Visual Arts

An Artist's Biotope in Berlin

Berlin has always attracted artists from other German cities and foreign countries. Alongside official cultural icons and institutions, there is a very rich unofficial artistic universe. At "Enzian," a pub in the district of "Kreuzberg," painters, writers, musicians, actors, and even explosion artists – all of whom have devoted their lives to art – gather regularly. This is a portrait of an artistic scene outside the mainstream.

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Authors: Sabine Traut & Gavin Hodge
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The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 instigated a process of political, social, economic, and cultural change in Berlin. Not only did a new generation of artists from East and West Berlin arise at the end of the 80's, but the city also increasingly drew artists from all over Germany and the world. The upheaval challenged many to critically and artistically consider social developments. "Unofficial" institutions arose which contributed to the diversification and acceleration of artistic production. During the reconstruction of the city, many temporarily useful locations emerged, providing venues and platforms for artists and art projects. At first, artists sought out unused premises, ruins, and unrenovated buildings in the district "Berlin-Mitte" and in the eastern part of the city. During the 90's, Berlin became increasingly attractive to a new scene of artists and galleries establishing themselves in gradually renovated apartments and studios. Today, there are 5,000 visual artists alone living and working in Berlin. When the Federal Government moved from Bonn to Berlin in the fall of 1999, Berlin became Germany's capital. Structures which began to form in the 90's were consolidated.

The "Enzian," a bar in the West Berlin district of "Kreuzberg," opened in the 90's. Norbert Hähnel, the owner, wanted to create a refuge for Punk and New German Wave musicians, as well as for other artists. Hähnel became famous for claiming to be, among other things, the "true Heino." He performed, as well, with the band "Die Toten Hosen" and was taken to court by the singer Heino for personality infringement. He had to go to prison for 20 days.

Pablo Picasso said, "when critics meet, they talk about art. When artists meet, they talk about where they can buy the cheapest paint brush." To this day, "Enzian" is a place where artists can talk about paint brushes, exchange information, and intitiate projects. The actor Rainer Kühn, a regular, has a one-man show based on texts written by Karl Valentin, a Munich-based cabaret performer from the 20's and 30's. The designer Franziska Schwarz has become quite well-known for her rabbits, and Peter Ehrentraut experiments with explosions and their aftermath. Cornelia Renz is a painter, and Marcel Bühler creates objects, collages, and installations. Bar owner Norbert Hähnel and Andy Laaf, one of Enzian's waiters and a drummer for the band "MAD SIN," arranged "Song of the Cotton Pickers" with lyrics by B. Traven, a German actor and writer in the first half of the 20th century. The bass player for the band "Fehlfarben," Michael Kemner, has proven that in Berlin no one notices if you walk around in a polar bear costume - even if accompanied by Fehlfarben's music and a live appearance by the "Gabys".

This is a portrait of breathtaking and inexhaustible artistic possibility in Germany's capital.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2006
Related links

Dossier: Media Art in Germany

History, tendencies, names and institutions