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Sensi Magazine

Cultured in Berlin

Aug 29, 2019 08:25PM ● By Dawn Garcia
Berlin is a city that most of the world has heard of in one way or another. It is a city that brings to mind the communist-fueled Berlin Wall that thankfully met its end in 1989. Berlin also brings to mind films like Cabaret, Octopussy, and Run, Lola, Run. All three films feature the magnificent city at various times in history from the 1970s to the late 1990s, and each one much like the city itself discusses everything from espionage to human rights.

Berlin has come a long way from the days of the oppressive rule and is now a hotbed for young creatives, entrepreneurs, and families. It also happens to be one of the more diverse cities in the European Union, ranking the seventh most populous urban region. With a growing population, a growing number of start-ups, and a continual increase in birth rate, Berlin is abundant. There are 3.5 million residents in Berlin, many under the age of 44.

Germany is often referred to as the green country. Its acres of lush landscapes and bright yellow flowers bursting from the ground like sunshine are an airy welcome from Mother Nature. It is the most apropos introduction to a region unafraid of shedding its troubled past and giving birth to a sea of creativity. But perhaps the most prominent aspects of this great city exist in the people, the art, the culinary scene, and the culture that is continually reinventing itself.

At any time of day, if you step out onto the streets of Berlin you’ll find people gathered at a local pubs or cafés, talking, laughing, drinking Riesling or a lager, or enjoying schnitzel or a pretzel or the simply decadent Berliner (which translates to donut). There is a clear sense of community here. As for culinary exploration, Berlin is home to more than 20 Michelin-starred restaurants including the most recent additions: Ernst, Savu and Finnish, CODA Dessert Dining, and Kin Dee. The cuisine in Berlin is a cultural adventure in and of itself.

Berlin has a rather brutal past, but rather than mask its history, Berliners have chosen to honor the fallen and make reparation for those who came before them. If you look down as you stroll the stone-lined streets that round and curve, you’ll notice gold-like squares. These 10-by-10 brass-plated concrete stone squares called Stolpersteine honor the lives of those who were persecuted under Hitler. No matter where in Berlin you go, you’ll see visual cues making it clear: they will never allow themselves to forget. In the words of local tour guide extraordinaire Henrik Tidefjärd, “Berliners never want to forget our past. It’s the only way to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”

With over 170 art galleries and museums, each embodying visual storytelling from unique perspectives, art runs through Berlin like oxygen through its veins. Throughout Berlin you’ll find post-war revivals like Pleasure Gardens, intended for the dreamers and poets who see the world through a more romantic lens. The garden is located in the center of Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where old buildings with outer façades still have embedded bullet holes from bygone wars. There are five museums on Museum Island, with works from the Byzantium and Ancient Egypt, the famed Nefertiti, and the Pergamon Altar.

No. 1: The Bunker
This underground art gallery holds a private collection curated by owner Christian Boros. The Bunker was a refuge from air raids in the 1940s, but over time became a warehouse for Cuban produce in the late 1950s, and then a fetish club in the 1990s. The Bunker now houses art from 1990 by artists who were friends of Boros. Due to the nature of the confined, old space, the tours are scheduled at specific times and limited to groups of around 10 people.

No. 2: The East Side Gallery
The history of the Berlin Wall built during the time of the Iron Curtain emerging in February 1990 is a prominent site attraction for tourists and locals alike, located in Mühlenstraße in Berlin Friedrichshain. This street art installation represents a peaceful end to a long struggle between East and West Berlin, and is made of remaining pieces of the Wall that were graffitied during times of oppression. Stretching over 1,300 meters, it’s the largest open air art gallery in the world. Each block of the wall has its own story. It’s one of the most intricate expressions of art showing both the hope and chaos of the time. 

No. 3: Graffiti Alley
Street art is a constructive way to express fear, wonderment, angst, and unspoken ideals for young artists overlooked by the mainstream, higher-echelon art world. Located in the Hackescher Market in Berlin off of Rosenthaler Straße, Graffiti Alley is part of Hackeschen Höfe, a series of art nouveau courtyards interconnected with dining, shopping, and entertainment. The walls are covered top-to-bottom with graffiti art by artists such as El Bocho, Miss Van, and Stinkfish, including Jimmy C’s famous painting of Anne Frank. Each artist has a statement to make, whether social or political, heartbroken or riddled with optimism. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the psyches of extraordinarily talented street artists given a space to freely express themselves.

You can meander through galleries housed within the once-residential living space that climbs three to four stories. There is also a monster basement, MonsterKabinett (MONSTERKABINETT.DE), filled with monsters craft-ed out of old machinery. Part of the Hackeschen Höfe is a cinema house Kino Central (KINOCENTRAL.DE) that has weekly showings of primarily international art-house and art centric films. The story behind the Hackeschen Höfe is worth taking the time to learn about (VISITBERLIN.DE/EN/HACKESCHE-HOFE).

No. 4: The LGBT Memorial
Once upon a time in Berlin, the LGBT community had to hide in the shadows. Now Berlin is among the most modern, LGBT-friendly cities in Europe. That is profoundly evident in the LGBT Memorial, built in the city center designed by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset to immortalize the homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis. Its design is intentionally skewed, with one small window giving a glimpse of couples kissing. The looping video reel will show two men or two women in beautiful moments of passion. This video alternates out every two years.

No. 5: Me Collectors Room
This art gallery in Berlin Mitte doesn’t merely showcase art that is globally impactful, but also runs local and international art programs for children in remote parts of the world who would otherwise never have access to art. The exterior is a modern design that appears to be an encased stacking of containers, but its open feel with sprawling glass windows is inviting. From the moment you enter through the me café, the artwork displayed, from its exhibitions to its permanent collection, will captivate you.

The Me Collectors Room features a range of rarely-seen private collections on loan, Renaissance art from the Baroque period, and a youth program with art created by children from kindergarten age to teenagers. The gallery also holds public lectures by collectors, experts, and artists, as well as concerts, culinary events, and more as part of its Olbricht Foundation, which is invested in bringing art into the lives of everyone. ME-BERLIN.COM

Exploring these cultural sites adds layers upon layers of depth to the troubled and stoic history of Berlin. Art has become a voice of the people, a link to the past, a rectifying of bad times, and hope for what is possible. To learn more about the memorials and cultural highlights exposed through art and architectural sculptures in Berlin, visit STIFTUNG-DENKMAL.DE.