Culture in Berlin: The Facts You Need to Know

BY Max Migowski

Culture in Berlin: The Facts You Need to Know
Photography by Emily Dodd-Noble


While now treasured by a multitude of crowds, ages and nationalities, for a multitude of reasons, Berlin was not always as adored as it is today...

As a matter of fact, it was not until the Iron Curtain – the wall that separated the Soviet Union-belonging and the liberated half of Berlin – came down that the city would be re-appointed its capital status in 1990. The city attracted radicals, critics of capitalism and military, or otherwise free-spirited individuals uninterested in participating in the conventional economy. Life was as cheap as it was rough, thus helping anti-authoritarian and/or music-subcultures emerge and flourish from within the abandoned factories and warehouses they turned into temples of hedonism.

This bohemian legacy sustains Berlin’s image as a financially attainable playground for rejects, outcasts and virtuosos alike, from in and outside of Germany. Sure, the face of rebellion may have altered, its sentiments diffused into the mainstream, but as much as it is a city of virtue, Berlin simply cannot help but be soaked in irony too, enjoyably so – humorous to most, whilst giving the more profound revolutionaries of today something to vent about. How else would one tolerate the cohorts of creatives that wine and dine at Soho House or Grill Royale, demanding a "redistribution of wealth" as they gently retrieve a tiny vial of jagged cocaine from the depths of their designer handbags to launch into their sinuses in the bathroom stall? Know too that there are probably few spots on Planet Earth with a comparable density of bourgeois-leftist trust-fund-babies, DJs, freelance graphic designers, photographers and misunderstood (tattoo) artists.

Jokes – or are they? – aside, these days, Berlin is still a highly politicised city, with its people very vocal, very practical, and a cultural agenda aiming to rectify 20th century wrongdoings by reminding us of them. Take, for instance, the Holocaust memorial close to Brandenburger Tor. 2700 maze-like pillars lead to an underground museum that holds information on Jews murdered by Nazi-era genocide – perhaps the most abstract yet most famous structure of its kind. As the monoliths creep in on the spectator wandering deeper into their orbit, there is a sense of remorseful discomfort evoked, crucial to transporting this site’s powerful message. Another demonstration of meshing yesterday’s sinister with tomorrow’s more hopeful symbolism can be witnessed on the Museumsinsel’s (Museum Island) Neue Museum, which, prior to its restoration by David Chipperfield, was a sheer carcass. Laying bare the scars of warfare, bullet holes in its facade as cautionary keepsakes, it showcases a symbiosis of history and the contemporary – one of the few things characteristically Berlin. Paying attention to mementos like these will help colourize your picture of Berlin beyond Dildoking, dark rooms and Spätis. Not that those things aren’t fun, but fine-tune yourself too, to detect the minor and major, marvellous and tragic innuendos that separate the commodified from the authentic layers of the time-warped onion that is Berlin.