Berlin [pt. 2, a.k.a. “the fun part”]

August 25, 2010

As you may have gathered from yesterday’s post I’m not exactly a fan of Berlin’s architectural appearance. Then again, a city is so much more than just an accumulation of monuments and buildings. So, in order to restore the balance, today I’ll focus entirely on things I loved about Berlin…

Some of those things were pretty random and mundane, e.g. a hot air balloon, apparently sponsored by German newspaper Die Welt (“The World”), traversing the sky above Berlin all afternoon. As I strolled through the city the balloon would come into view every now and then, each time popping up unexpectedly over yet another roof, each time adding a slightly surreal touch to the city’s metropolitan character.

Another hilarious distraction offered by the advertising industry was a series of billboards promoting a certain Lakeside Burghotel (“Lakeside Castle Hotel”). There were a handful of different subjects, each of them showing potential hotel guests in 21st century garb but drawn in the style of the Codex Manesse, a famous early 14th century manuscript, now in the University Library at Heidelberg. While I have no idea what the Lakeside hotel is like, I’m certainly grateful to their publicity department for providing the most entertaining spoof of medieval book illustration since the animated sequences in Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

Taget ritterlich - Hold yer conferences in a knightly manner


What I liked even more was, of course, the real medieval art that is on display in Berlin. Yesterday I already mentioned the 15th century murals in the Marienkirche. They alone would have made my day because, by my personal rule of thumb, any town hosting medieval wall paintings is a good town.

Interior, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin


But, as regards medieval painting in Berlin, there is still much much more to see in the Gemäldegalerie. So much in fact that I spent an entire afternoon there, beholding masterpiece after masterpiece by artists ranging from Giotto and Simone Martini to Jan van Eyck and Konrad Witz, to name only a few. It is certainly not exaggerated to state that the Gemäldegalerie contains one of the world’s finest collections of European paintings from the 14th and 15th century. Not to forget its collections of Renaissance and Baroque art… I especially enjoyed the section on 17th century Dutch painting, even though I’m usually not that bothered by that particular era. But that reminds me of yet another rule of thumb: Any museum that gets you interested in an area you weren’t interested in before, is a good museum. [I’m aware that rule sounds like a platitude. But you’d be surprised at how many museum managers seem to never have heard of it…]

Exterior, arthouse Tacheles, Berlin


Unfortunately my stay in Berlin was too short to visit any of the city’s other museums. I did, however, pass a great many small, interesting looking galleries of contemporary art. Some of them were offering more traditional stuff like paintings and sculptures, others were into the weirder stuff generally summarized as “Objektkunst” (“constructive art”). The latter were concentrated mostly around the Oranienburger Strasse, a part of town that is still dominated by the remains of Berlin’s (in-)famous autonomous scene and hosts, among others, the arthouse Tacheles, situated in the ruin of a fin-de-siècle shopping mall which was taken over by a group of left-wing squatters in 1990 and quickly turned into the centre of the city’s counterculture. That part of town, more precisely the Auguststrasse, also hosts handmade BERLIN, one of the city’s finest yarn stores, and yes, that’s the reason why I went there in the first place…

Souvenirs from Berlin

When I told [m], a while ago, I’d be going to Berlin for a conference the first thing she said was “Oh, you just have to go to handmade BERLIN and bring me back some Habu!” Which I did. I also got some Blue Sky Alpacas for myself, I just couldn’t resist that new red colourway they had on offer (I think it’s called Chili Pepper). What’s really funny, though, is that the shop’s owner is from Vienna herself… Unfortunately, however, she has no intention of coming back and opening a yarn store here [sigh]. You know, Vienna could definitely do with a shop like hers!

Noro @ handmade BERLIN

Best of all, I had the chance to meet some friends (and their adorable kids) who live in Berlin, and, to add one final sagacious rule of thumb, a city where friends live is… Well, I suppose you all know that one yourself.

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