Most cities worth visiting need to be experienced more than once, over time, in different seasons, staying in different quarters. It is essential to have a decent map, to walk as much as possible, to see how different neighbourhoods join up so that you get a feel of the city’s arteries. It’s important to have an itinerary, to know what you want to see, famous landmarks and museums; but it is equally important to wander, to adopt the flâneur’s stance, to rely on local knowledge.
Nowhere more so than in Berlin, a city which seems in constant flux; in places, like an enormous construction site, still only 20 years new since unification. We had visited once before, in the dead of winter, in the midst of a snowstorm, and although our second trip was also in winter, the sun was out, and so were Berliners, sitting in cafés and on park benches. They’re a bit tougher than Londoners, their coats and boots are sturdier (and their dogs have more attitude).
Even with a map, we got lost. Frequently. But getting lost is a good thing in Berlin, because much of what is interesting is hidden; you have to be intrepid and seek things out. This is the city of pop-ups – pop-up galleries, pop-up restaurants – sometimes in temporary structures, or buildings ready for the bulldozer, so you have to be quick. The most vibrant art spaces are tucked away – down alleys, in courtyards, up several flights in office blocks, sharing stair space with lawyers and architects. Many of our finds were accidental, and more treasured for it.
We were in town as guests of Kit Schulte (http://www.kitschulte.com/) whose gallery is located in Schöneberg, in the south west of the city. Galleries have started to spring up here as rents in Mitte become too dear; there is enough of a critical mass to instigate a Schöneberg art walk on the last Saturday of every month. The Schöneberg gallery scene is still not as big as the one around Checkpoint Charlie (now rather loftily referred to as the Berlin Gallery District, complete with its own impossible-to-follow map) or the explosion around Mitte. But Schöneberg is the sort of place where galleries might thrive – a very typical Berlin mix of residential (young families with buggies), Turkish restaurants and gay hotels (the large and uncensored windows of the S & M shops are like Cathy de Monchaux installations). Kit’s gallery is located in her flat – so that the space is inviting, welcoming, part of everyday life (her dog Louie is often to be found in the gallery with his squeaky toy). The rooms are large and light, high-ceilinged, with their original Victorian cornice work.
The space is particularly well-suited to the minimal drawings of Linda Karshan and Koho Mori-Newton. Linda’s work occupied the larger room. One wall was given over to works from the recent sequence of woodcuts, the basis for our collaborative edition, Desire Paths. It was the first time I’d seen them displayed on the wall, like grids for an imagined streetscape, and it gave particular resonance to the reading of the poem at the private view.
Koho’s drawings were in a smaller room, giving them a concentrated intensity, like tornadoes. He had hung the side wall of windows with huge columns of grey silk, which looked like tarnished pewter from a distance. The two artists occupied their separate and distinct spaces, but carried on a meaningful dialogue across the parquet floors.
On the Saturday, we ventured into the Berlin Gallery District to visit the Niels Borch Jensen Gallery (http://www.berlin-kopenhagen.de/galerie.html) and Linda’s exhibition with Berlin-based artists Sara Sizer and Dolores Zinny & Juan Maidagan (a husband and wife team of sculptors). Here the show was collaborative and integrated, with the artists responding to each other through the way the exhibition was designed. The afternoon showing was described not as a private view but as an ‘afternoon gathering’ with live music (improvised jazz that filled the space and echoed into the other galleries in the building). Unlike private views in London, this was truly a family event (the kids were having fun in the stairwell, testing out the acoustics in the spectacular Art Deco building, creating their own musical accompaniment).
More space to other places we visited in future posts …