Forget the cheesy stuff like Checkpoint Charlie and The Brandenburg Gate. Museums and clubs are where the really cool action is at. Ramona Depares rounds up her list of favourites in the hip German city.
Topography of Terror
For the tourist landmark hounds among you, this museum is within walking distance of Checkpoint Charlie, so you can get tangled with the crowds taking cheesy pictures of yourselves with the smiling guards before or after. Two birds, one stone.
The real attraction in this area, though, is this sprawling museum, which incorporates part of the former Berlin Wall in its grounds (make that three birds). Be warned, this is not an interactive museum and you will find precious little to entertain you here. What you will find, instead, are photos upon photos and words upon words about the entire dark history of Germany. There are three sections, with the information presented in German and English – the SS; the Third Reich; the location itself. Everything is recounted from the point of view of the perpetrators, as opposed to the victims.
The documentation presented is endless and you will be drawn into a nightmarish narrative that is remarkable in its relentlessness. At first sight, the rows upon rows of boards replete with information and photos may appear daunting, but you will find that you can’t help moving on to the next board and the next, and the next, until you reach the final, chilling conclusion.
The building is located on the former Reich Main Security Office, which makes everything you read that much more real. Entrance to this museum is free, and be prepared to require a stiff drink afterwards.
The lighter, more family-friendly version of Topography of Terror, with interactive exhibits aplenty. This museum walks you through the typical lifestyle of a family living in East Berlin during the Cold War, with particular focus on the Berlin Wall and the Stasi.
Rather than showcasing the more gruesome aspects of life behind the Wall, the museum keeps things ‘fun’ by presenting everyday life. Whether it’s furniture, clothes, food, entertainment, cars, or sex, the DDR Museum doesn’t only give you the information, but also allows you to figuratively step back in time.
The mock-up of a typical East Berlin apartment is amazing. Not only because it literally allows you to take on someone else’s life for a few minutes, but also because – disturbingly – it will give those of a certain age a sense of deja vu. Think Malta in the 1980s; we might not have had the Stasi, but we certainly had the uniform apartments, identical tiles, characterless clothes, unbranded food and so forth.
The entire exhibition is very hands-on and most sections also have short quizzes that you can take to test your historical knowledge, or simply how well you’ve been paying attention. Some of them do require a basic knowledge of German customs/geography , which is a bummer, but most can be played by anyone.
Step away from political history for a minute – just because you’re in Berlin it doesn’t mean everything has to be about the Nazi or the Stasi. The Design Panoptikum features history of an entirely different sort, presenting a collection of the weird and the wonderful, of artefacts that skirt the fantastical and make you wonder whether these are for real or whether the gentleman who owns the museum is taking you for a ride (he isn’t).
The official description for the collection is ‘a surreal museum of industrial objects’. But, it has to be said: a substantial part of the attraction of this underground museum is, in fact, the man who runs it. Vlad Koornev is a real character, brimming with stories. He gets you into the spirit as soon as you walk through the door, presenting you with a rather scary-looking, huge object in steel and challenging you to guess its use. It took me quite a while to guess, and only thanks to multiple hints. I won’t give it away here, just in case you do find yourself in that neck of town.
The collection was personally ammassed by Koornev over the years. The man’s knowledge and story-telling capabilites are pretty stellar, so do take him up on his offer to show you around. The anecdote attached to each exhibit is what makes this place special.
If you’re after quirky food, drinking and night spots, Kreuzberg is your spot
As for the exhibits themselves, there’s a bit of everything from medical instruments, to odd tools, machines and all sorts of contraptions. Koornev is a digital artist and you can also buy a variety of prints or postcards of his art.
As is to be expected, the themes explored in his art are all surreal and dark – if you’re into the likes of Beksinski you will be particularly intrigued.
From Monet to Kandinsky
Time to get in some visual arts amid the nightmarish history and the surreal artefacts. From Monet to Kandisky is not your usual exhibition. Picture a huge, darkened room. Beanbags strewn everywhere. Classical music blaring from the speakers. And the art of 16 artists from the modernist era projected and animated on all the four walls surrounding you. The experience is almost spiritual.
If you’re not that up on your modernist lore, worry not – before you actually enter the audiovisual area you can brush up on your modernist knowledge thanks to a series of info-boards that summarise every artist’s main works and trademark techniques. There’s Monet, Degas, Gaugin, Rousseau, Toulouse-Lautrec, Klimt, Signac, Mondrian, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Renoir, Gris, Klee, Munch, Kandinsky and Malevich. Even if some of these names will be unknown to you, you will recognise most of the masterpieces.
On to the main event. The 60-minute show is put on continuous loop, so you can join at any time and for as long as you like. Prepare for your senses to be overwhelmed. Seeing Klimt’s The Kiss, Mondrian’s geometric shapes, Van Gogh’s vivid colours...all taking on a larger than life animation to a beautifully-curated soundtrack remains one of my top Berlin experiences. One of the visitors who happened to walk out with me described it as an LSD trip – the good news is that this particular trip is fully legal.
This exhibition runs until June 30.
Where to stay
If you’re after the main tourist sites, staying in the Mitte area close to Alexanderplatz is not a bad idea. The Mercure Berlin is a very good option, with Alexanderplatz a mere five-minute walk away.
If you’re after quirky food, drinking and night spots, Kreuzberg is your spot and the NH Hotel Kreuzberg is perfectly placed and not too steeply priced.
Eschschloraque Rümschrümp – Not to worry, you will not be required to actually pronounce the name before being allowed in. This wonderfully quirky bar is located at the end of one of those evocative alleyways, replete with street art and an interesting vinyl and art shop. Expect a dark, metal-influenced decor, friendly bartenders and a zero tolerance policy for photos. The playlist veers from 1980s industrial to 1990s nu-metal and anything in between. Check the website for live gigs.
Nuke Club – Strictly for the goth/industrial heads. Three floors pumping bass, with the ground floor kept for traditional offerings like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy and the like; the first floor coming in with a very not-quite-goth commercial offering that can range from Evanescence to Marilyn Manson; the second floor is hardcore industrial that sometimes verges on to dark techno. Think anything from Frontline Assembly and Einstürzende Neubauten to Moloc.
Cocolo Ramen-X – Into ramen? This is your special corner of paradise. Prices are not exorbitant; the ramen is genuine and hearty and you will want to try everything on the menu. The décor is also very pretty, a cross between a modern diner and your typical Asian food joint – and, somehow, it works.
Berghain – If you manage to get in, that is. I confess that I didn’t even bother, but then again I’m not a techno head. If you’re even vaguely into the scene, then you absolutely need to try to get into what is touted as the most amazing and most exclusive techo club in Europe. People in the know will tell you to dress in black and to scowl a lot. Although, apparently, knowing your Hardwell from your Dettmann also helps. If you didn’t get that last bit, you may safely assume that Berghain is not for you.
If it turns out that Berghain is for you but you don’t make the cut, shove off to Tresor. Tresor used to hold the unofficial title of Techno Capital of Europe before Berghain threw a hissy fit and bumped it off. But still, if reports are anything to go by, your party cravings will be satisfied.
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