During the legendary twenties, Berlin was the place that artists and creative minds, pleasure seekers and lovers of culture as well as art and theatre fans from around the world all yearned for. A mythology that still retains its magical appeal.
Berlin – Cultural Metropolis
Between Tradition and Trend
City of Music and Theatre
During the legendary twenties, Berlin was the place that artists and creative minds, pleasure seekers and lovers of culture as well as art and theatre fans from around the world all yearned for. Berlin’s tourist board was then already promoting itself as the “City of Music and Theatre” in their publications and posters. The extraordinary breadth and variety of the cultural life shaped the burgeoning metropolis and created an extraordinary mythology; a mythology that still retains its magical appeal.
The range of cultural events on offer is staggering and extends from operas and art exhibitions to theatre productions, concerts and festivals. There are 180 museums and collections, 440 galleries, 3 opera houses and 8 large symphony orchestras, 94 cinemas, about 140 theatres and stages as well as numerous other institutions with more than 1,500 events on offer every day. For all seasons, at all hours and for every taste, Berlin has something to offer - 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Enormous Variety of Productions
As a classical music metropolis, Berlin ranks first. Renowned musicians and singers from all over the world perform regularly in Berlin or have moved to the city on the River Spree. Berlin has no less than three opera houses. Numerous productions from a variety of periods belong to the repertoires of the Deutsche Oper, Komische Oper, and the Staatsoper, the latter under the artistic direction of none other than Daniel Barenboim. The Staatsoper will probably remain housed in the Schillertheater in Charlottenburg until the summer of 2017, while its main venue at Unter den Linden is currently being extensively restored. The reopening ceremony has been planned for 3 October 2017.
Eight symphony orchestras complement the variety on offer in Berlin. The Berlin Konzerthaus Orchestra is housed in the Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt in what was previously East Berlin and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was established in 1963 near the Potsdamer Platz in former West Berlin. The latter has 2,250 seats and provides an exceptional auditory experience due to Hans Scharoun’s architectural design. The Berlin Philharmonic – one of the world’s finest orchestras – is at home here. Illustrious names such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado have been responsible for its development. In 2019, Kirill Petrenko will succeed his colleague Sir Simon Rattle as its principal conductor.
The entertainment on offer in around 150 theatres and stages is extremely broad. The repertoires of public and private theatres extend from productions of ancient tragedies to the most recent contemporary works. The renown of the large theatre companies and their actors extends far beyond the limits of the city. The Deutsche Theater, the Schaubühne and the Berliner Ensemble are still in the process of making theatre history. The latter is primarily associated with the name of Bertolt Brecht, who established his ensemble in 1949. The Volksbühne usually provides theatre that is more confrontational, more progressive. The Maxim Gorki theatre primarily presents the contemporary concerns of the city and current political issues on the stage. The novelty here is that all performances are shown with English surtitles. In respect of the other theatres, a look at their scheduled programme can be rewarding – as they also provide English surtitles from time to time. The annual highlight for theatre fans is the Berlin Theatertreffen. Since 1964, thousands of theatre professionals, journalists and guests from the around the world meet in Berlin, every year in May. During the festival, the ten most noteworthy theatre productions from all the German-speaking countries are staged.
Classical and contemporary dance are equally well represented in Berlin. The “Tanz im August” festival caters for contemporary dance fans. Well-known names and companies from the international scene put their skills on display here every year. The venues include the Sophiensaele, the Hebbel am Ufer, the Akademie der Künste and Radialsystem V. Visitors can experience top-class contemporary dance at these venues even when the festival is not on. Radialsystem V, a historic pumping station on the River Spree, is the home of, as well as an important venue for, the choreographer and director Sasha Waltz. Her ensemble Sasha Waltz & Guests has long been successful on the great opera stages and enhances the dance programmes, in addition to the dancers of the Staatsballett Berlin.
London has its West End, New York has Broadway, and Berlin its East End. In the area between Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, Unter den Linden and Hackescher Markt, four traditional venues have come together to form a new theatre district. The Quatsch Comedy Club, the Distel Cabaret Theatre, Friedrichstadtpalast and the Chamäleon Theatre offer the very best entertainment in Berlin’s Mitte district. In this area of the capital that has the highest number of theatres, visitors can experience captivating cabaret and comedy evenings, dance, revue, variety shows and sensational stage productions every night of the week. An integral part of one of the most lavish productions in the Friedrichstadtpalast is the longest chorus line in the world, in which 32 dancers swing their lovely long legs in the air. In contrast, the New Circus is at home in the Chamäleon Theatre. Here, guest companies from Germany, Australia and the Czech Republic combine acrobatics, bare skin and performance art.
Outside its East End, Berlin offers even more entertainment in all of its facets. The shows in the Wintergarten draw on the magnificent variety shows that were once held in this venue at the end of the 19th century. In the Bar Jeder Vernunft and in the Tipi am Kanzleramt, chanson and jazz concerts are held, as well as regular performances by stars of the cabaret and comedy scene in an incomparably intimate atmosphere.
Great musical productions are on show at the Theater des Westens as well as the Theater am Potsdamer Platz. At the latter, the successful musical “Hinterm Horizont” by Udo Lindenberg runs until August this year. More than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this piece with all the great Lindenberg songs tells a touching “East-West-Side-Story”. One of the most successful productions in Berlin is the Blue Man Group. Since their Berlin premiere in 2004, the group has delighted more than 2 million viewers at this Berlin venue which is unique in Europe. The dynamic and humorous show resides at the Bluemax Theater on the Marlene-Dietrich-Platz. It functions almost without words and is accordingly a real treat for foreign visitors.
No other city in Germany offers such a wide range of films. Almost 100 small and large cinemas with about 300 screens ensure that every taste is catered for. Original versions or versions with subtitles can be viewed at the CineStar in the Sony Center, the Arsenal at Potsdamer Platz, the Rollberg Neukölln, Kino International and in the Hackesche Höfe Kino as well as at the Odeon in Schöneberg, amongst others. The Zoo Palast, which reopened in 2013, and the Astor Filmlounge, with shrimps and champagne on the Kurfürstendamm, offer an exclusive ambience. During Berlin’s season for open-air cinemas, about 20 additional cinemas open from May to September. The high season for filmgoers in Berlin is during the Berlinale in February, but even smaller festivals such as “achtung berlin” and “interfilm” are highly rated by film fans. The UFA Film Nights, in summer, annually show silent film classics with live musical accompaniment in the open air on the Museum Island. No other city offers as many film festivals as Berlin, with nearly every genre having its own festival.
City of Art and Museums
Important works of art from all periods, as well as promising new artistic perspectives, can be viewed every day in Berlin in more than 180 museums and around 440 galleries. The Berlin Museum Island is the largest ensemble of museums in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Alte Museum, the Neue Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamon Museum were built between 1830 and 1930, and their collections preserve more than 6,000 years of art history and cultural history. Nearly four million visitors come here annually to see highlights such as the bust of Nefertiti, the numismatic collection or paintings and sculptures from the Renaissance and Romanticism – including the most famous works of Caspar David Friedrich. In the midst of the various buildings, the James-Simon-Galerie is being built in accordance with plans designed by architect David Chipperfield. The building will serve as the entrance building for all visitors from 2018. The most-visited building on the Museum Island is the Pergamon Museum that exhibits world cultural treasures, such as the Pergamon Altar. However, this will probably remain inaccessible to visitors until 2019 due to extensive renovation work. The same applies to the north wing and the Hellenistic art hall. The south wing of the museum with the Ishtar Gate, the Processional Way, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Museum of Islamic Art are still open.
The Museum Island is not the only museum environment in Berlin undergoing profound changes. Currently, the Berlin City Palace is being rebuilt between the Berlin Cathedral and the Rotes Rathaus. In 2019, the so-called Humboldt Forum will be opened – in which non-European art will also be exhibited in a modern museum behind a baroque facade. Furthermore, at the Kulturforum near the Potsdamer Platz, the Neue Nationalgalerie – the home of modern art in Berlin – is currently being renovated. The glass building, designed by the renowned architect Mies van der Rohe, was built in 1968 and will probably remain closed until the renovations are completed in 2020. The adjacent museums, such as the Kunstgewerbemuseum, the Musical Instrument Museum and the Gemäldegalerie as well as the Kupferstichkabinett, will continue showing world-class paintings from Dürer to Caravaggio as well as fashion and design exhibitions in the Kulturforum. The state-of-the-art architectural facility is to be further enhanced by the addition of a museum of modern art, which will then also be able to house large private collections of 20th century art from Dix to Mattheuer and up to Beuys. The opening of this museum is planned for 2021.
The Museum of Design and the associated Bauhaus Archive, which house the world’s largest collection in the history of the school of design and architecture, will also be extended. To mark the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus movement in 2019, the building is to be appropriately renovated in accordance with the original plans and extended by the addition of a new museum building. Excellent exhibitions of contemporary art can also be seen at the Hamburger Bahnhof, in which railway tracks refer to the history of the building, as well as the Martin-Gropius-Bau and the Berlinische Galerie. Photographic works are exclusively shown in the C/O Berlin exhibition space and the Museum für Fotografie with an emphasis on the work of fashion photographer Helmut Newton. Both venues are located next to the Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten.
Berlin has had an eventful history which can be seen at museums like the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Mauermuseum at Checkpoint Charlie. The Jewish Museum takes a look at 2000 years of German-Jewish history – with all its highs and lows. Various relevant art exhibitions are shown in the building designed by star architect Daniel Libeskind.
The medium of film, when it was still young, established a long tradition in Berlin with illustrious names from the UFA era, such as Marlene Dietrich, Ernst Lubitsch and Fritz Lang. Early films, like “Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis” by Walther Ruttmann from 1927 or “People on Sunday” from 1930, already recorded the pulsating life of Berlin in an impressive manner. The Filmmuseum Berlin at Potsdamer Platz takes visitors on a journey through the entire history of German film and includes a permanent exhibition of items from Marlene Dietrich’s estate.
The Deutsches Currywurst Museum proves that, despite the almost 180 museums the city has on offer, there are still niches to be filled. Anyone who has ever wondered what the ingredients of the famous Berlin cult snack are will discover historical, cultural and edible visual material in the exhibition near Checkpoint Charlie. And there is even far more to discover: Germany's first football museum in Berlin-Lichtenberg, the Dalí Museum at Potsdamer Platz, the Computerspielemuseum and Europe's first museum of Urban Art all bear witness to the diversity of Berlin’s museums. And this just keeps increasing: so that the German Spy Museum was recently opened. Probably the world’s sweetest exhibition can now be seen in the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin at Gleisdreieck. At the end of 2015, the Sugar Museum moved there. And the Deutsches Technikmuseum keeps growing; in the long term, the collection and the location are to become the modern Technoversum. Warehouses of the former Anhalter freight yard have already been converted into museum areas for this purpose. The first new exhibition “The Network – People, Cables, Data Streams” has already been opened.
More than 6,000 national and international artists and designers create new works here today for the collections of tomorrow. The degree to which Berlin’s creativity is recognised internationally is reflected by the UNESCO award “City of Design”. This acknowledges the achievements of the designers, fashion designers, photographers, architects and visual artists that have created their own network with the label “Create Berlin!” A young creative scene in dialogue with a cultural tradition that is unique in Europe. In 2016, the city will celebrate its tenth anniversary as “City of Design” with numerous events.
The best overview of contemporary art is provided by the Gallery Weekend in spring, the Berlin Biennale that takes place every two years as well as the Art Week in September, which takes place parallel to the abc art fair. A further highlight of the Berlin art calendar is the “Long Night of Museums” in August in which a varying number of the many Berlin museums, collections, archives, memorial sites and exhibition halls participate in keeping their doors open until long after midnight. The spoilt city residents are nevertheless as enthusiastic as their guests from near and far in rushing into the hustle of seeing as many museums as possible.
Memorials: Places of History
Berlin’s eventful history from the Nazi regime to the Berlin Wall has impressed itself upon the soul of the city and, simultaneously, forms part of its appeal. Numerous memorials in the city remind one of these moving events. With more than one million visitors per year, the “Topography of Terror” documentation centre is one of the most frequently visited places of remembrance and museums in the city. From 1933 to 1945, the most important centres of national-socialist terror were located on this site: the headquarters of the Secret State Police with own “in-house prison”, the SS High Command and the Security Service of the SS and, during the Second World War, the Reich Security Main Office.
The memorial on the Bernauer Strasse is a place of remembrance of the Berlin Wall (1961-1989) and its victims. Between the districts of Wedding and Mitte, an example of a section of the Berlin Wall has been rebuilt on the former border strip. The memorial also includes the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre and the Chapel of Reconciliation. The site which is 1.4 km long is visited annually by nearly a million people. The German Resistance Memorial Centre, the former Stasi prison at Hohenschönhausen or the Tränenpalast, at the former border crossing between East and West Berlin, show the story of a city that was once divided.
Comprehensive Service for Cultural Sightseeing
The Berlin WelcomeCard from visitBerlin offers discounts at 200 cultural institutions and other tourist facilities. The free use of public transport is included in the ticket. Further information is available at berlin-welcomecard.com. The museum pass grants free admission to 50 Berlin museums on three consecutive days. The Berlin WelcomeCard, the museum pass and admission tickets for cultural institutions and events are available from the Service Center as well as at the six Tourist Info points of visitBerlin.
For more information go to visitBerlin.com.