Category Archives: Sights & Attractions

Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin)

The Collegienhaus - the Old Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Like Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art), I visited the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin) with my first Museum Pass in 2010 and was determined to go back during my Berlin Museum Marathon in February this year.

The Zinc facade of the Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Museum is housed in a combination of the Collegienhaus (Old Building), the former Superior Court of Justice for the Kurmark Brandenburg, and the striking and more instantly recognisable zinc façade of the Libeskind Building.

The new building, opened in 2001, is accessible only through a staircase from the Old Building, which it zig-zags away from and the walls are cut through by the irregular shapes of the windows and a series of voids.

A view out of an opening in The Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

A cross shaped opening in The Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

In  2000 Daniel Libeskind said that the museum voids refer to:

that which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.

The installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishnman consists of more than 10,000 iron faces, representing the innocent victims of war and violence, that cover the floor of the Memory Void.

Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishnman in the Memory Void of the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Axis of the Holocaust leads to a heavy door that opens into another of the building’s voids, The Holocaust Tower.  As with all of the voids the walls are bare concrete and the tower is neither air conditioned nor heated.  Natural light enters through a space at the top of the tower.  The combination of these environmental factors creates a peaceful, if slightly disconcerting, atmosphere.

Inside The Holocaust Tower at the end of the Axis of the Holocaust at the Jewish Museum Berlin

At the end of the Axis of Emigration, is the Garden of Exile, a series of 49 concrete stelae, taller than those of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe, but similarly arranged in a regular pattern on sloping ground.  Here, the stelae are filled with earth and trees grow from them.  The same disorienting effect results.

The Garden of Exile at the end of The Axis of Emigration at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Axis of Continuity leads to a staircase and the exhibition space above, where the permanent exhibits present two millennia of German Jewish History.

Paintings on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Silver on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Yellow fabric with Jewish Stars by Geitel & Co at Jewish Museum Berlin

Inevitably some of the most notable and heartbreaking exhibits are holocaust related.  The museum has the following explanation of the yellow star:

Beginning in September 1941, all Jews were required to wear a yellow star: “Jews six years of age and older are prohibited from appearing in public without a Jewish star…It is to be worn visibly on the left side of the breast, firmly sewn to the clothing.”

The stars were manufactured by the Berlin flag maker Geitel & Co.  Great lengths of cloth were stored on the premises of the Gestapo-controlled “National Union of Jews in Germany”.  For a processing fee of 10 pfennig, the Jews had to purchase the yellow star and sew it to their clothing.

For more information about the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin), including opening hours and prices see their website.

Punk Statues in Wilmersdorf

Ludmila Seefried-Matejková - Sleeping - a punk statue outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin

When I first came across a statue of a punk on a roundabout in Kreuzberg I was sure it was one of a kind.  But when I posted about it, two of my Twitter followers, Christophe Robin and sprng got in touch to say that there are similar statues outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.

The three bronze sculptures on the corner of Hohenzollerndamm and Brienner Strasse are by the same artist – Ludmila Seefried-Matejková.

Schlafende (Sleeping – pictured above) is a punk girl lying with her head resting on her outstretched arm, her jacket pulled up to hide her face – is she upset? Is she hungover? Or is she merely being practical and blocking out the sun so she can get some sleep?

Walkman is a casting of the same statue that I found in Kreuzberg – a punk with a green T-shirt looking proud or possibly defiant.

Ludmila Seefried-Matejková - Walkman - a punk statue outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin

The third sculpture, closest to the Bürgeramt, is the most puzzling.  The title Gedanken eines Mimen (Thoughts of a mime) suggests the man is a mime artist but his bare chest and tight cap made me think of a swimmer when I first saw him.

Ludmila Seefried-Matejková - Gedanken eines Mimen - a statue outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin

Berlin is a city of surprises and is littered with public art – who knows, there may even be more punks somewhere else.

Teufelsberg – A Return To The Devil’s Mountain

A dome on the roof and the view from the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

Berlin was cold but sunny yesterday and when a friend had the ‘crazy idea’ to walk up the Teufelsberg I didn’t take much persuading.

The Teufelsberg (Devil’s Mountain) is a hill in the Grunewald forest in Berlin and is most famous for the former NSA Listening Station that sits at its peak.

As we walked from Grunewald S-Bahnhof I recounted the story of my previous trip to Teufelsberg in August 2010.  Then, the Grunewald lived up to its name (Green Forest) but yesterday the predominant colour was white, the snow laying thick on the ground.

Having reached the top of the Teufelsberg we walked around the perimeter fence of the former NSA facility occasionally stopping to look up at the domes looming high above us.

A dome of the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin seen through the perimeter fence

On the Western slope of the hill we came across a group of sledgers, skiers and snowboarders enjoying the snow on the Rodelberg (the best translation from Google is toboggan mountain).

When we reached the main gates of the former NSA Listening station a guide was preparing to take a group of visitors on a tour and on a whim we decided to join them.

For €7 (or a reduced price of €5 for students) our guide led us to the main building in the complex and up the highest tower.

The main change to the building since my last visit was the addition of lots of great Street Art (much of it created for the aborted Artbase 2012 event) – so much in fact that I will post about it separately.

Our first stop as we climbed the tower was the highest floor with a view over Berlin.

Looking down on buildings at the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

Tattered sheeting and the Wannsee from the highest tower of the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

Olympiastadion (the Olympic Stadium) and a factory from the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

Then it was up to the top dome, with its incredible acoustics, where we were treated to an impromptu performance from a singer who was there when we arrived.

Our guide (off camera in the video) then took up the baton and gave his own performance.

As we descended we stopped on the roof of the main building for more photo opportunities and as luck would have it we had timed it perfectly to see some wonderful colours in the sky as the sun began to set.

A dome on the roof and the view from the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

A dome and the setting sun on the roof of the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

Pink sky and a dome on the roof of the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

And then it was time to leave.

The main dome tower at the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

An outbuilding and dome at the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

A dome tower at sunset at the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg in Berlin

I think that €7 is a small price to pay for the wonderful views over Berlin and the opportunity to walk around the former NSA Listening Station at Teufelsberg but the adrenaline rush of sneaking through the fence on my previous visit was sadly missing.

Berlin Skyline – The View From the Parkdeck of Neukölln Arcaden

Berlin Skyline - The view from the Parkdeck of the Neukölln Arcaden

Having spent the afternoon in Neukölln the other week having a burger at Berlin Burger International and checking out the abandoned Children’s Hospital, I decided to make the most of ‘Golden Hour’ (the hour before sunset) and returned to the Parkdeck of the Neukölln Arcaden for a great free view of the Berlin skyline.

I first came to check out the Berlin skyline at night with Digital Cosmonaut back in October and have been meaning to return to the roof of the parking garage of this Neukölln shopping centre for some daylight shots since.

Berlin Skyline - The view from the Parkdeck of the Neukölln Arcaden

Berlin Skyline - The view from the Parkdeck of the Neukölln Arcaden

Berlin Skyline - The view from the Parkdeck of the Neukölln Arcaden

The Parkdeck of the Neukölln Arcaden is a great place to watch the sunset over Berlin and I will be back again in the summer with a couple of beers for a repeat performance.

The East Side Gallery – “Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!”

Dmitri Vrubel - Fraternal Kiss (Brezhnev and Honecker embrace) - one of the paintings on the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions – a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall that stands as an ‘international memorial for freedom’.

The wall running along Mühlerstrasse near the banks of the River Spree was painted with over 100 murals by a group of international artists.

On 28 February 2013 my Twitter feed was abuzz with the news that a section of the wall was to be removed so that a developer could build a block of luxury flats on the land between the wall and the river.

People reacted strongly.

A protest was organised for the following day at the Wall and thanks to those protesters the removal was halted with just a small section gone.

A larger protest was organised on the Saturday morning.  Reports of the numbers present varied but official estimates put the turnout at 6,000.

A petition was started and thousands of signatures were quickly added.

On Monday morning events took a turn for the bizarre.

I woke up when my phone buzzed beside me.  I had a notification of a tweet from @HildaHoy.

I blinked a few times.  I pinched myself.  I wasn’t dreaming.

David Haselhoff had somehow read a post I had written on Sunday about his song Looking For Freedom, in which I had referred to the threat to the East Side Gallery and had tweeted about it.

Later that day, David Hasselhoff wrote his own blog post about the issue and urged his fans to sign the petition.

The Hoff’s involvement was widely reported – articles appeared on the websites of The Guardian, Berliner Morgenpost and Süddeutsche.  The Mädels with a Microphone made a great podcast about the protests.

And now to top it all off in an interview with HuffPost Live, David Hasselhoff has said that he would be willing to perform at the Wall to show his support.

Save East Side Gallery Petition - A computer generated image of flats at the Wall

Image: Change.org

The number of signatures on the petition to Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit, is now closing in on 75,000 – you can add your name to it on change.org.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous speech, delivered at the Berlin Wall in 1987, the message is:

“Mr Wowereit, DON’T tear down this wall!”

Work at the wall has been suspended until after the issue has been discussed at a meeting of the Berlin Senate on 18 March.

The developer has how said that the section of wall was being removed to give access to a new pedestrian bridge – a replacement for the Brommybrücke, which was blown up by the Nazis as the Soviets advanced on Berlin.  Klaus Wowereit has indicated that he thinks removal of the wall should be avoided if possible.  Early signs are good that a suitable compromise can be reached.

It would be incredible to see The Hoff perform at the Berlin Wall and if that happens, Gilly has to be there too.  And if it’s going to be perfect, we have to go to a bar on Hasselhoffstrasse (if the concert happens there has to be a street named after him) afterwards for beers, a burger and Vodka Ahojs – the man himself being present would be the icing on the cake.

The Abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin (Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft)

The Abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Built in 1974 and empty since staff were ordered to leave during the Gulf War in January 1991 the abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin is a popular Urbex destination.

The non-descript pre-fabricated concrete building (the Plattenbau style so common in Soviet-era East Germany) sits in a quiet cul-de-sac in the former diplomatic quarter of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) in Pankow.

Its grey walls belie its colourful past.

Iraq was the first non-Socialist country to recognise the DDR as a state in 1969 and a special friendship developed between the two countries.  It is widely believed that the DDR was offering scientific help to Iraq, particularly with their development of nuclear and chemical weapons.

In 1980, two members of staff from the embassy were arrested in West Berlin whilst attempting deliver a suitcase of explosives as part of a plot to kill a group of Kurdish dissidents at a meeting in Wedding.

Arabic Book Cover - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

The embassy came under renewed scrutiny in 1990 when it was reported in the magazine Junge Welt, that the building was being used to stockpile weapons and explosives and to protect terrorists.  The East German Interior Ministry confirmed the weapons find and activities at the embassy were monitored closely.

And then they were gone.

Looking at the building now it would seem that when staff were ordered to leave in 1991 they left in a hurry.  The Iraqi Embassy to the re-unified Germany is now in Dahlem and has been since 2003.

Germany owns the land on which the now derelict embassy stands but granted Iraq perpetual rights to the land and building.  This has left the plot in a state of limbo.  The Germans say they have no right to it and the Iraqis have their shiny new embassy so they’re not interested.

Dark Corridor and Bathroom - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Dark Corridor and Furniture - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Draughty Room - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

The Iraqi Embassy is in a dreadful state.

It is a series of dark corridors and draughty rooms, many of which are now completely open to the elements and there is broken glass and paperwork everywhere.

A lot of the writing is in Arabic so I can’t be sure but I assume any sensitive documents were taken away.  At one time the books, papers and files must have been stored neatly on shelves and in cupboards but now they are strewn across the floor and amassed in great heaps.

English and Arabic Writing - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Arabic Book - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

The Europa Year Book 1982 - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

The smell of mouldy paper is overpowering.

As in all abandoned buildings the visitors have left their mark in the form of pictures, slogans and more considered art.

Our House In The Middle Of Iraq - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Clown Face - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s And There Will Come Soft Rains by Elizabeth Skadden - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

The furniture has been moved, papers have been burned and typewriters, faxes and photocopiers have been smashed and their keys have been removed.

Chair and Desk on Balcony - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Paperwork - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische BotschaftBurnt Paperwork - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

It is clear that many treasures have been looted.

Early blog posts and newspaper articles mention framed portraits of Saddam Hussein hanging on the walls – some of the authors even boast of the souvenirs they took.

Now there are just a few newspapers and calendars bearing his image.

Saddam Hussein Front Page of Paper - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Saddam Hussein Face on Calendar - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

Saddam Hussein Hands and Title on Calendar - Abandoned Iraqi Embassy Berlin - Die Verlassene Irakische Botschaft

I would recommend visiting the abandoned Iraqi Embassy in Berlin soon before all vestiges of its past life have been plundered, damaged or burnt and all that’s left is a derelict shell. Who knows, Germany and Iraq may one day even sort out the issue of ownership and put the land to new use.

Famous Berliners: President John F Kennedy (JFK)

John F Kennedy (JFK) Ich Bin Ein Berliner (Associated Press)

Image: Associated Press

He was born in Brookline, Massachusetts and never lived in Berlin but President John F Kennedy is probably the most famous ‘Berliner’.

In a speech on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg on 26 June 1963 Kennedy declared:

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

It was a defining moment at the height of Cold War tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union.  A warning from Kennedy to his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Krushchev, that the Americans would not foresake the West Berliners and a show of solidarity for a people adjusting to life in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

It is probably one of the most iconic moments of 20th century political history.

A plaque on the facade of Rathaus Schöneberg commemorates this significant event.

John F Kennedy (JFK) Plaque at Rathaus Schöneberg Berlin commemorating his "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" speech

Contrary to popular belief Kennedy didn’t make a linguistic faux pax with the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’.

It is an oft repeated story that in using these words Kennedy said ‘I am a doughnut (or donut for the Americans).

It’s true that in many parts of Germany a jam filled doughnut is known as a Berliner but in Berlin the doughnuts are known as Pfannkuchen and the citizens are Berliners.

Here’s a video of part of John F Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech for anyone who hasn’t seen it before or those inclined to watch it again.

President John F Kennedy – ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ Speech

Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art)

Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart (Museum for Contemporary Art) in Berlin

The Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Berlin was the first venue I visited with my first Museum Pass in 2010 so it seemed appropriate that it should be the first stop on my Berlin Museum Marathon.

At the beginning of February I used the Museum Pass my work colleagues bought for me when I left my job in London in 2011 and was determined to see as many of Berlin’s wonderful museums and galleries as I possibly could in three days.

As well as that first visit in 2010, I also went to Hamburger Bahnhof during my second Berlin holiday in 2011 and I enjoyed both visits so much that I was determined to go back.

The Hamburger Bahnhof was originally built in the mid 19th century as the terminus of the Berlin to Hamburg railway but was too small for its purpose by 1906 when it first became a museum of traffic and technology.

Since 1996 the The Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart has housed the Contemporary Art collection of the Nationalgalerie.

As it is necessary to leave all bags and rucksacks in the cloakroom in the East Wing of the museum, it was here that I started my tour of the collections.

East Wing

The East Wing of the Hamburger Bahnhof houses the Marx Collection, which formed the backbone of the museum when it opened in 1996.  On display currently are the large-scale photographs of Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky.  I have been a fan of Gursky’s incredibly detailed photographs since a friend introduced me to his work when I first took up photography.

Andreas Gursky – Singapore Stock Exchange and Library (Bibliothek) - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Andreas Gursky – Singapore Stock Exchange (1997) and Library (Bibliothek) (1999)

Also in the East Wing of the building, the Kleihueshalle (named after Josef Paul Kleihues – the architect responsible for the transformation of the building into an art museum) is home to more of the Marx Collection including works by Anselm Kiefer and Andy Warhol.

Anselm Kiefer - Mohn und Gedächtnis - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Detail from Anselm Kiefer – Mohn und Gedächtnis (1989)

Andy Warhol - Mao - at Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart

Andy Warhol – Mao (1973)

In 2010 I remember seeing Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis here but that was on display in the Neue Nationalgalerie this year.

West Wing

The West Wing includes an impressive selection of work by Joseph Beuys and my favourite artwork from this visit The Artwork Nobody Knows by Ryan Gander, which reminded me of the Street Art of Slinkachu due to its small scale.

Joseph Beuys Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Joseph Beuys – Das Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts (1982-83)

Ryan Gander - The Artwork Nobody Knows - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Ryan Gander – The Artwork Nobody Knows (2011)

It was also in the West Wing, upstairs that time, that I saw my favourite artwork in 2010.  Schattenspiel (Shadow Play) by Hans-Peter Feldman was a captivating projection of shadows created by a moving array of toys.

Hans-Peter Feldman - Schattenspiel - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Hans-Peter Feldman – Schattenspiel

Historic Hall

It was great to see a large group of children engaging with Martin Honert’s Kinderkreuzung (Children’s Crusade) in the Historic Hall, a large vaulted space immediately forward of the entrance.

Martin Honert - Kinderkreuzung - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Martin Honert – Kinderkreuzung

On my second visit to the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart in 2011, it was here that I saw an exhibition of the works of Richard Long including his Berlin Circle and River Avon Mud Circle

Rieckhallen

During my latest visit the Rieckhallen, a former warehouse that has been connected to the museum since 2004, was closed but in 2010, it was here that I saw Clown Torture (2010), a video installation by Bruce Nauman.

Bruce Nauman – Clown Torture - at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

Bruce Nauman – Clown Torture (2010)

I have now been to the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Berlin three times. Each time I have seen new artworks, beautifully presented and I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Snapshot: Brandenburger Tor – The Brandenburg Gate At Night

Brandenburger Tor - Brandenburg Gate at Night

The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is arguably one of the world’s most recognisable structures and has become a symbol for the city of Berlin.

I remember visiting the Brandenburg Gate on my first morning in Berlin and looking up at the stonework marvelling at the fact that it was completed in 1791.

Throughout history, the Brandenburg Gate has been the backdrop to political upheaval, flashpoints and celebrations.

In 1806 Napoleon removed the Quadriga, the statue of the goddess Victoria driving a chariot drawn by four horses that sits atop the gate, and took it back with him to Paris.

In 1987 Ronald Reagan delivered the line “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” from a podium set up near the gate.  The spot is now marked by a memorial.

And who could forget the images beamed around the world in 1989 of the celebrations atop the wall here when travel restrictions between East and West were lifted.