Since the fall of the wall 30 years ago, Berlin has become a centre for urban and street art, and our visiting group of Fourth and Fifth Year artists were keen to experience its visual and cultural delights.
Flying out of Manchester early on Saturday meant that the group arrived at the first gallery, Urban Nation, shortly after lunch. With its collection of murals by artists including Shepard Fairey and its imaginative use of wall space, it marked a dramatic introduction to the cultural life of the city.
The group then made its way to the Reichstag Building where they were able to go up into the magnificent cupola, designed by British architect Richard Rogers, from which they were treated to a fantastic panoramic view of the sun setting over Berlin. Sunday began with a walk to the Hamburger Banhof, a former station that now houses a vast collection of contemporary art, chiefly from the 1960s to the present day. Here, the work of German artists including Joseph Bueys and Anslem Keifer was displayed as part of a wider retrospective of the most important, often conceptual, work from across Europe and America. By contrast, the afternoon provided the pupils with the opportunity to see one of the world’s finest collections of classical art work; the Gemäldegalerie’s collection spans the 13th-18th Century and includes work by Titian, Botticelli, Raphael, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Bosch and Bruegel.
As well as drawing the work, time was spent discussing the historical context that had existed at the time they were painted and this proved invaluable as a means of better understanding each piece. The walk back took the group past the vast Jewish Memorial, which served as a poignant reminder of darker times in Berlin’s history, and onto the Brandenburg Gate.
The final day began with a guided tour of Berlin’s street art and architecture. The contrast between the post-war buildings in East and West Berlin, and the gradual gentrification that has continued since the fall of the wall, has resulted in an interesting mix of modernist architecture existing alongside old warehouses that have been converted into nightclubs and, more recently, the development of expensive apartment blocks. The tour culminated with a walk along a section of the Berlin Wall that has been retained as a memorial. Now a major tourist attraction, in part as a result of the street art that covers every inch of it, it was still possible to envisage how life must have been prior to unification.
The final afternoon was spent in the Berlinsche Gallery which houses a fine collection of German expressionist and avant-garde art including some examples by George Grosz, that made clear his mistrust of the establishment in Germany in the period after WW1 and resulted in him being declared a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis.
The group returned to Manchester late on Monday having had the opportunity to experience a huge range of art and architecture and, hopefully, with a wealth of ideas that they will find useful when they are developing their GCSE portfolios.