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Going underground

This month, take on a different level of Berlin art including subterranean murals, U-Bahn art and Wannsee’s new underpass mosaic.

Image for Going underground

Studio Christoph Niemann

This month, take on a different level of Berlin art including subterranean murals, U-Bahn art and Wannsee’s new underpass mosaic.

In May 1989 a boilerman named Achim, working at the Akademie der Künste on Pariser Platz, alerted his colleague Dr. Lammert that there were some paintings on the walls of the coal cellar where he spent his days stoking the heating system. By the next year a restoration programme of the Picture Cellar had started. The academy is one of the oldest art institutions in Europe and in the post-war division of Germany found itself in the GDR. During this time it still operated its Masters School and it was these all-male students who used the cellars for parties and painted directly onto the walls. Suggesting a truly Bacchanalian spirit, patterns of goblets, wine bottles, beer tankards and kegs, grapes, pink footprints on a black ceiling and murals of contorted female nudes are daubed onto the walls. Most were made in the 1950s by Manfred Böttcher, Harald Metzkes, Ernst Schroeder and Horst Zickelbein. Böttcher’s stick figure everyday scenes – such as a man showering as a cat perches on the bath, a figure heating a drink on a stove while a woman irons – are the star turn here and nothing like the state approved Social Realism of the time. The restoration project is still visibly taking place; gauze covers one wall, while another shows the effects of damp creeping through a landscape of trees. If you want to see these rebellious works for yourself, book a tour in German or English before the cellars are closed again on April 28.

At the Berlinische Galerie you can see Underground Architecture, a display of photographs, plans and drawings celebrating the stations built in Berlin between 1953 and 1994. Highlighting a battle of ideologies played out with U-Bahn station design, the exhibition shows how the West went for distinctive, individual and loud whereas the East plumped for a standardised construction technique with concrete and a homogeneous colour scheme. Giving a glimpse into the ideas behind some of the more clamorous station designs such as Rathaus Steglitz and Rathaus Spandau, drawings and plans reveal the level of thought and detail that went into some truly whacky Pop and Art Deco-inspired creations of the 1970s and 1980s. West Berlin city architect Rainer Rümmler was clearly a pioneer of little compare, and sculptor Waldemar Grzimek’s aluminium Long-Snouted Cerberus at Rathaus Steglitz looks amazing – a shame it’s currently in conservation with no confirmed date for reinstatement. Despite the show feeling a little thin on exhibits and leaving you wanting more, you will feel better informed on your next BVG ride.

Tiles are a practical staple material found in most underground rail systems, sometimes used to great effect by artists, such as Eduardo Paolozzi’s riot of colour at Tottenham Court Road station in London. At the end of last year a new tile mural designed by German illustrator of New York Times fame Christoph Niemann was unveiled at Wannsee station. Eighty metres of 20,000 tiles run along the two walls of an underpass at the 19th century station: one depicting summertime swimmers, rowers and swans in Wannsee lake, dog walkers and cyclists, and the other a winter setting for some of the areas best known buildings, including painter Max Liebermann’s house (now open as a museum), the villa where the Nazis agreed the so-called “Final Solution” to the Jewish Question and The American Academy. Both walls provide a strikingly modern look of pixelation and bring the story of the suburb to the thousands of passengers passing through every day.

Underground Architecture: Berlin Metro Stations 1953 – 1994 Through May 20 Berlinische Galerie, Kreuzberg | Picture Cellar Through Apr 28 Akademie der Künste, Mitte