by James Glazebrook
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.