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Privates on parade

Berlin is home to a range of impressive private art collections. Here are some of those open to the public

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Katja Ovitskova. Photo by NOSHE

Berlin is home to a range of impressive private art collections. Here are some of those open to the public.

For a city with a much bemoaned lack of art collectors, there’s a surprising number of private collections that have found a home in Berlin. The people behind them range from advertising gurus to retired international fashionistas and shampoo heirs, all with one thing in common: a willingness to open their doors to visitors.

Art in a bunker home

Probably the best known is the WWII bunker belonging to Christian and Karen Boros on Mitte’s Reinhardtstraße, an imposing five-storey building of three-metre thick concrete with an owner-occupied penthouse. The unassuming entrance leads you to a slick reception area where sharply dressed invigilators guide you to lockers and an anteroom to await your 90-minute tour. Offered in German and English, tours are €15 and must be booked in advance at www.sammlung-boros.de.

Erected in a hurry in 1942, the windowless mammoth was intended to shelter up to 4000 people during air-raids. A techno club in the 1980s, there are remnants of day-glow paint on the walls next to 1940s “no smoking” signs. The art on display here is very pop, apt for the founder of an advertising agency. Slogans and 1990s irony abound in works such as Johannes Wohnseifer’s We Are the People and Braun Sugar, Yngve Holen’s play on the ready-made with car headlights repurposed as sculpture beaming out from a wall, and Kris Martin’s framed pair of Life After Death certificates made out in the collectors’ names. The guide explains that Boros “buys what disturbs him”. This is perhaps also applicable to the building he bought to house his art. Visiting it is an eerie experience made palatable by the enthusiastic guides.

Private oasis in Mitte

Established in 1997 by Erika and Rolf Hoffmann, Sammlung Hoffmann must be Berlin’s longest standing open private collection and is found among a quiet oasis of Hinterhöfe off Sophienstraße. Started in the 1960s, it includes over 1200 works, dating from 1910 to the present day. Around 100 pieces are on display and the selection changes annually. The Hoffmanns made their fortune in fashion retail and converted the factory complex in the early 1990s. Rolf Hoffman passed away in 2001 but his widow continues to collect and open her doors every Saturday (tickets for 90-minute tours in English and German are €10, advance booking only at www.sammlung-hoffmann.de). In fact, on my visit I found the very elegant Frau Hoffmann, just turned 80, graciously greeting guests at the reception desk herself. The white-walled wooden-floored rooms seem to be endless, with one impressive work after another. Ranging from innovative pieces such as Tony Oursler’s video Atari 1996 of an eyeball projected onto a sphere, blinking and flickering as its owner plays a computer game, Bruce Nauman’s flashing neon sign Double Slap in the Face to more traditional pieces such as the large bleach-splashed indigo canvas Ohne Titel (indigo) by Sigmar Polke, there’s something here for everyone. If you’re keen to visit, do so soon as the space is scheduled to close in 2022 when the art moves to its new home at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden: Frau Hoffmann donated the whole collection in 2018.

Olbricht’s own museum

Not in a private home, but sticking to the spirit of sharing and a personal idiosyncrasy, meCollectors Room is home to the Olbricht Collection, one of Germany’s largest private collections, opened by Wella heir Thomas Olbricht in 2010. Changing curated exhibitions are displayed in a large professional gallery space at the back of the purpose built 1300sqm building. Offering a café and gift shop, it has regular opening hours and your €8 ticket includes entry to Olbricht’s Wunderkammer. The current exhibition The Moment is Eternity (through April 1) shows works by Goya hanging alongside Cindy Sherman and Eadweard Muybridge, with the odd giraffe head nestled between them. The Wunderkammer upstairs is full blown eccentricity, as any half decent cabinet of curiosities should be. You are greeted by a stuffed alligator sloping across the ceiling as you enter darkened rooms packed with mostly Baroque and Renaissance items.

Also worth a visit

Other private addresses worth visiting include the Miettinen Collection at Salon Dahlmann in Charlottenburg. Open on Saturdays and free of charge, the collection of Finnish clean-tech heir Timo Miettinen is of mainly contemporary art alongside 19th and 20th century Finnish landscape paintings. Set in showrooms and a private apartment, it follows the Berlin salon tradition and offers exhibitions, concerts, talks and workshops. Collection Regard is the photography collection of Marc Barbey, covering the earliest days of photography up through the 1990s, and is currently showing an exhibition of black and white prints by Egyptian-born photographer Amin El Dib (through June 7). Open free of charge on Friday afternoons, it also holds salons for artist talks and film screenings in its soft-furnished Mitte galleries. Housed in another WWII bunker is the Feuerle Collection in Kreuzberg, a unique combination of Khmer sculpture, Chinese furniture and contemporary art put together by former art dealer Désiré Feuerle. The bunker, converted by starchitect John Pawson, opened in 2016 and is perhaps the kookiest and most expensive of the private collections with a €18 fee for a 60-minute tour. For just €1000 extra you can book into a Feuerle Incense Ceremony, a 2000-year-old Chinese tradition practiced in the Incense Room.