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Personal art escorts reveal unknown side of Berlin's art scene

One escort service in Berlin organizes a different kind of rendez-vous for its clients - with artists. They share their expertise, show art lovers the city's hot spots and open up their private studios. No sex involved.

Works by Wolfgang Smy in a 2003 exhibition at Berlin's New National Gallery

Unlike other escort agencies Art Escorts provides 'creative connections'

Berlin is known for its dynamic, cutting-edge art scene which attracts art lovers from around the world. The city is home to more than 6,000 artists. What started in the hip Berlin district of Mitte has since spread all over the city, and the sheer abundance of the offerings can be overwhelming at times.

To help art lovers wade through this embarrassment of riches, Norbert Kron founded Art Escort. The agency essentially "rents" artists for private tours of the city's galleries, private ateliers, and the renowned bar and club scene.

Many of the clients "have been to the museums, but they really want to meet someone who is working in the art scene now," said Kron, who is a writer himself. "They want to meet an artist and get to know their stories and find out how they live and work here in Berlin."

Toni Wirthmueller escorting his client to a contemporary art exhibition

Wirthmueller said the conversation with clients quickly turns personal

Via the Art Escort Web site, potential clients can contact the agency and make an appointment with one of ten artists available to escort them on the tours. Each artist conducts one to four tours per week, many of them in English.

The service isn't limited to the visual arts - writers and film directors are available for bookings as well.

A personal touch

Kron is often asked whether artists make good guides or whether they live up to the stereotype of being egomaniacs -- a quality that doesn't lend itself especially well to conducting tours. Some of them do, he said, but that's why he has high standards when selecting his guides.

"I think it's very important that they are kind of open and also listen to the people coming along," said Kron.

Painter Toni Wirthmueller, a guide for Art Escort, said he usually begins tours in his studio by telling clients about himself and his work.

Art escort Anne Hahn

A remaining painted section of the Berlin Wall is just one example of art outside the city's museums

"Within a very short time, it gets very personal, which is, I think, much more interesting for them than being in a group on a guided tour through lots of galleries with one person talking about the art," he said.

The tours can't be found in a travel guide or booked through a traditional tour agency - and the exclusivity is precisely what makes them so appealing.

"Very often it's people who wanted to become artists or wanted to study art when they were young," Kron said, "but they work in other professions so this is their chance to get close to art."

A unique experience

This individualized art experience isn't cheap. Prices for a tour range from 50 to 85 euros ($70 to $120) per hour for a two or three-hour tour. But the agency's clients are willing to dig deep into their pockets for the opportunity to meet those who are at the heart of the art scene - like Thomas Taubert, director of Fiedler Taubert Contemporary Gallery.

The visitors sent to him by guide Toni Wirthmueller "are probably more open and interested in getting information than the regular visitor," said Taubert.

Many of Berlin's local guides aren't familiar with the subculture that Art Escort introduces, and that's a selling point that has proven very successful. What initially started out as a three-month project is now in its second year.

Author: Maja Graham (cn)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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