Luckily, landing at Berlin Tegel at the same time as Hilary Clinton on Air Force Two last weekend was the beginning and end to my political opinions of late - I was in town to celebrate a very special person's birthday and I was looking forward to replacing Mr Gaddafi with Mr Gordon's... in my glass. So while the NATO Allies were taking over Brandenburger Tor and Hotel Adlon in their droves - or drones? - the birthday party found ourselves in an amazing apartment in the Northeast district of the city in Prenzlauer Berg.
Wall Drawing #1256: Five Pointed Stars, Sol LeWitt - US Embassy
Since this was my first time to Berlin, I was going to be amazed with anywhere my feet landed, but there would have been no better place to land than Prenzlauer Berg: a centre of bohemianism in the nineties, the area continues to be popular with the art scene today as well as hold the funny title of 'baby boom district'. Peppered in between the brezel bakeries, galleries, cafés and gourmet bars are children's toy stores and kitsch charity shops that cater to the yummy mummys who have contributed to an apparent high birth rate in the quarter and roam the characterful and gentrified streets of Prenzlauer Allee and Danziger Strasse. Never one to underestimate local knowledge, it gave all of us the excuse to hit the bars and relive our inner kinder.
With Alexanderplatz and Mitte only a few stops away on the tram or U-Bahn, I learned very quickly that East is best when it comes to Berlin hangouts - some of my favourite finds were Prater Garten for hearty and traditional food, Botequim Carioca for Brazilian beats washed down nicely with caipirinhas (danke schön to Ellen for reminding me caipirinhas make a great gin-substitute), Café Gorki Park for great commie comida and for some Berlin über lux, check into the recently opened Soho House and their lobby gallery and monthly screening events - sehr gut!
Mammut Bar-Café was a great find just around the corner from our apartment - this punk rock hideout hosts DJ sets every Saturday in a dark and velvet-lined bar with mammoth drawings on the walls, packed full with a hardcore rock star crowd and even a little gallery space behind the bar - Mammut turned out to be a must-do and be-seen venue and with Berlin's reputable climate of ever-changing nightlife I hope this is one bar that will escape extinction on my next visit.
The art scene sprawls across the city and thanks to some recommendations from my good friend, artist and Berliner, Ellen Macdonald I managed to grasp the varying art outputs that inhabit all four corners of Berlin. Check out Sprüth Magers (I Am Not Free Because I Can Be Exploded Anytime by Sterling Ruby) and Contemporary Fine Arts (Sunny Side Up by Georg Herold) for central spaces - or head out North around the city's central station area, Hauptbahnhof for an interesting enclave of studios and galleries surrounded by mechanics and automobile repair shops.
With an air of New York's Chelsea district, housed in a large red brick compound off Heidestrasse you can find the creative community of multi-tiered spaces such as TAPE, Hamish Morrison Galerie and Edition Block who specifically deal with works on print with rolling exhibitions from their vast archives.
For institutional grandeur there is no place like Hamburger Bahnhof. Touring exhibitions - Land Art by Richard Long - and works from the late twentieth-century that form the Marx Collection are on display in the main building - Flavin, Judd, Lichtenstein and Nauman, Warhol, Haring and Rauschenberg play a part in the concise narrative that sets the foundations for the museum's contemporary art collection later in the tour.
Here Comes Everybody was an electric display of works by New York-based mixed media artist Cory Archangel. Exploring the realm of internet culture, visual and audio formats are manipulated by programming devices which Archangel deploys to create a hyper-installation of works that comment on the addictive processes and myths of digital popular culture. Penetrating the space with distorted sound, the two-screen video installation, A Couple Thousand Short Films About Glenn Gould (2007) invites you to listen to a familiar yet equally alien audio experience. Reminiscent of the video works by Christian Marclay, Archangel compiled over a thousand internet clips that referenced the musical instrument to create a version of the 1st variation from Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations with individual notes sourced from each clip.
A Couple Thousand Short Films About Glenn Gould (2007)
Berlin being Berlin, there is a surprise around every corner and it is no different at Hamburger Bahnhof. Across an elevated corridor that has been made to resemble a U-Bahn passing, I was transported into the West Wing of the museum (Rieckhallen) to its contemporary art collection. The warehouse space spans five large exhibition halls that includes a basement for film and video installations - this old goods dept was transformed in 2004 into what I think is one of the best installed collections of contemporary art on the continent. Hamburger Bahnhof needs a good day and Berlin for that matter, needs much more than a weekend-flyby but that just leaves an excuse to go back for more and more and more - and that's only for the brezels (Mmmm) - bis bald Berlin!
Rieckhallen - Hamburger Bahnhof
If you're in Berlin next week check out Gallery Weekend Berlin 2011 next weekend from the 29th April - 1st May - click here for more details.