Poor but sexy Berlin

June 27th, 2007

In 2003 mayor Klaus Wowereit dubbed Berlin “poor, but sexy” in an attempt to sell British businessmen on the leaps and bounds the city has taken in cultural production. Artists, designers, and hangers-on are drawn to the city by the cheap rent, an abundance of artist run spaces and, of course, dance parties that last until happy hour the next day. The number of exhibition spaces has exploded with a consistent influx of artists and designers, and galleries are now moving further afield from more established areas like Charlottenburg and Auguststraße to Brunnenstraße and various warehouse spaces strewn around the city. Brunnenstraße, a well worn section of Mitte once deemed ungentrifiable, is now home to boutiques, bars, New York escapees, and a rash of young galleries.

A multi-cultural art/design/architecture crowd coupled with a hot club scene may bring people here, but the support of their colleagues and prime location in the center of Europe is why many young artists, curators, and gallerists stay. The ingenuity of venues like Super Bien!, a greenhouse exhibition space in Mitte and United Nations Plaza, an awkward Lego block of a building in East Berlin that houses seminars, screenings, and lectures in the Open University format, keep the Berlin scene fresh and intellectually engaged.

Sarah Belden, founder of Curators Without Borders, an exhibition space and residency program on Brunnenstraße, speaks to the enthusiasm and camaraderie of native and non-native Berliners : “There is an amazing sense of optimism here – a sense that anything is possible for the young generation.” She cites Berlin’s rich cultural and political history as well as its “openness to the avant-garde, street culture, and the experimental” as the reason why Berlin has become a nexus of contemporary art.

Alicia Reuter of Kapinos Galerie and ArtNews Projects shares Belden’s excitement. When asked what sets the art scene here apart from other cities it took exactly two seconds for her face to light up and say, “The lack of competition!” This cooperative spirit makes living and working in Berlin an obvious choice for young people looking to expand models of art production, exhibition, and reception. The freedom and flexibility that cheap and easy living offers artists in Berlin has allowed a scene to grow that is based more on understanding than on commerce.Jesi Khadivi