Sunday, 12 April 2009

DDR bananas

Elisabet is visiting Berlin to suck up some more DDR experience. We've had a culture-packed two days, went to the Schaubühne (twice), searched for interesting DDR books in the bookshop, wandered from east to west and back again, and went to what I think is one of the best kept secrets of the Berlin art world: the bunker.

The bunker is just off Friedrichstrasse and houses the Boros collection. It's a private collection of contemporary art, a bit like the Saatchi collection. Only this is not an easy museum to get into. You have to book an appointment for a 90 minute guided tour on their website. And they only open in the weekend and only let 12 people in every half an hour.

So we booked for a slot on Saturday afternoon.
The bunker is 5 floors high (not underground), and from the moment you walk in through the vaulted doors that have a camera intercom system, it feels quite special. It still looks like a bunker.
The tour starts with a short history of the building: it was built as an air raid shelter in 1942, initially for 1500 people, then they expanded the capacity to 5000.
After the war it was used as a DDR prison.
When the DDR decided to house their prisoners elsewhere, they used the building as a fruit storage place, mainly for bananas. The building was ideal for fruit, as the massive concrete walls guaranteed a pretty stable temperature of 10°-15°.

After the wall came down the building was turned into a nightclub which used all the main spaces as dancefloors and the small rooms as darkrooms. The club was closed down by the authorities in '95 and was consequently used for temporary events and exhibitions. Herr Boros bought the building in 2003, starting building works in 2004. In 2007 his gallery opened.
What they did to the architecture feels very minimal, and walking up and down various staircases still makes you feel like you're inside a bunker or a prison.
Boros commissioned some artists to enter a dialogue with some specific rooms, the ones where the black paint of the former darkrooms was still visible.

Visiting the Boros collection is a double experience: the collection is incredible (we even crawled through one of the art objects) and the building itself shows a history in its layers of peeled-off paint and bare concrete.

Go there. Make an appointment. It's not that big an effort.

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