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Save Berlin: Brewing up some art

New art spaces are popping up everywhere, even in Berlin’s old churches and breweries. Dan Borden investigates.

Image for Save Berlin: Brewing up some art
The Kindl Brewery’s onetime boiler room now houses Olympia, an installation from multimedia artist David Claerbout. Photo by Jens Ziehe

New art spaces are popping up everywhere, even in Berlin’s old churches and breweries. Dan Borden investigates.

To celebrate the 40th birthday of Cologne’s Museum Ludwig in August, art activists Guerrilla Girls draped a banner across its facade, protesting Germany’s boom in privately owned museums. The group lamented the New Art-World Order where the collector is king, a glut of art schools has flooded the planet with bonafide artistes and their precious “work”, and the market is defined by “a cartel of multinational galleries and auction houses” via shady dealings like price fixing and money laundering. Art has morphed into just another machine for making the rich richer.

Berlin, of course, hasn’t been exempt, with the mega-rich owners of places like Sammlung Boros and Collection Hoffman (both profiled in October’s column) getting to keep their art and enjoy big tax cuts while playing art-world angels. Meanwhile, the godfather of these rich benefactors, King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, lives on in Museum Island.

Cathedral of beer reborn

In a country where brewing beer is a sacred ritual, it makes sense that the Kindl Brauerei was designed as an Expressionist church.

In October, Burkhard Varnholt and Salome Grisard threw open the long-shuttered doors of a derelict brewery in Neukölln and dubbed it the Kindl Centre for Contemporary Art. In a country where brewing beer is a sacred ritual, it makes sense that architects Hans Claus and Richard Schepke had designed their 1930 Kindl Brauerei as an Expressionist church. You enter through the massive Gothic arches of a seven-story tower into an Art Deco nave holding six enormous copper tanks once filled with bubbling beer. But when the taps ran dry in 2005, the German-Swiss millionaires stepped in with plans to convert the factory into 5500 square metres of cutting-edge art. The former boiler house has 20m-high ceilings, ideal for large-scale “interventions”. The brewhouse, with its giant copper kettles, reopened in November as the König Otto Cafe. Because beer reigns eternal, the cult Kiez micro-brewery Rollberger, which set up here in 2009, will continue producing its home-grown eco-Pils in the basement.

God’s bunker

Art collectors Christian Boros and Désiré Feuerle converted two Berlin World War II bunkers into their private museums and homes. Art dealer Johann König did the same, installing his König Galerie in the former St. Agnes Church whose Brutalist style was partly inspired by those windowless concrete bomb shelters. Architect Werner Düttmann gave the 1967 Catholic church a rough, tough outside that hides a soft interior lit by skylights and discrete slit windows. It’s perfect for displaying art – not surprising, since Düttmann also designed the Akademie der Kunste in Hansaviertel. After a four-year renovation, art lovers can worship König’s for-sale art in the lofty central hall while his family lives in a three-bedroom flat in the back. Office tenants, including New York University’s Berlin branch, a magazine and an architecture firm, are artfully arranged around a central sculpture garden.

Kings of Museum Island

The sixth and final exhibition space in Friedrich Wilhelm III’s art fortress on the Spree is set to open in 2018: the James Simon Gallery designed by David Chipperfield. The British architect was famous for his re-do of the Neues Museum, which preserved its bombdamaged interior as a home for the iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti. Next door, the new gallery named after the Berlin art patron (and Nefertiti’s former owner) will act as both a gallery and a central Louvre-style entrance with underground access to four of the five historic museums. Just east, across the Spree river, is another Chipperfield design, a 2007 neo-Brutalist sandstone building housing the Galerie Bastian. In October, founder Heiner Bastian announced he was donating the building to Berlin’s museum foundation for use as an education centre. This one-two-three punch of Chipperfield art monuments is, after two centuries, making the old Prussian king’s vision a reality.