You can’t swing a Bratwurst without hitting an art gallery in Berlin and so it was only right that some of our time in Berlin was spent visiting just a couple of the many galleries in the city. The art scene in Berlin is diverse and vibrant; apparently there are 440 galleries across the city so perhaps there is something for everyone. We picked out just two places to visit on our long weekend and the two we visited couldn’t have been more different.
The Gemäldegalerie has a collection of European painting ranging from the 13th to 18th century on permanent display; including paintings by Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Housed in a 1980s building in the Kulturforum, the building is a simple design and the purpose designed galleries are well proportioned and light, laid out in a slightly confusing but entertaining pattern that visitors can weave around. We spent an enjoyable few hours in the hushed and academic atmosphere of this amazing gallery.
The painting that made the biggest impression on me was Pieter Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs. This is an illustration of about 112 different 16th century Flemish proverbs and idioms. The painting is lively and human, in contrast to much of the religious art in the gallery, and this is perhaps why it spoke to me. It is also humorous and reveals something of the past with illustrations of sayings such as, ‘one shears sheep, the other shears pigs’ [meaning one has advantages, the other has none] and proverbs I want to introduce to my vocabulary such as, ‘the herring does not fry here’ [it’s not going according to plan]. There are others we still use modified versions of today, such as ‘to sit between two stools in the ashes’ [to be indecisive] and ‘to try to kill two flies with one stroke’ [to be efficient].
Almost everything in Berlin reveals many layers of history as soon as you scratch the surface. Our second gallery was on top of a hill in the Grunewald [green forest] that lies around Berlin. This is no ordinary hill; Teufelsberg is a 80 metre high mound that was created from the rubble removed from the bomb sites of Berlin after the second world war. The hill was in what was the British sector of Berlin after the war and in the 1960s it became the site of an Anglo-American listening station topped with radomes. After almost 30-years of listening to the DDR the station fell in to disuse after the fall of the Berlin wall. The hill was bought by a developer but planning permission for the hotels and apartments was not forthcoming and the abandoned buildings of the listening station remain and can be visited to see the graffiti art that uses the inside and outside walls of the crumbling buildings as a canvas. For a €7 entrance fee visitors can wander freely around the jumble of buildings [at their own risk] and admire the huge art works and stand at gaping holes in the buildings to enjoy the view over Berlin and the forest.
After spending a few hours at Teufelsberg we followed the maze of footpaths through the Grunewald to the banks of the lake, as no trip to Germany is complete without a woodland walk. With no signposts or compass we had to resort to using the sun and asking for help to navigate our way through the dense forest.