Berlin's flourishing world of art

Since the collapse of the Wall in 1989, Berlin has become a hotshot in the art world, boasting a flourishing gallery scene, its own annual art fair and the Biennale exhibit of cutting-edge works. Creative synergies, a free-spirited climate and cheap rents have turned the German capital into a major magnet for artists from around the globe.

Auguststrasse, birthplace of the post-Wall contemporary gallery scene in Berlin. Image by Wolfgang Staudt / CC BY 2.0 Auguststrasse, birthplace of the post-Wall contemporary gallery scene in Berlin. Image by Wolfgang Staudt / CC BY 2.0

International collectors, meanwhile, have their radar firmly trained on what’s coming out of local studios. Works by Berlin-based artists Olafur Eliasson, Thomas Demand, Via Lewandowsky, Elmgreen & Dragset, Isa Genzken, Jonathan Meese and Esra Ersen enjoy feverish demand worldwide.

Galleries

According to the Galleries Association of Berlin, there are around 440 galleries within the city, but that’s not even counting the scores of non-commercial showrooms and off-spaces that regularly present new exhibitions.

With five main gallery quarters, there’s always some fantastic show going on somewhere. Auguststrasse and Linienstrasse in the Scheunenviertel in Mitte were the birthplaces of Berlin’s post-Wall contemporary gallery scene. Some pioneers have since moved on to bigger digs but key players like Eigen + Art, neugerriemschneider and Kicken remain.

Another gallery quarter has sprung up around Checkpoint Charlie, especially along Zimmerstrasse, Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse, Charlottenstrasse and, a bit further east, on Lindenstrasse. Gritty Potsdamer Strasse is still relatively up-and-coming art strip, while the area around Savignyplatz in Charlottenburg has the Berlin’s most traditional and established galleries.

In addition, a few private collectors are also sharing their treasures with the public. Examples include Sammlung Boros, Sammlung Hoffmann and Me Collectors Room.

GoArt! Berlin (http://www.goart-berlin.de/) runs customised gallery tours and can further help demystify Berlin’s art scene by opening doors to private collections and artist studios.

Museums

Berlin’s art museum landscape is also among the richest in the country. The Gemäldegalerie presents a sweeping survey of Old Masters from Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands, including a prized Rembrandt collection.
The premier space for contemporary art is the Hamburger Bahnhof, while Picasso fans gravitate to the Museum Berggruen and Caspar David Friedrich gets quite a bit of play at the Alte Nationalgalerie.

Art created in 20th-century Berlin is the focus of the Berlinische Galerie, while the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg shines the spotlight on surrealist works. Headline-making travelling art exhibits usually set up shop at the Martin-Gropius-Bau.

Hamburger Bahnhof's historic hall. Image by Olivier Issaly / CC BY-SA 2.0 Hamburger Bahnhof's historic hall. Image by JasonParis / CC BY 2.0

Public & Street Art

Public art and street art are also big in Berlin, which happens to be home to the world’s longest outdoor mural, the East Side Gallery. Along Mühlenstrasse a 1.3km-long stretch of Berlin Wall was saved from the wrecking ball and drenched in more than 100 colourful paintings in 1990.

Some of the iconic artwork on the East Side Gallery. Image by Rae Allen / CC BY 2.0 Some of the iconic artwork on the East Side Gallery. Image by Rae Allen / CC BY 2.0

Dozens of artists from 20 countries translated the era’s global euphoria and optimism into a mix of political statements, drug-induced musings and truly artistic visions. Birgit Kinder’s Test the Rest, showing a Trabant car (Trabi, for short) bursting through the Wall, is a shutterbug favourite. Alas, time, taggers and tourists insisting on signing their favourite picture have taken their toll over the years. Although restored in 2009, the mural collection is again succumbing to vandalism and also threatened by development along the Spree River.

As for street art, it’s pretty much everywhere, but the area around U-Bahn station Schlesisches Tor has some house-wall-sized classics, for instance by BLU and the Brazilian twins OSGEMEOS. Skalitzer Strasse is another fertile hunting ground with Victor Ash’s Astronaut and ROA’s creepy Nature Morte being highlights.

Yellow Man Brazilian twins OSGEMEOS in  Kreuzberg. Image by Andrea Schulte-Peevers / Lonely Planet Yellow Man mural in Kreuzberg by Brazilian twins OSGEMEOS. Image by Andrea Schulte-Peevers / Lonely Planet

Alternative Berlin Tours (alternativeberlin.com) runs a street art tour and workshop, while the ATM Gallery Berlin (http://www.atmberlin.de/en/) also keeps its finger on the pulse of the scene.

This article was first published in June 2012 and was updated by Andrea Schulte-Peevers in January 2015.