“Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals
zu sein” – Karl Scheffler
There is no doubt that Berlin’s art scene is one of the most thriving in the world. Thousands of tourists flock to the city each year to see the sights that have earned Berlin the title of Unesco City of Design. You might read guides about the top places to see the best art in the city, but the reality is that it is unavoidable and ubiquitous. Architecture morphs from neoclassical buildings to Soviet blocks that stand testament to Berlin’s past, and street art covers vast swathes of these buildings whilst over 500 galleries house internationally renowned works. The city is a living, breathing canvas.
Walking around, the contrast between classical and modern art is visible on every street. The Contemporary Fine Arts gallery stands proudly across from the striking collection of classical galleries on Museum Island, whilst the medieval architecture of the city’s historical heart, Nikolaiviertel lies a stone’s throw away from the graffitied alleyway of Haus Schwarzenburg near Hakescher Markt. Old and new come together in Berlin in the most inspiring and joyous way, both continuing to inform and influence the other.
The political and social changes that have come to define Berlin’s modern history, from artistic persecution under the Third Reich to the physically and socially divisive Iron Curtain that cast its shadow over the city in the physical form of the Wall, to the reunification of the city in 1989, are all reflected on the surfaces of the modern cityscape. The city’s art world tells stories not only of Berlin’s fascinating and turbulent history, but also of its social construction and of the people who have made Berlin the dynamic hub of culture and energy that it is today. That’s exactly what makes the art here so special; the intrinsic, dialogical and tangible link it has with the people of the city.
Art is everywhere in the city, and whilst the exquisite paintings, photography exhibitions and design consortiums give a platform for international and emerging artists in the most diverse and beautiful collections, Berlin’s art scene is by no means confined by interior spaces. Urban art has flourished in Berlin over the past 50 years and continues to evolve with the changing cityscape each day. The street art here is incredibly special, at once provocative and inclusive. The images that confront each passerby from walls and doorways around the city tell stories, pose questions and start conversations. Artists such as Mein Lieber Prost, SOBR, Blu and XOOOOX have immortalized the energy of contemporary youth culture and created powerful statements through their works. Buildings such as the former US intelligence base at Teufelberg have been re-appropriated as cultural symbols and reclaimed for the new generation. Once you begin to notice artists’ patterns and tags that are threaded together across the city, the art takes on an even greater significance and the viewer feels party to some greater secret, a message shared between artist and audience.
With the sheer amount of street art visible around the city, you wouldn’t guess that the act of graffiti is still very much illegal here in Berlin. It seems that the allure this urban art scene holds for locals and tourists alike allows for a certain level of lenience and acceptance, with many street artists even commissioned to turn building facades into works of art. However, the threat of gentrification and corporate expansion means that we are seeing shifts in the city’s artistic landscape once more, and the very art that protests against cultural homogenisation is ironically being fed into a marketing campaign that uses it to fuel monetary gains. The theme of freedom that has become so synonymous with art in Berlin is evolving once more as the lines between art and tourist attraction become increasingly blurred.
Berlin’s art scene is much more than pretty pictures and pretence. It is raw and alive, telling the story of a city that has been pulled apart and reunited, knocked down and rebuilt. The same diverse melange of classical and modern, abstract and representational, interior and exterior, evoked on every street of the city in galleries and across walls, is a rare find. It is as immersive as it is personal and will inspire and question you as you explore the city. Art symbolises Berlin’s past, present and future. It is waiting to embrace you and ready to challenge you.
Published by Anna Mackenzie