From soviet structures to former butcher shops, an architectural tour group specializes in spotlighting some of Berlin’s gallery gems beyond the beaten path.
As gentrification seeps into the capital's cracks, topics inevitably turn to the changing face of Berlin. And while boutique shops are opening like pop-up books, and pristine galleries are settling into former grocery stores, Berlin is still home to a vast amount of spaces that recall the good old days - spaces that produce and promote art for the community, without necessarily serving a commercial agenda.
During Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC), under the umbrella of Berlin Art Week, Niche Art & Architecture Tours were offering their specialty: tours of Berlin's hard-to-find, innovative architectural gems and experimental, emerging art spaces. Niche believes that the capital's creative energy can best be explored in its namesake - niches - however unconventional.
For ABC, Niche chose 10 out of 60 applicant galleries for insider tours. So on a chilly, overcast Friday evening, around a dozen curious art-seekers boarded a sleek tour bus with two of Niche's experts, Anja Henckel and Christina Landbrecht. Tonight the mission was clear: to explore four uncommon perspectives of Berlin in under three hours.
Galerie im Körnerpark
It survived WWII, was neglected for decades, but enjoyed a revival in the 1980s. Körnerpark in north Neukölln is now a grandiose sprawl of groomed gardens and opulent fountains. But its hidden delight is the ivy-covered Galerie im Körnerpark. Located in the old orangery, the gallery opened in 1983 after a large-scale restoration of the entire historic park.
With its lengthy showroom, high-arching windows and picturesque view of the park, the gallery provides a platform for many renowned national and international artists. Through a publicly funded scholarship program called Goldrausch, its aim is to bring international women artists into the professional realm.
For Berlin Art Week, Galerie im Körnerpark launched a group exhibition called Körnelia, which brought together 15 international emerging female artists across all art disciplines to deal with of themes of mediality, everyday realities and social spaces. Among them, Lysann Buschbeck exhibited her long-term photo series documenting a group of Dresdeners over 13 years; painter Henrieke Ribbe produced portraits of all contributing artists and curators in the show; while Spanish filmmaker Cristina Moreno Garcia screened an experimental documentary about a disintegrating factory in her hometown.
Offering rented space to schools for art and extracurricular educational activities, while sharing international art with the community, Galerie im Körnerpark has helped Neukölln solidify its reputation as a cultural center, exceeding far beyond its former notoriety.
After the Butcher
Over in the east district of Lichtenberg, the second stop was After the Butcher, a small space in a residential part of East Berlin. Between 1870 and 1875 the house at Spittastrasse 25 was one of the first buildings in Europe made from slag-concrete, an early experiment in ecological building. Nowadays, only six of these houses are still standing and are listed buildings due to their extraordinary type of construction.
A former butcher shop and smoke house in the 1960s, the building was abandoned after the wall fell and re-opened in 2006 as an exhibition space for contemporary art and social issues. Borrowing its title from David Cronenberg's 1983 film Videodrome, the exhibition Das neue Fleisch (The New Flesh) brought a series of works that drew parallels between two massive industrial complexes: meat and media.
Curators Franziska Böhmer and Thomas Kilpper (who live above the former butcher shop) collaborated with The Düsseldorf Melton Prior Institute to exhibit works such as, Chinese native Xiaopeng Zhou's reportage drawing of Turkish and Kurdish slaughterhouses in the festive weeks following Ramadan; the picto-narrative “Kentucky Fried Funeral” from cartoonist Michael Dougan; and Felix Reidenbach's hypothetical “Meat Card," distributed by an imaginary federal government in response to climate change and meat shortage.
As the sky darkened, our tour bus careened through sheets of heavy downpour as we pushed farther east into Marzahn Hellersdorf, a district notorious for its Soviet plattenbauten architecture and dark past during Hitler's regime. Marzahn is where natives to Berlin's center fear to tread. Even our guide Anja admitted that it took her 11 years of living in Berlin before she made it out there.
Nested between Soviet-era buildings, Galerie M initially caused friction in its Berlin Marzahn neighborhood
Situated on an unassuming promenade of generic shops and entrenched by looming Soviet high rises, Galerie M is peculiar meeting point for Marzahn's local art scene. As a ‘kommunale galerie' (or municipal gallery), Galerie M is publicly funded by the municipal government and provides a platform for workshops and discourse. Naturally, it adheres to a different brand of exhibition culture than commercial spaces in Mitte.
Established in 1988 by the German Democratic Republic, Galerie M was taken over three years ago by Karen Scheel, who says her team has finally managed to achieve acceptance in the community. As Scheel explained, art is a subject that causes much friction in Marzahn, but Galerie M welcomes that debate in an open forum.
The exhibition Exotika 2013 - On The Terms Of The Beautiful, Strange and Wild, curated by Alfred Banze and Christine Falk, uses the district of Marzahn Hellersdorf as point of destination for migrants from across the world, where participating artists reflected their identities as transient travelers between East and West. Jean-Ulrick Desert produced a series of photos exploring tribalism and fan cults of the World Cup; Moritz R. deconstructed visual metaphors in the virtual territory of Second Life; while Sakarin Krue-On humorously addressed issues of globalization and differentiation through video art.
Artists in Love
The last stop on our tour was straight from the heart. Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz in Weissensee in northeast Berlin gave us the massive group show, Verliebte Künstler (& lachende Dritte) - or Artists in Love (& Last Laugh). Curated by Thaddeus Hüppi and Thomas Nolden, the show exemplified the power of love, those moments of endorphin-induced hysteria when the heart is on drugs and the psyche is destroyed. The show was dedicated to this phenomenon and dared to ask if artists love differently.
As a co-operation with the Süddeutsche Kunstverein, various universities and independent artists, the works responded to the idea of artists in love with their own development. Can they possibly make time and space to love outside their own processes? The result is a mish-mash of pieces about love, sorrow and glee. When you're in love, failed expectations can drop you fast - much like the expectations of the art world.
Professor Thaddeus Hüppi launched the Kunsthalle in 2011 as an extension of the nearby Weissensee Academy of Art, where he teaches. The idea was to create a ‘plot point praxis' where students can move from the academy to a professional space amongst mentors and masters, before ascending to the big bad world of the art market.
Once a shopping mall during the GDR, the space has only been a gallery for two years. But already Hüppi faces losing it to gentrification, due to its next-to-nothing costs.
Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz was the perfect stop to conclude the tour, as it encompassed the inventive and unconventional in a nod to Berlin's heyday when art was cheap and accessible. While niche spaces like these are not easily spotted on the surface of Berlin's major arteries, luckily there are those who know their way inside.