From Off My List: Exploring Art in Berlin


“True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.”

-Albert Einsten

Feeling refreshed after having slept surprisingly well on our first night in our centrally located Berlin AirBNB, we woke early to grey skies.  I put together a German style breakfast of brötchen in our tiny kitchen (warm rolls, pretzels and cold cuts) after my husband dashed out to the store for a few staples. We hastily ate and put on our cold weather gear.  Today was the day we would visit some of Berlin’s finest museums, and we headed out toward the Spittelmarkt U-Bahn train station (the U-Bahn is like the NYC subway, or the Bay Area’s BART- only much cleaner, and way safer).  It was cold outside, probably in the high 30s, but not totally unbearable.

Map at the Spittlemarkt U-Bahn station

Our first museum stop was the Pergamon Museum, located in the heart of Berlin on Museum Island and one of five world renowned museums clustered together on the Spree River.  The fascinating Pergamon is the most visited museum in all of Germany. Early that morning, we waited in line for 90 wet and cold minutes before reaching the museum entrance, as we were not aware that “skip the line” tickets can be booked in advance (naturally at quite a higher cost).  It’s an option to consider, depending on how much available time and money a Berlin museum-goer has to invest.

The intricate Mshatta Facade at The Pergamon

The popular Pergamon, famous for its impressive reconstruction of ancient and massive archaeological structures, houses 3 different art collections:  the Antikensammlung (Antique collection), Vorderasiatisches (Ancient Near East) Museum, and the Museum für Islamische Kunst (for Islamic Art).  We were not able to visit its most famous exhibit, the Pergamon Altar, due to the museum’s ongoing and extensive remodeling project.  The museum’s initial remodeling projected costs have since doubled, and the re-opening date, which was originally slated for early 2019, has been pushed back to 2023.

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 7.18.05 PM
The Ishtar Gate, courtesy of National Geographic

Once we made it through the front doors and entered the lobby area, the Pergamon first appeared to be much like any other museum.   I became quickly disillusioned from that notion as we stepped a little further into the building. Although there are many smaller artifacts displayed around the Pergamon, its most impressive pieces are the breathtakingly enormous monuments, which existed elsewhere in antiquity but were discovered by archaeologists, painstakingly dug up, shipped to Germany, and rebuilt piece by piece.  The Ishtar Gate, as pictured above and below, is one such structure.

A closer look at the details on Ishtar Gate
Egyptian jewelry and artifacts at The Pergamon

My favorite of the structures was the Market Gate of Miletus, built in the 2ndcentury in Greece.  I am a big fan of Roman Greco architecture and styling, and the grandeur of this rebuilt configuration, destroyed by earthquake in the 10thor 11thcentury, had me in awe.

A corner shot of the awesome Market Gate of Miletus

After touring the Pergamon for nearly half the day, we then hurried onto the U-Bahn northwest toward the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, located several stops away from Museum Island.  Touring a modern art Museum was high on my Berlin bucket list, so I was excited to see what the Hamburger Bahnhoff had to offer.  Built in the mid 19thcentury as one of Berlin’s main railway stations, in the early 20thcentury it was converted into a museum of transport and construction.  During the 1990s, the museum reinvented itself once again and became a permanent home to modern art.

A rainy day outside the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum

The Hamburger Bahnhof Museum is huge- 10,000 square meters big (over 107,000 square feet).  There were 5 exhibitions running while we were there:  Agnieszka Polska’s The Demon’s Brain, Painter.Mentor.Magician. Otto Mueller and his Network in Wroclaw, Sam Pulitzer’s Whim or Sentiment or Chance, The Elephant in the Room:  Sculptures of the Marx Collection and the Collection of the Nationalgalerie, and How to Talk with Birds, Trees, Fish, Shells, Snakes, Bulls and Lions. 

This clothing sculpture by German artist Anselm Kiefer spans a large wall

One of the more interesting exhibits we saw that day was The Demon’s BrainI’d never seen a video installation at an art museum before, and this one was pretty spectacular.  Polska creates a multi-channel video set up in a room of approximately 15,000 square feet. Several screens are strategically set up at different points of the room with each screen running a different part of the same story.  The disparate yet unified films are synchronized by sound, and viewers find themselves in an immersive historical story set sometime during the 15th century.

Watching Agnieszka Polska’s video installation The Demon’s Brain

Also impressive was the How to Talk with Birds, Trees, Fish, Shells, Snakes, Bulls and Lions exhibitThe story goes that it emerged from meetings and discussions among artists across the globe whose common thread is environmental thinking.  In walking through the exhibit, it becomes clear that each of the artists featured deals with nature-culture entanglements in a unique way by drawing upon their personal knowledge of a specific place in the world.

Flow, based on the experience of a river contains artworks that respond to the enironment
Elephant painting by the late Senegalese artist Issa Samb


Sculptured heads by Cameroonian artist Herve Yamguen

We took in as many works of art as possible until the museum was ready to close.  Famished for dinner, we headed back in the direction of our own neighborhood and stumbled upon the new-school brewhouse Lemke Berlin located in the Alexanderplatz.  Lemke is one of Germany’s up and coming microbreweries, a current trend driven by a growing preference in Germany’s urban areas for specialty beers.  Discovering  a microbrewery in Berlin was surprisingly ironic to an American visitor, as for centuries not just the US but all the world has tried to capture the exquisite flavor of German beer.  Refusing to be left behind in the current market, even Germany now capitalizes on the American craft brew trend.


We ended up having a beer but not staying for dinner because on that night, the entire restaurant smelled heavily of smoke and meat, which we found pretty unappetizing.  So we left and ate instead at cozy Zur Rippe, a traditional German restaurant which was located several blocks walk from our AirBnB.

A busy dinner hour at Zur Rippe

After walking there through the rain, we were quickly seated and soon we were warm and dry.  Along with a tasty draft beer (what else?), the old-school schnitzel, spicy curry wurst and flavorful sauerbraten were all delicious, and we enjoyed a lively conversation about our experiences during the day.

Lucy’s favorite German dish, curry wurst and fries

After dinner and back in our apartment we literally collapsed, as we had traveled on foot a total of ten miles in one day.  We needed to recharge for our final day in Berlin, after which we would head out to celebrate the New Year in Hamburg. Visions of 2018 danced in my head as I drifted off to sleep with a smile, excited to ring in 2019 with loved ones and new friends.

©2019 Lisa Ihnken, All Rights Reserved except where noted



4 thoughts on “From Off My List: Exploring Art in Berlin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s