Two hours out of Berlin, taking the train from Hauptbanhof, is the city of Dessau, home to the Bauhaus School in the years between the decline of the Weimar republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. A testament to changing times and attitudes, the buildings represent a style of building established many years later. Turn right out of Dessau station and the main school buildings are five minutes’ walk away. Here you can stop for a tour and find out more about the work that inspired architects and designers for years to come, as well as grab a beer and something to eat in the basement restaurant; but there is much more with the masters’ houses a few minutes away and then a stylish restaurant on the banks of the Elbe a further ten minutes walk. All over the city are examples of the work of members of the school, with also the delight of taking one of the city’s trams to see the southern suburbs. The city is a must for the architectural history enthusiast as well as the social historian.
Deassau Station has a regular service direct from Berlin Hauptbanhof.
Google map: bit.ly/Sp9oLu
Even with the wealth of architecture to see in Berlin, it's good to get out of the city and visit a small town in former East Germany that was so influential in development of craft, art and design.
Dessau was the home of the Bauhaus from 1926 to 1932, with such 'masters' as Kandinsky and Klee, and designers like Josef & Anni Albers. There are numerous groundbreaking white concrete-faced buildings around town, but the highlight is Gropius' Bauhaus building, with its stylish balconies and wealth of workshops inside.
From Berlin, trains are only 90 minutes from Hauptbahnhof, costing around £35 return. Once in Dessau, all of the buildings are free to visit, and there are frequent guided tours in English and German.
You will get to see the Masters' Houses decorated just as when they lived in them, and a short tram ride away is an entire estate of 1930s workers housing, some of which you can visit or even stay in!
The Kulturforum in Berlin is something of a curate's egg. It is incomplete in terms of what its original architect, Hans Scharoun, intended. Partly for that reason it is in visual terms a bit like an upmarket light industrial estate with relatively low level modernist buildings apparently scattered around an open area with little clear sense of order. Moreover there are steps, stairways and ramps everywhere making the site a challenge for anyone with a mobility difficulty. However set against these criticisms the idea of bringing together a modern concert hall (Philharmonie, 1963), the Kunstgewerbe or museum of applied art (1968; currently closed for refurbishment until 2014), the Kupferstichkabinett (1988), with prints, drawings and musical instruments, and the Gemaldegalerie (1998), a world class collection of paintings from the end of the Middle Ages to around 1800, is a good one. It accordingly offers the chance for the visitor to concentrate their visit in much the same way as Berlin's Museuminsel does farther to the north-east of the city.
The Gemaldegalerie has a good restraurant, and a museum shop offering popular as well as scholarly books, prints and postcards.
The Komische Oper offers radical productions of opera old and new. There is an established company of singers there who, in contrast to some of the perhaps grander opera houses in other countries, work together as an ensemble. The singers are indeed stars but they don't seek to outshine the operas they perform. Some productions are indeed radical and Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio", which has just ended its run, could not, I feel, have been shown in London - it was both too raunchy for English tastes and probably too hard-hitting. It was however a serious and valid interpretation of a well known opera.
The theatre has a modern facade and a wonderfully ornate interior. If you are in Berlin for a few days at least I recommend you see a production at the Komische Oper. People of all ages go there and while some are clearly all dressed up, a majority dress simply and go for the music - which is as it should be.
The Bode Museum was the last building on Berlin's Museum Island to be restored after wartime damage, although others nearby, including the Pergamon, are currently being extended or modified. The Bode is an extraordinary building, with vast staircases, domes and apses, and now houses a fine collection of sculpture, Byzantine art and coins/medallions. In its unrestored state it was used as a backdrop for scenes in Istvan Szabo's 2002 film, "Taking Sides", about the German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, with Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel.
The Bode offers a quiet environment in contrast to the Pergamon and the many beautiful works of art there can be contemplated without being jostled or otherwise hurried along. There is also a good cafeteria adjoining the museum shop.
Don't want to be the only adult among the teenagers in the graffiti tours? This is a more adult-oriented, art-focused tour of Berlin's most famous street art.
The Monsterkabinett is a permanent and evolving exhibition in the cellar galleries beneath Haus Schwarzenberg in Berlin Mitte. The 20 minute guided tour performance presents 20 years of extraordinary work by the artist group Dead Chickens.
“The Bloch”, a 4m high mechanical monster by Hannes Heiner stands in the main courtyard of Haus Schwarzenberg watching over the entrance to the Monsterkabinett. He rolls his eyes, bats his lashes and flaps his wings, extending an invitation to meet his fellow creatures in the subterranean domain of the Monsterkabinett.
Allow a trusted guide to lead you down the narrow winding stair and into the bizarre and labyrinthine world of the Monsterkabinett where monstrous yet loveable creatures- in turn terrifying, tragic and comical- inhabit a world beyond the imagination. Driven by a compelling rhythm, the fantastic mechanical beings of the monsterkabinett dance and sing. Music and machine merge and thrill to the beat. Highlights of the exhibition include a giant spider which fortunately does not bite, my personal favourite, the hilariously poignant “Trampeltier” and the “Spiegelraum”- a room which has to be seen to be believed. A tour through the Monsterkabinett is an unforgettable experience- grotesque and poetic and berlin underground in every sense of the word.
open Thursday 6-10pm, Friday-Saturday 4-10pm
Rosenthaler Str 39, 10178, Berlin
It's a 1.3km length of the the Berlin Wall with amazing art work recently restored. Pollution and graffiti ruined the first lot so get to see it before this happens again. (I visited on 7th March 2011)
Great little cellar bar in Oranienburger Strasse. Go down the steps and be greeted by the bowler-hatted Ian Dury-esque owner/designer of this DIY retro establishment. Homemade artworks and paraphenalia adorn the brick walls, candles drip wax over their holders, smoke-filled ambience and Rolling Stones grooves. Relax on a big-armed sofa and discuss the Tachelles art collective (just along the road) over a Berliner Weisse green or red. A real taste of creative, underground Berlin.
Oranienburger Str. 40
Google map: bit.ly/gf10hf
Just an hour outside Berlin by car lies a real hidden gem. The Woerlitzer Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is one of the most dazzling examples of landscape gardening in continental Europe. Having been inspired by a trip to England, Prince Leopold III started work on the 122 hectare public garden in 1764. Now it stands – a stunning series of labyrinthine paths, winding rivers and ponds – as an oasis of calm, and a true work of art.
For directions see
Less a museum in the British sense and more an art gallery, with a range or erotic work, from Japanese scrolls to pieces by Georg Grosz and Weimar-era pornographic cartoons that were used as political satire. Far more interesting than the Sex Museum in Amsterdam.
Joachimstaler Straße 4, Charlottenburg; S3, S5, S7, S9/U2, U9 Zoologisher Garten. 10623 (886 0666)
In the old east part of town, this is a large old, somewhat derelict and entertaining art workshop. It has a lively bar, with huge garden and installations.
It is on Oraniensburgerstrasse, opposite the bar Obst und Gemuse (literally fruit and veg!)
A nightclub/alternative art gallery/run-down building. It has a silly number of bars, sofas on the roof, films projected onto the opposite building and old cars to sit and drink in. Popular with laid-back locals & travellers.
Berlin's answer to Tate Modern. This fantastic museum for contemporary art sits in a old railway station (hence the Bahnhof). With works from Lichtenstein to Joseph Beuys it's a must for all modern art lovers.
See the "last built European Boulevard" by taking a walk eastwards from the astonishing Alexanderplatz. Take a look at the Cinema International with its fabulous lobby. By passing the Strausberger Platz you will enter Karl-Marx-Allee with its splendid and opulent façades (built in the early 1950s by socialist workers using war ruins). It was east Berlin's pride and aorta and, now again, there are nice cafes, art galleries and the street's sheer monumentality will take your breath.
Karl-Marx-Allee; nearest U-Bahn: Alexanderplatz or Strausberger Platz (U5)
One of Europe’s greatest – if less well-known - art galleries, the Gemäldegalerie contains stunning works by Cranach, Dürer and Holbein. Usually empty. My favourite picture is The Fountain of Youth, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. It’s the one where a group of crones climb into a large basin and emerge as nymph-like young women. I find it rather erotic. Shut on Mondays.
Stauffenbergstrasse 40; Nearest U-Bahn: Potsdamer Platz
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