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. International collectors, meanwhile, have their radar firmly trained on what’s coming out of local studios. Works by Berlin-based artists Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen & Dragset, Thomas Scheibitz, Isa Genzken, Jonathan Meese and Norbert Bisky enjoy feverish demand worldwide.
With more than 400 galleries spread across town, there’s always some fantastic show going on somewhere. Berlin has no designated gallery quarter, but you’ll find concentrations of them on Auguststrasse in Mitte in northern Mitte; and around Checkpoint Charlie on Zimmerstrasse, Kochstrasse, Charlottenstrasse and, a bit further east, on Lindenstrasse. The galleries below Jannowitzbrücke and at the Halle am Wasser (Hall by the Water) are also well worth a visit. Charlottenburg has established scenes along the Kurfürstendamm in such side streets as Mommsenstrasse and Fasanenstrasse.
In addition, a few private collectors are also sharing their treasures with the public. Examples include Sammlung Hoffmann and Sammlung Haubrok.
Berlin’s art museum landscape is also among the richest in the country. You can admire more Rembrandts than anywhere else at the Gemäldegalerie, and an exceptional collection of German expressionist works at the Neue Nationalgalerie. 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 at the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, the spotlight is on surrealist works.
To find out what’s on where, turn to the listings magazines Tip or Zitty. The book Berlin Art Now by Mark Gisbourne engagingly profiles 19 of Berlin’s major current artists (in English), while Berlin Contemporary by Angela Hohmann and Imke Ehlers portrays 75 of the most important galleries for contemporary art (in German).
A good place to see modern art is on a stretch of the Berlin Wall, along Mühlenstrasse. This part of the wall was spared from being dismantled and became the East Side Gallery, drenched in more than 100 colourful murals that collectively make up the world’s largest open-air gallery. Dozens of international artists 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 Best, 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. But in 2009, the entire thing got a total makeover and is looking better than ever.
For the inside scoop on the gallery scene, you could also join a guided tour such as those offered by Berlin Entdecken and Go Art.