by Zoë Noble
1. The Victory Column (Siegessäule), Tiergarten
2. The View from the TV Tower (Fernsehturm)
3. The Top of Teufelsberg (Abandoned Spy Station)
4. Behind the Berlin Wall (East Side Gallery)
5. Winter at the Brandenburg Gate (Unter den Linden)
6. Inside the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
7. The Soviet War Memorial, Treptower Park
8. Ghost U-Bahn Station (Dresdener Strasse)
9. Park Sanssouci, Potsdam
10. Oberbaumbrücke by Night
Disclaimer: this was a sponsored post from HRS.
Anyone remember Lefty the Salesman, who used to try and sell poor old Ernie letters of the alphabet on Sesame Street? (“Psst! Would you like to buy an O?”) Stepping in to Berlin’s Buchstabenmuseum (Museum of Letters), where you are immediately surrounded by hundreds of letters ranging from a few centimetres short to close to three metres high, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into Lefty’s depot. Except these letters aren’t for sale.
Founded as a charitable organisation in 2005 by Barbara Dechant and Anja Schulze, whose love for typography dates back to their childhoods, what started out as a private collection was opened to the public in 2008. Since then it has become a favourite with letterform lovers from around the world, who truly must feel like a kid in a candy shop. The museum has around 200 exhibits in its collection, though if you counted the individual letters of the words and signs, there would be many more.
Half of the museum is set in semi-darkness, to let the collection of neon lit letters reach their full potential, but visitors receive a small torch at the entrance to help them read the exhibit labels. Other letters are grouped by colour, so there are, for example, yellow and green, blue and white, and red rooms. Many of the letters are intentionally displayed out of context, to keep the focus on the typographical form rather than the original words or names. So far, all the collected letters are from the Roman alphabet and the majority come from Berlin and the surrounding areas, though there are also acquisitions from further afield in Germany as well as elsewhere in Europe, e.g. Vienna and Paris. The curators hope to add letters from further locations and indeed other alphabets to the collection in the future.
Although the exhibition space in Mitte bills itself as a showroom, the museum aims to not only collect and exhibit letters, characters and words from around the world, but also to document, research, preserve and restore them. Each exhibit comes with a note of its production (if known) and acquisition dates, font type, original location, size and material. Many of the fonts are custom made, which is not surprising considering the majority come from traditional family businesses, which developed their own trademark signage. Other sources include building, cinema, exhibition and factory signage as well as letters used on film sets or for events.
One particularly special exhibit is the “Zierfische” (ornamental fish) signage, which adorned an aquarium store in Berlin Friedrichshain in the 1980s and 90s. The lettering was designed by graphic artist Manfred Gensicke from his own handwriting, and the museum has not only the salvaged sign alongside neon fish in its collection – acquired after thwarting an attempt to steal them from the former store – but also Gensicke’s original sketches. “Zierfische” has since even been developed in to an actual font.
The founders’ goal is to set up a museum with a permanent exhibition covering the history and evolution of letters and writing, alongside a programme of temporary exhibitions on challenging and experimental topics. The need to find the perfect space has become more urgent than anticipated: last month the museum announced they would have to vacate their current premises at the end of March, as the old GDR shopping mall they’re located in is being renovated. It would be devastating to see the end of this little gem of a museum, but the search is on for a new home so hopefully it will be “Auf Wiedersehen” and not “Good Bye”. If anyone knows of a good location in Berlin (minimum requirement is at least 300 m2 with high ceilings, with daylight and central heating optional), you can get in touch with the museum at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit them in their current location in the Berlin Carré on Karl Leibknecht Straße until 30th March. They are open Thursdays – Saturdays from 1pm-3pm and admission is a mere €2.50.
I most certainly wish the Buchstabenmuseum well in their endeavours, both to find the perfect space and secure their future, as well as in adding the one missing letter to their collection from A to Z – the elusive letter J!
It’s 4am and I’m wide awake, struggling to process the GetYourGuide Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Walking Tour. I’m”suffering” from two things: a nasty cold I picked up wandering around in sub-zero conditions, and a hazy black cloud of half-formed negative emotions that hangs somewhere in the back of my mind. Both leave me feeling pathetic and weak-willed.
I got sick after less than four hours in -10°C, wrapped in three layers of weather-resistant clothing. Some of the 30,000 prisoners who passed through Sachsenhausen work camp endured more bitter cold (as low as -20°C) wearing only one layer of thin cotton, and no shoes. Once they stood outside for a roll call of their identification numbers that lasted 26 hours. Listening to this, I wolfed down a sandwich, feeling particularly worthless. Impossibly brave people had survived unimaginably worse conditions, sustained by only one slice of bread per day.
As I tried to make sense of our guide’s detail-soaked narrative, I felt a pale shadow of what Germans must, when they think about this part of their history. Hearing about the sheer number of prisoners, and the methods employed to dehumanise, punish and – later in World War Two – kill them, left me numb. Finding it impossible to put myself in their position, I tried to empathise with the citizens of the small town of Oranienburg, some of whom still lived on the borders of Sachsenhausen. I don’t blame them for doing their best to ignore the rumours of what happened inside, insinuated by the chimney stack smoking with the ashes of the Third Reich’s victims. If I can’t process this, generations later, no wonder they couldn’t at the time.
Apologies if you were expecting specifics about the GetYourGuide Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp tour. No amount of words, images or facts and figures – although there are many to be found in the careful reconstruction of the camp – can truly represent the horrors that took place there. Go for the price of an ABC BVG ticket (entrance to the site is free), or book a guided tour, and support the invaluable work of the cash-strapped Memorial. But don’t expect to be able to comprehend what happened there.
For more photos and another writer’s impressions of the camp, read this guest post about Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
I can’t believe we’ve never talked about currywurst before! This snack of chopped up sausage covered in curry ketchup is a real taste of Berlin – and, for the record, one we really like. It may not taste much of curry, but then neither do the actual curries here; as a matter of fact, the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten in Berlin is a currywurst from a stand at Wittenbergplatz. Damn, it was scharf! Anyway, we jumped at the chance to visit the Deutsches Currywurst Museum – and we were impressed by how much they’d made out of the humble street food.
The museum’s interactive exhibits tell of the snack’s origins, its spread across Berlin – and the whole world – before explaining what goes into a typical currywurst and letting you pretend to make your own. We found out that there are over 2,000 vendors in the German capital alone, and that their many variations on the dish include a “taxi plate”, complete with chips, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, gyros and tzatziki (but unfortunately, no info on where to buy it!).
We had a go on the virtual vendor machine and played in the faked-up currywurst van, before learning how the snack was invented. In 1949, a woman called Herta Heuwer, who owned a counter in the British sector of Berlin, started experimenting with the exotic ingredients brought over from the UK. She incorporated curry powder into the recipe that she took to her grave (having burned all written records of it after her husband’s death), and the currywurst was born. Uwe Timm, author of Die Entdeckung der Currywurst, claims the dish was invented in Hamburg, but that’s another story – and one that’s also been made into a feature film and a graphic novel (on display here).
After picking up some more factoids (did you know that “curry” is a bastardisation of the Tamil word “Kari”, meaning “sauce”?), fighting with some giant play pommes, and watching an illuminating short film an American expat shot at Berlin’s currywurst stands, we sat down to our inclusive lunch. From the selection of three common variations, we struggled to pick a favourite between the bratwurst with herbs and the Berliner currywurst with skin (mit darm). Next time, mine’s a taxi plate!
We were surprised to learn that there’s a dearth of good, exotic tea here in Berlin. We’ve always been impressed by the array on offer, varied in colour, origin and purported healing properties; it seemed to us that you can get everything except the bog-standard black stuff that we Brits think of as tea. But that’s before we were given an education by Jens de Gruyter of Charlottenburg boutique Paper & Tea. Inspired by his Asian travels, the French Canadian is on a mission to bring fine and rare teas to the German capital, and to break down the barriers around the beverage.
The P&T store is a dramatic step beyond the traditional apothecary model, as teas are no longer hidden behind a counter but presented in an open and informative setting. Tea fanatics can browse the beautiful boutique at their leisure, choose to consult one of the many friendly experts, or indulge in a demonstration at one of the tasting stations inspired by the traditional Chinese GongFu ceremony.
De Gruyer introduced us to a China White (Pu Er Bai Ya) picked from 2-300 year old trees, which lend it a resiny “salad” taste, and a Taiwan Oolong (Oriental Beauty) which is something of a national treasure – produced by the first of their farmers to go organic and oxidised on the leaf by the bites of an insect called the green leafhopper. As well as a new-found appreciation for the beverage, we learned some interesting facts: did you know that the water used to steep tea need not always be boiling, and can be as cool as 50°C for some Japanese varieties?
Before Jens sends you away with your new favourite tea in a plain packet (“you’re buying the tea, not the packaging”), be sure to browse the pottery and paraphernalia produced by Asian artisans, and a stationery section to rival RSVP in Mitte. You don’t need to accept that both paper and tea are “agents of culture” to appreciate cards, calendars and other items made by Korean manufacturers and Berlin artists, some commissioned by P&T themselves.
While we’ll remain those rare Englishmen that prefer coffee to tea, we think that Paper & Tea does for its commodity what Frau Tonis Perfume do for theirs: elevating appreciation of the product and its production, and creating an enjoyable, enlightening shopping experience. Take your mum.
Berlin is a city that hides its charms well, and the Sammlung Boros “art bunker” is one of its finest hidden gems. Behind an unmarked steel door set into the 3m-thick wall of a blank concrete cube, on an otherwise unremarkable street, is one of the best private collections of contemporary art in the world. The above-ground bunker on Reinhardtstrasse in Mitte, which once sheltered an estimated 3,000 wartime Berliners, now houses one-sixth of the art owned of Christian and Karen Boros, a rotating collection that is updated every four years. Photography is forbidden, except for in the reception area, so the only way to see inside is to reserve a space on a guided tour.
While the Boros display impeccable taste in art, their bunker will delight history and architecture enthusiasts as well as aesthetes. Built in 1943, with 120 rooms across five floors, and a total area of 1,000 square metres, the building was intended for future use as a memorial to Germania – as evidenced by the superfluous detailing that decorates the exterior. During the Cold War, the GDR took advantage of its naturally cool (13°C) conditions and used it to store tropical fruit, earning it the nickname “the banana bunker”. And in the early 90s, the building housed one of Berlin’s most notorious techno clubs. The Boros’ five-year reconstruction left many telltale signs of the bunker’s past untouched, including glow-in-the-dark arrows intended to guide those sheltering from bombs and the flaking black paint that denotes the former club’s dark rooms.
Those who go to the bunker for the art won’t be disappointed either. Speaking entirely subjectively, the Boros’ second exhibition includes the best contemporary photography, painting and sculpture I’ve ever encountered. The current rotation seems handpicked for those preoccupied with death, darkness and other gothy themes (like us!), with highlights such as Dirk Bell’s intricate, amorphic drawings, Alicja Kwade’s experiments with material and noise and Michael Sailstorfer’s show-stealing installations: a racecar tyre constantly rubbing against a wall, filling the whole floor with the smell of burning blacktop, and myriad black rubber “clouds” originally designed to bring the Berlin weather to a Brazilian art fair.
If this enviable art collection isn’t enough to make you sick, just check out this Freunde von Freunden video of the Boros’ apartment on top of the bunker. While I’d happily kill the couple (and their son) to live like that, I’ll have to settle for visiting the building on a regular basis. One of the best things we’ve ever done in Berlin, and an ideal activity for these cold winter months. Go to there.
The Museum of Things (Museum der Dinge) on Oranienstraße works on a couple of levels. On one hand, it’s a miscellany of stuff, grouped into cabinets of Star Wars toys, Smurfs, computer parts, things that look like boobs - all under the watchful eyes of the creepy mannequin from the cover of that dodgy Metallica/Lou Reed album, “Lulu”. On the other hand, it’s a testament to the efforts of the Deutscher Werkbund, the German Work Federation, founded in 1907 to bring the country’s product design up to speed with its competitors in England and the USA.
Also known as the Werkbundarchiv, the collection tells the story of German design in the age of industrial manufacturing, and its progression from decorative to functional design. Early cabinets show what the Werkbund was up against. Actual kitsch, devotional kitsch, home and hunter kitsch – who knew there were so many varieties of kitsch? As the years go by, it’s easy to see the federation’s influence, through success stories like its member Weck’s glass containers, which became synonymous with home canning. Quite literally – its products spawned the verb einwecken: to can, pickle or preserve something.
The Nazis, elected to the Werkbund steering committee in 1933, greatly favoured figurative decoration and decried the abstract spray-painted ceramics of the day as “Communist crockery”. They shut down the Werkbund in 1938, but it was reestablished in 1949 to rail against the worst excesses of the postwar era. The best showcase of the federation’s aesthetic is an überminimal Bosch TV, featuring a single button, stood on a plinth in front of its polar opposite: the mammoth wood-panelled Komet combination TV/radio/phonograph, a best-seller when it was introduced in 1956.
The Museum der Dinge celebrates a very German phenomenon: an institution established to impose efficiency, functionality and rational design on an industry and a public, whether they liked it or not. Looking back, the Deutscher Werkbund was clearly right – we wanted to break the glass on a few cabinets and take their contents with us! And even if you’re not interested in the history of design, you’re bound to get a kick out of the strange objects crammed into the “open storage” cabinets. Mona Lisa mug, anyone?
Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge
Try as we might, we just can’t get into the traditional Christmas market spirit. Sure the food and drink (Glühwein!) is great, but the stuff on sale is either crafty, or just plain crappy, and the vibe is just too… merry. Maybe we’re being Grinchy, but we’d rather spend our snowy Saturdays at one of Berlin’s many alternative Weihnachtsmarkts – like Holy Shit Shopping or, last weekend’s highlight, Voodoo Market.
Billed as “not your ordinary fleamarket“, this was our first chance to explore the new Urban Spree space at Warschauer Strasse, and catch up with some of our favourite Berlin people. We saw the studio where Mother Drucker printed up our überlin merchandise (on sale soon!), Linsey from VentureVillage getting tattooed by the AKA lot, SAY IT selling their geometric Bowie and Björk t-shirts and Josh Bauman, who was as stoked as we were about the response to our “How to Survive a Berlin Winter” collaboration. Other highlights included Berlin Cakes’ delicious cupcakes and Chop Chop Graphics, who were letting people print their own t-shirts and tote bags.
Stay tuned to Voodoo Market’s Facebook Page to find out about their upcoming events.