nineties berlin at the alte münze
art, Berlin, events, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, Museum, music, things to do

Nineties Berlin at the Alte Münze

“Berlin ist vorbei,” says Andreas Jeromin, a former Berlin squatter. It’s a phrase we hear often. Berlin is over. The coolest, most creative time the city had ever experienced, just after the fall of the wall in the 1990s, is long gone. But the current exhibition at the Alte Münze attempts to revisit the era with Nineties Berlin.

nineties berlin at the alte münze

The Alte Münze seems like a good choice for such an undertaking. The former mint factory now serves as a blank canvas that is regularly repurposed for different events and exhibitions, much like the morphing and the repurposing of old and abandoned spaces that took place in 1990s Berlin. The space lends itself to immersive audio-visual experiences, whether its being used for a Boiler Room event or the wonderful Monet to Kandinsky art show that was on earlier in the year, and the first room of Nineties Berlin is no different.


A moving collage of old photos and video footage of pianists playing on heaps of rubble, love parade ravers and artists occupying old buildings float by, giving us a feel of the political energy, creative freedom and hedonism of nineties Berlin. A jagged passageway in the centre of the room is lined with old black and white stills of the city.  But to find out more about them, you have to log in to the website and use the ‘interactive bot’, which takes you out of the experience by making you look at your phone and seems like a case of using technology for technology’s sake. Why not just put some text beneath every photo?

The next room consists of videos of contemporary witnesses talking about Berlin in the nineties, including the former squatter mentioned above. I found this room a little disappointing: Of the 14 people featured, only two were women, and the majority were involved in the music scene. What about the rest of the people living in Berlin in the 90s? Surely there was more to the era than the Love Parade?

Nineties Berlin at the Alte Münze

The creators of the exhibition might have had the same thought, because the forth room was a breath of fresh air. No, cold air. Literally. It was a freezing room, which consisted of a brutal and effective memorial to the people who had been shot down before the wall came crashing down at the end of the 80s. However, you couldn’t spend much time contemplating these lingering political and human effects of the wall because the cold temperature moved you swiftly on to the last room, which, again, focussed on club culture before spitting you out into the gift shop.

The gift shop felt like an extension of the exhibition. Poppy and expensive, it commercialised the image of 1990s Berlin without really moving beyond the surface. Everything felt like a simulation of simulacra, making me wonder if, indeed, Berlin really is over.

Nineties Berlin is currently on at the Alte Münze, Molkenmarkt 2, 10179 Berlin.

Photo of OSMO, a musical performance at Ufer Studio's in Berlin
art, Berlin, events, Life in Berlin, music, people, things to do

OSMO: A musical performance by Sebastian Blasius and the Sonar Quartett at Ufer Studios Berlin

You walk into room at Berlin’s Ufer Studios. Swirls of salt are scattered across the black floor, orange curtains hang from the ceiling, reminding you of segments of an orange, a silver ball, musicians, music stands and chairs are spread across the studio. As you crunch, crunch, crunch your way across the floor, you stop at one of these stands and pick up an envelope. Inside, is a picture and the words: Perform a dance that hardly anyone can recognise as a dance.

Photo of OSMO, a musical performance at Ufer Studio's in Berlin
Photo courtesy of Ralf Ziervogel

With OSMO, where Beethoven’s last string quartet meets an installation meets an audience, Sebastian Blasius has directed a musical performance with Berlin’s Sonar Quartett that hardly anyone can  recognise as a musical performance. Grating sounds, such as a bow across the hollow wood of a violin, are woven into familiar bursts of classical music. Recordings of children reciting the capitals of countries become a metronome. The musicians keep moving around, and so do the audience.

What results is a space where the line between performer and spectator is blurred. There is also a blurring of the lines separating the arts, so one is constantly stimulated in surprising ways. The ever changing constellations of people, lights, sounds and visuals creates something completely fresh and original. An engaging experience.

OSMO was on at Ufer Studios in Berlin on the 22nd and 23rd September 2107.


Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Friedenskirche: A journey through space and time with the Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra

Friedenskirche is a Baptist church in Charlottenburg with a history stretching back to 1897.

Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra at Friedenskirche

The red-brick building feels solid. Inside it is stark, modern. The only vibrant feature is an 80 square metre painting depicting the Berlin cityscape – with a donkey walking through Brandenburg Gate, making it sway, analogous to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra started their concert at Friedenskirche on Sunday evening with a modern, relaxed groove. A pulsing sound that brought out the warm colours of the painting on the wall behind them. The mood matched the church – but then stopped. The church became dark and creepy.

Between 1897 and 1908, this space was a Catholic Apostolic Church, with ideas of renunciation and temptation, prohibition and sin, prayer and redemption. The orchestra recreated the mood of this time with ghostly wails and groans, chants, violins tight and high-pitched with anxiety, transporting us back to another time. Like the donkey walking through Brandenburg Gate, the orchestra made time and space sway.

From 1908 to 1918, the building served as a synagogue. The lights in the church glowed a little warmer, and the music became more unified with the sound of brass instruments, zingy violins, and rhythmic clanging, reminiscent of the Bronze Age. Time and space had shifted around us once again.

After a short intermission, the lights were fully on. Violinists and saxophonists walked around by themselves playing their own tunes. The church turned into the Baptist church, dating back to 1920, that it is today – enlightened, with a respect for inner individuality.

In 1943, during World War II, heavy bombing destroyed the church. The music became discordant, panicky, with disturbing squeals and screeches. The violins, high-pitched and frenetic, punctured by the sound of drums, produced a rising anxiety. The foreboding sound of the organ filled the church. We could hear propellers churning low above us, a bomb siren, symbols clanging, a saxophone bleating, and then it happened; chaos, destruction, screams, a voice singing out in agony. The music assaulted our bodies.

Then, quiet. A lone violin played like the wind, whistling through ruins.

Reconstruction began after the war. Somewhere amid the hard sounds and discordance, a few hopeful notes rose. The orchestra assembled in front of us, became jazzy, and brought us back to solid ground.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra is conducting a free workshop about soundpainting this Sunday, 14th January at 12.30 at Friedenskirche, or follow them on Facebook for details of future concerts.

Berlin, music, theatre

Lukas, A Musical at TiltHAUS

Lukas is a musical with a difference; modern, minimalist, set in Berlin.

Lukas, a musical

The story centers around one decision; should Lukas leave his Berlin home and follow his girlfriend Olivia to Australia? Writers Nicole Ratjen, Ben Southam and Tom Hanley wanted to “explore the many facets of making a decision, simple and complex, familiar and distant,” and in this, they succeed.

They give every character in the story a voice – a song – and as these voices build to a crescendo, you realise just how complex making this decision is. The songs themselves are funny and touching, with tangible references such as playing Fifa on playstation.

Sarah Milligan (as Olivia) hit every note with a voice as powerful as any you would find on Broadway, Ben Southam (Lukas) gave a nuanced performance, and Blake Worrell convincingly played Lukas’s depressive father.

The music, provided by Laura Peterson (keyboard), Kenny Stanger (guitar), Stuart Nelson (alto saxophone) and Jano González  (bass), adds a layer of mood and feeling to each character, making the show an emotional experience.

But although the play manages to be emotionally complex, it falls down dramaturgically, managing to reach crisis, but never climax and resolution. Overall, however, it is a short, sweet experience, set in the intimate performance space of Berlin’s Factory, Germany’s largest start-up campus.

For more information, read Interview with Ben Southam: How to write a Musical in your Lunch Breaks.

Lukas, A Musical, is on at TiltHAUS (Rheinsbergerstr. 76/77, 10115 Berlin) tonight and tomorrow night.

art, Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Soundpainting in Neukoelln

“Where are we going?” asks The Bavarian for the hundredth time.

He does that sometimes. Repeats things. Last week, he came home perplexed because two people, independently of each other, said he had autistic traits.

“Soundpainting,” I say.

“Aha,” he says, eyebrows creased, nodding gravely.

I know what the next question is going to be.

Soundpainting is a live-composing sign language. The soundpainter (composer / conductor) uses gestures to direct a musicians, actors, dancers and artists in an improvised performance. It’s a thing.

soundpainting in berlinLast night, the Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra teamed up with the Swedish Soundpainting Orchestra for a performance at NK in Neukölln. The performance was supposed to start at 8.30. At 8.30 a couple of old-timers from Afro-American jazz collective The Pyramids were talking about how 1968 was an interesting year; Martin Luther King, Kennedy, the Vietnam War. That’s what you get when you go out in Neukölln.

Thankfully, you’re also never far from a beer in Neukölln. Another couple of beers got us to 1972, Besançon,1974, San Francisco – the moderator was not doing his job. I had never heard of The Pyramids, but now I’m an expert. If you ever see them, don’t give them a microphone.

Finally, it was time for soundpainting. The performance began in the courtyard. At least, I think it began. It was hard to tell whether the musicians were just warming up. A guy made sounds crushing a plastic water bottle; another shook a colander.

The performance moved upstairs, where two soundpainters directed two different groups in different areas of the hall. Each one seemed to make sense on its own, but clashed with the other. You could walk between them, and grab a beer on the way.

Finally, we moved into a space where the orchestra arranged itself in front of the audience. There were seats. One sound-painter took charge, and something happened. It started working. The soundpainter made gestures, the orchestra followed, performers moved, stories formed from sounds.

It became clear that the musicians could play and the singers could sing. They knew what they were doing, but they were doing it with abandon – playing, plucking, banging their instruments in unusual ways, using their voices to sing, shout, whisper, murmur and make animal sounds. Everyday noises and props were brought into the composition.

Out of cacophony, emerged music. It was like walking down a busy street, and hearing a symphony drift down to you from an open window, or like listening to a radio being tuned. What was happening? And what surprising thing were we going to hear or see next?

It was engaging, funny, weird, and weirdly satisfying.

Also, it was educational. I picked up the soundpainting gesture for ‘be quiet’ – maybe I’ll start using it on The Bavarian.

The Berlin Soundpainting Orchestra will be performing with The Swedish Soundpainting Orchestra in what promises to be a special performance tonight at 18.30, at Urban Spree.

art, Berlin, Film, music

AV Postcard Berlin

Filmmaker Ismar Badzic and musician Sam Hanlan have recently come up with a way to reboot the postcard, from a physical card with a limited choice of landmarks on the front and limited word-space on the back that takes ages to arrive, to a digital, audio-visual experience.

And the first AV postcard is from Berlin!

What do you think? Does it capture Berlin better than a traditional postcard?

To explore the individual sounds, images and interviews that make up this postcard, and for more information, check out the Audio Visual Postcard website.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Top 10 Berlin Songs

Lots of songs are about or feature Berlin. Here are my favorite!

10. Kaiserbase – Berlin Du Bist So Wunderbar

Berliner Pilsner used this for their advertising campaign and it’s a real Ohrwurm (which literally means ear worm, but also a tune that you can’t get out of your head).

What’s particularly nice is that if your name has two syllables, like mine, you can replace the word Berlin with your name and go around singing how wonderful you are.


9. Peter Fox – Schwarz zu Blau


8. Zarah Leander – Berliner Luft

So apparently, the air in Berlin – the Berliner Luft – has a particular quality. Maybe you can smell it, or sense it when you breathe it in – personally I can’t tell the difference. However, it’s a thing. There are many songs about the Berlin air, and this is the most famous. Written by Paul Lincke, it is considered to be the unofficial anthem of Berlin.


7. Franz Meißner – Im Grunewald (ist Holzauktion)

The Bavarian sings this uplifting little number every time we get on the S7 towards Grunewald. He sings it a lot…


6. Rainald Grebe – Brandenburg

This song makes fun of the difference between Berlin and the surrounding, depressed area of Brandenburg – unfortunately you have to understand German to get it!


5. Nina Hagen – Berlin

I don’t know what it is about Nina Hagen, but I love her. Sorry, but I can’t help it!


4. Amit Chaudhuri – Motz

Amit Chaudhuri lived in Berlin for a few months, which inspired some of his music. My favorite is Motz, which is the name of a paper sold in Berlin by unemployed and homeless people.

You can listen to it by clicking on the link below.

3. Leonard Cohen

Having seen Cohen perform this at the Waldbuhne twice, it brings back brilliant memories…


2. Lou Reed – Berlin


1. Marlene Dietrich – Das ist Berlin

For more, check out Wikipedia’s list of Songs about Berlin.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, music

Clubbing in Berlin

Despite the fact that we live in a city renowned for its clubbing scene, the Bavarian and I hardly ever bother.

Thank god that Berghain has just this week fallen off the top ten list of best clubs in the world to place no. 13, so now when people ask us how come we’ve never been, we can wave a casual arm and say, “Oh the Berghain is so passé…”

There are many, good reasons we stay home and dance around the living room instead of going out: we have a good stereo and all the music we like, we can get drunk on better quality alcohol and for cheaper, we can fall straight into bed once we’ve had enough, we’re married and not getting younger…

However last night we broke the rule and went to Cassiopeia. It seemed like a good idea when we planned it – who can resist old school hip hop – but as the date approached, the thought of leaving home at 10 p.m., then going for drinks for over two hours, then making our way to the club – because of course there’s no point in arriving before 12.30 a.m – made us anxious in a way Mickey Flanagan describes below:

However, once we were out, it was all okay – we even had fun. The Bavarian, who is absolutely a morning person, was a bit confused at some of the sights Friedrichshain had to offer at night; “Why is that man reading Karl Marx outside a bar at midnight?” “Why have so many people got beards?” “Why are those people climbing up the side of that building?” “But seriously, that guy, reading Marx – is he really reading, or is he just posing?” “Do you think anyone’s ever stood outside a bar in Friedrichshain and read Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth of Nations’?”

And then, at three o’clock in the morning, when we were leaving the club, a new mystery presented itself – people were queuing, actually queuing, to get in: “Why is everyone going in now?” “What have they been doing thus far?” “How long are they going to stay out for if they’re just getting here now?” “Aren’t they tired?” “Don’t they want to go sleeping?”

Now I know that three o’clock is a ridiculous time to leave a club, but I can’t help it – where I come from, clubs used to wind down around three, and you found yourself on the pavement by four, so I’ve been pre-conditioned stop dancing and start making my way home between those hours. I even dragged the Bavarian home at four on our wedding night (ignoring pleas of “but I like this song!”) while our friends continued celebrating till breakfast.

Leaving early, however, does have its benefits – when the Bavarian wakes up at seven a.m. in his usual chirpy mood, which he is bound to do no matter what time he went to bed, it’s just about tolerable. Any less sleep, and I would have had a problem with him singing Wir Feiern Die Ganze Nacht at the top of his lungs in the shower this morning. Which makes me think, maybe we should start going to clubs first thing in the morning – after all, they run continually from Friday evening till Monday morning in this city. People coming out of the club would be as awed by us as we were by the people going into the club when we were leaving last night – and to top it off, I’d have the Bavarian by my side, who is so energetic in the mornings that everyone would wonder what rock n’roll cocktail of drugs could produce such a high…

Life in Berlin, music, News, politics

Gazprom celebrates 20 years in Germany at the Berliner Philharmonie

You can say what you like about Russia’s largest energy company Gazprom, but they do know how to throw a party. Yesterday evening we found ourselves amidst a bunch of people, a disproportionate number of whom had face-lifts, celebrating the company’s 20 year partnership with BASF’s Wintershall in Germany.

Valery Gergiev Berliner Philharmonie 3 November 2010And how did Gazprom celebrate? They hired out the entire Philharmonie, invited 2000 people along to fill it, employed the services of Berlin Rundfunk Choir (Germany’s oldest radio choir) and flew in an entire orchestra from St Petersburg (the Marinsky Theatre Orchestra no less) along with conductor Valery Gergiev, who the New York Times describes as one of “Russia’s most potent cultural symbols.” Oh and they had pre and post-concert receptions flowing with food and wine, and dress code that stated that women should wear short dresses. Ah, the Russians…. 

The concert was wonderful; Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini followed by the third act of Wagner’s Parsifal – music chosen to represent Russio-German co-operation.

The evening, however, displayed a different type of co-operation; that between money, politics and music – a fact reflected by the attendees, from Vladimir V. Kotenev, former Russian Ambassador to Germany and recently appointed CEO of Gazprom, former politicians Egon Bahr , creator of the “Ostpolitik“, and Otto Schily ,  Minister of the Interior in Schröder’s cabinet (Schröder is currently head of Gazprom’s shareholder committee, and his taking the position was widely criticised as in this Washington Post article) to singer Vicky Leandros and Janice White, young ex-wife of German music producer Jack White.


Leonard Cohen at the Waldbuhne

Last night Leonard Cohen played at the Waldbuhne to an audience of more than 12,000 people.

I’d seen him play in London a couple of years ago; he was less conversational last night, but as always he gave a good show.

He and his wonderful band played for over three and a half hours, and his voice – at the age of 76 – was as deep and powerful as ever. He was polite, sincere and humble. He even sang ‘Lover Lover Lover’ (the only Cohen song to make the German charts) right at the end as someone held up a banner requesting it.

Leonard Cohen at the Waldbuhne 2010

Seeing him perform in the open air arena in the middle of the forest, originally built and used by the Nazis, was a quasi-religious experience, and of course ‘First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin’ really got the crowd going. Here it is, followed by a very interesting recent interview:

history, Life in Berlin, music

The Cemeteries at Mehringdamm

If you wander through the cemetery gates at 21 Mehringdamm, you may be forgiven for thinking that you are entering just one cemetery instead of five.

During the reign of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia in 1735, work began on the cemeteries outside the city gate of Hallesches Tor for the parishes of Jerusalem Church and New Church as burials were no longer permitted within the city gates. Cemeteries for the Trinity Church, Bethlehem Church (for the Bohemian community, who fled to Berlin in 1732) and Morovian Church followed.

Here’s a plan of the cemeteries today:

Cemeteries at Mehringdamm plan

The place has an improvised, mishmash feel to it because of the many changes its seen in its almost 300 year history. It has been through various expansions (especially when Friedrich Wilhelm II banned all burials in churches and inhabited areas in 1794) and suffered heavy damages during the second world war. The Berlin Wall separated the cemetery in the west from its parish in the east, which led to it falling into a state of neglect and disrepair, and between 1968 and 1971, the oldest part of Trinity Cemetery was lost when Bluecherstrasse was re-routed.

It’s an extremely interesting place to walk around, with many notable graves. Here are some highlights: 

Felix Mendelssohn grave

Felix Mendelssohn, composer, pianist, conductor

3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847

One of the most popular composers of the Romantic Era, most famous for his Wedding March, Elijah and Fingal’s Cave

Fanny Hensel grave

Fanny Hensel, composer, pianist

17 November 1805 – 11? May 1847

Nearby is the grave of Mendelssohn’s equally talented sister. A significant number of her works were published under his name. Felix Mendelssohn became very depressed after her death and died 6 months later. The line of song engraved on her stone translates roughly to “our thoughts and songs rise up to heaven.”

Franz Duncker grave

Franz Duncker, publisher, left-liberal politician and social reformer

4 June 1822 – 18 June 1888

Responsible for the left-liberal newspaper Berliner Volks-Zeitung, and a leader of the revolution of 1848. Together with Max Hirsch and Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch, he founded the  Hirsch-Dunckerschen Gewerkvereine, an early trade union movement.

Adelbert von Chamisso grave

Adelbert von Chamisso, poet and botanist

30 January 1781 – 21 August 1838

His most important work as a botanist was the description of trees of Mexico in 1830-1831, done with Diederich Franz Leonhard von Schlechtendal. As a poet, he was famous for Frauenliebe und -leben (1830), a cycle of lyrical poems set to music by Robert Schumann, Carl Loewe, and Franz Paul Lachner.

Anna Schramm grave

Anna Schramm, soprano, soubrette and actress.

8 April 1835 – 1 June 1916

Considered one of the most popular artists in Germany before the turn of the century.

There are many more notable graves here including ETA Hoffmann, Henriette Herz and Adelbert Delbruck. Look out especially for the graves of landscape painter Karl Wilhelm Bennewitz von Loefen and his wife, as they are each marked by a sculpture of a woman’s head by Ignaz Taschner.

Life in Berlin, music

MTV Awards in Berlin

Finally, we are being treated the way we ought to be in Berlin; we were invited to watch U2 play live at The Brandenburg Gate from the chic top floor balcony of the Allianz building which is next to the French Embassy and overlooks the Tor.

I have no idea how we achieved VIP status, but assume that either it was some sort of mistake, or else that The Bavarian is indeed a Very Important Person (I suppose I could ask him, but after all these years of not quite knowing what exactly he does, I think it would be rude – a bit like asking someone what their name is after having already talked to them on several occasions).

In any case, being plebs at heart, we behaved in an un-VIP like way – gulping down as much red wine and food as possible and laughing gleefully at the more than 10,000 people gathered below us.

But everything has its price and, in a thoroughly anti-Rock’n’Roll manner, we were subjected to a speech by the lovely people at Allianz (the second biggest insurance company in the world) full of corporate gaga before the gig.

U2 were fantastic, and played 5 songs, starting with One Love during which communist / east-west reunification iconography was projected onto the Brandenburg Gate – you can see it below.

There was much speculation about the mystery guest that would be appearing during the U2 set – the Germans were hoping that it would be David Hasselhoff, which I thought was a joke until The Bavarian told me that I should stop laughing so hard because they were dead serious. Luckily, the special guest turned out to be Jay Z instead, who performed during Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Fortunately for the Germans, David Hasselhoff did make a special appearance at the MTV awards at the O2 Centre later on that evening. Once again I found myself in a conundrum over whether to laugh or not…either he is a comic genius or he’s a drunkard who takes himself much too seriously. You decide.

If you want more, there’s an interesting article in The Spiegal on Germany’s love affair with The Hoff.