but the music has instant appeal and there are slick dance routines. My English-speaking friend loved the glamour of the whole spectacle, staged in festive silver, black and white. You can get a flavour of the show from this trailer on You Tube.
The 2016 production of Frau Luna
Not all the entertainment happens on stage in the Tipi am Kanzleramt. Members of the audience sit at tables and can order (or pre-order) food and drink. The menu features Berlin specialities as well as beers, wines and Sekt from Germany and Austria and prices are quite reasonable. People-watching becomes part of the fun and the traditionally-dressed waiters provide impeccable service, under considerable pressure.
The audience arriving in the Tipi
The Tipi programme also includes plenty of shows and acts in English. In summer 2017, it features ‘Cabaret – the Musical’ once again and the Kit Kat Club will be recreated in the Tipi tent theatre. Tickets can be bought online and need to be booked early, especially for the best seats. Follow this link for the Tipi website.
‘Cabaret‘ in the Tipi, 2016
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.
If you missed the Bowie exhibition on last year at the V&A in London – be sure to see it in Berlin at the Martin-Gropius-Bau from 20th May until 10th August. I loved it in London and will definitely go again in Berlin, a city which made such a lasting impact on Bowie. To find out more about Bowie’s Berlin years follow this link to ‘Ziggy in 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.
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.
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.
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.