I have a small booklet that lists 92 museums and galleries in Berlin and that’s without all those private art galleries which were on display for Art Week 2014.
WOW! IMAGINE! Any wonder it’s a contender for the world’s best city.
Any wonder I only had time to cherry pick the BIG ONES? (and not all of those either). Any wonder I need an aide memoire for the years to come?
After travelling to the Middle Eastern cradles of civilisation in better times (Syria, Iran, Egypt, Jordan), the Pergamonmuseum was top of my Berlin shopping list. On Museum Island the big three are the Greek Pergamon Altar, Nefertiti (at Neues Museum) and for me, the knockout, the ISHTAR GATE.
Walking into the museum and seeing the Gate was one of too rare occasions when you see something and an amazed smile of joy spread over your face and perhaps a “wow!” comes from your mouth.
Nebuchadnezzar II built this Babylonian town gate more than half a millennium BC. The radiant blue reconstructed gate contains elements of the original and parts of Babylonian processional way are on other walls.
The highly all-suffusing ornate 17th century Aleppo Room was another reminder of the tragedies that have recently overtaken the former Mesopotamia, once the centre of great civilization.
At the Neues Museum I had a different response. Perhaps we are too used to the head of Nefertiti; like the Mona Lisa it did not move me but the Trojan Collection did and in a different way. Having been to Troy I felt uneasy at the remaining antiquities Schliemann had taken from his 1870 dig at Troy. Perhaps one day they will return there. What is worse, most items from the collection were taken to Russia after the Soviet liberated Berlin in 1945 and only replicas remain.
While Berlin is impressive in the range and amount of art it has, somehow it lacks a profile in “the majors of the majors”. When I think of the range of great art in the Prado, the renaissance splendour of the Uffizi, the story of Van Gogh in Amsterdam or the collection in the Quai d’ Orsay, then Berlin’s greats don’t cut the mustard for me. But it does have paintings well worth the visit.
The Germaldegalerie was built in 1998 in the Arts Precinct and this charming building houses Berlin’s collection of Old Masters. The Canalettos were a particular pleasure. Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace was one to remember but maybe as a codicil to his more famous Girl with a Pearl!
The painting that resonated with me probably has something to do with my age! In 1546 Lucas Cranach painted Fountain of Youth. Withered old people step into a pool and the waters do their magic; all emerge young and beautiful.
It’s a fine painting too.
The Neue Nationalgalerie was designed by Miles van der Rohe and holds Berlin’s enjoyable 20th century collection. Unfortunately some of the door staff lacked a little charm. My favourite was Studio an oversized 3 part painting by Gerhard Richter.
The collection has much political art. Man with Mask a life size bronze by Wolfgang Mattheuer (1979/84) is one of a number about the individual and society. The artist‘s impassioned face hides behind a public sheep mask showing the significance of conformity during the GDR period.
The KW Institute, for Contemporary Art displays multi media installations and underground art from around the world. Current works included: — artist and friends traumatised on multi screens exploring an abandoned masonic building; screen and floor projected views of the female body (from memory in digitised close ups and slow fades).Yep! Interesting!
Next door to KW is a private gallery with another café showing works from the Sandretto Re Rabaidenego Collection. Lots of exotica but also mainstream.
In the private Galerie Gerken on Liniensrasse were contemporary canvasses by Ethiopian artist Tegene Kunbi. I would have brought the one below home had I more mojo (and less caution about money).
Just a small mention of this terrific bronze outside the Kathy Kollwitz Gallery. Her black and white sketches did not ring my bell but the sculptures are wonderful.
To conclude this meagre collection from the wealth of what is available, I just want to note that a few samples of the very important (albeit deminishing) street art of Berlin is in the very last blog and that I have failed to examine other important contemporary arts centres such as the Bethanien in Kreuzberg, housed in a former hospital built in 1847 by Frederick William IV.
In Berlin 70 % of the city was destroyed during WWII and more taken out by the death strip of the Wall. Architecturally, as in other ways, Berlin is a city that has been continuously created. Almost everything old is new again and somethings new are actually the renovated old.
An urban planning degree didn’t give me the skills to identify the provenance of much of the built form, to definitively recognise the Prussian (new or old), the communist and the western reconstruction. Were I lucky enough to visit Berlin again, I would seek an architectural guide to help me sort it.
Taking the city into the 21st century is the post 1989 redevelopment particularly around Potsdam Platz.
Renzo Piano and Kohlbecker master planned a sector which integrated an area into the nearby cultural precinct. There is a Piano building and an office building by Arata Isozaki. The commercial building by Richard Rogers was my favourite. The casino and the musical theatre are in this precinct as is (I think) the Blue Man Theatre where a fun evening was spent.
Nearby is the busy and iconic Sony centre full of life including a few ‘Australian’ bars.
A short walk away is the cultural precinct with the Germaldegalerie, the older Miles der Rohe’s Neue National, a new public library under construction and the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall.
Deutche Bank at Brandenburg Gate has a Frank Ghery sculptured foyer that can be glimpsed through bars. But my very favourite Berlin architecture is the IM Pei addition to the German Historical Museum.
This a great museum with a comprehensively curated collection; even if the subject were of no interest, the Pei addition, as light as air and as delicate as spun sugar, would make the visit a must.