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Modern Art in the Neighbourhood Kiez

Updated on May 3, 2017

Kiez Art

Rainer Ehrt - art lecturer, and satirical cartoonist
Rainer Ehrt - art lecturer, and satirical cartoonist | Source

Kiez Art Means Art for the People

In Berlin, they are generous with invitations to exhibition openings. They deliberately include non-professionals and it gives the galleries a good feel.

My first Kiez is in the west of the City in Schöneberg. The opening, was in a private Kiez gallery – The Christine Knauber Galerie. Kiez is unique to Berlin as a word, but not as an idea. It means a tight-knit community, living in neighbouring apartments, houses, streets, with its own shops, appliance repair unit, dentist etc. Kiez is an extended family, but not necessarily related. I was invited, because my niece lives in the Kiez. Not many Kiez have their own museum and art gallery. This was upmarket stuff. I started at the art gallery.

Caricature as Art.

The exhibiting artist was Rainer Ehrt. He earns his money as a lecturer and satirical cartoonist. As such, his work is entertaining. His caricatures range from Napoleon, over Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner and Luther. That is not comprehensive. The list of prizes he has won since 1992, repeats the words ‘satire, caricature, Humour Awards, Best Illustration, Best Cartoon’. Rainer is a leader in his field.

I entered the gallery with my credit card poised. His works are not expensive and if one divided price by hours spent, he is not a greedy man. I left without leaving a red dot. He is a skilful artist, makes amusing, sometimes critical statements, using a variety of media. There were massive portraits, such as the Trapeze Artist – if I emptied a wall in my house, it wouldn’t be sufficient. There are reasonably priced smaller objects and yet - and yet there is no point arguing about taste. I, and the other 50 people crushed in the small, but intimate gallery space, were amused, but I didn’t think his work belonged in my home. I could imagine a restaurant or pub owner, buying the lot! Waiting diners would forget their hunger and feed themselves on amusing pictures, prompting discussion and anecdotes. A picture of Wahnfried caricatures famous 19th century stars, connected to Wagner. A free aperitif if you can guess them, would eliminate small-talk and be the perfect ice breaker on a blind date.

Frederick's Flute

Frederick the Great with Bayonet Flute
Frederick the Great with Bayonet Flute

Rainer Ehrt - Artist

Rainer Ehrt with Martin Luther
Rainer Ehrt with Martin Luther

Frederick the Great’s Flute

My favourite? A wood carved bust of Frederick the Great, playing his beloved transverse flute. The flute end had been replaced by a bayonet. Prussian music and militarism in one poplar block. Very clever, plays to the gallery, and yet misses so much for which Frederick should be remembered. That apart, the €7000 price tag was beyond my plastic.

I may sound critical, but I’m not. Let’s not forget, Christine Knauber and Rainer Ehrt have brought modern art into the Kiez. It costs nothing to go in and browse and get a feel for a different world. The people are great to chat with. This gallery is a true service to the community. Visitors to the city should seek them out, Wednesdays to Fridays.

Maybe the World’s Smallest Museum

A short walk from the gallery in the Langenscheidt Strasse, to the Creller Strasse, brings one to the Museum of Unbelievable Things. It is reputed to be the smallest museum in Berlin and visitors per square metre measurements, make it the most visited in the city. I cannot describe a theme. It is unbelievable. Opening times are a challenge. Be sure to check their website, first.

How to get to Schöneberg

Most convenient for the Knauber Galerie and the Museum of UnbelievableThings, is the subway station Kleist Park, which is at the end of the Langenscheidt Strasse. Walk up the hill, to the gallery on your right.

Nearly as convenient is the S-Bahn Julius-Leber-Brücke. This has the advantage of being just one stop off the S- Bahn Ring, which surrounds innner-city Berlin and allows easy access from any location. Change at S-Bahn Schöneberg for the Julius-Leber-Brücke. The station is just a few yards from the end of the Creller Strasse and the tiny museum.

Continue up the Creller Strasse and turn left into the Langenscheidt Strasse, for the Christine Knauber Gallery.

Trapeze Artists

One of Rainer Ehrt's portraits.
One of Rainer Ehrt's portraits. | Source

Christine Streuli at the Berlinische Galerie

I leave one Kiez and receive an invitation to another. I am on the mailing list of the Berlinische Galerie – one of the two amazing modern art venues in Berlin - and was invited to the presentation of the Fred Thieller Prize. It is a major happening in the world of modern art, and went this time to Berlin-based, Swiss artist, Christine Streuli. The jury decided in record time that she would be the winner. Many critics don’t consider her work to be art. It was controversial, with the usual mutterings about how she only won the prize, because they needed to give it to a woman. She is only the fourth to win it. The presentation area was screened off from the art. I could see tantalizing bits of her work, between gaps and couldn’t wait to get behind the screens. I ignored the detractors. Any artist who can get my pulse racing with just glimpses, has my vote. Her vast portraits, make Ehrt's Trapeze Artists, look more suitable for a living room.


Part of the Warpaintings series

Stunned observers dwarfed by Strueli's Warpaintings
Stunned observers dwarfed by Strueli's Warpaintings | Source

Christine Streuli - Studio

Streuli's creative moment.
Streuli's creative moment. | Source

Inside the Explosion

Modern art doesn’t have to depict. Abstract is allowed. Christine’s abstracts have titles and once one knows the title, the paint splurges make sense. Her Warpainting series is remarkable, powerful, breath-taking art, inspired by the camouflage of war. The wow-affect is assured.

So why the detractors? Much of her work is untitled. A photograph of what appears to be an exploding bomb, throws a cloud of dust in the air. She has added two shocking-pink dots, near the top of the cloud. The cloud has become a person – perhaps the person, who is now a cloud of dust. Then she enlarged. One would measure the original with a twelve-inch ruler. She blew it up to around 15 feet. Hold your hat when you turn innocently from the Warpainting series and stare up at those dots! You are the person inside the explosion.

Soldiers, politicians, veiled women, are given shocking-pink masks, just around the eyes. They are dehumanised. A tank commander, hidden in the turret, gets a pink mask and is humanised. And so it goes on.

Libeskind and the Jewish Museum Berlin

Another Kiez – Another Museum.

The Kiez local to the Berlinische Galerie is part of Kreuzberg and starts about a hundred metres south of the Gallery. Walk south down the Alte Jakob Strasse to a different world. Concrete and steel apartments in Berlin, are also a statement about the effects of war. Unlike the Schöneberg Kiez, which is largely Gründerjahre buildings (1870 - 1900), the Kreuzberg Kiez is part of post-war reconstruction.

This is another Kiez with a museum. The Jewish museum, with its awesome new wing, designed by Libeskind, is a hundred metres from the gallery. Instead of heading down the Alte Jakob Strasse, continue along the front of the gallery on the pedestrianized zone heading west, until you reach the Linden Strasse. You can see the Jüdisches Museum to your left. It is on a different scale to the Museum der unerhörten Dinge.

I once took a party of Ugandan nuns to the Slavery Museum in Hull. I warned them, but they insisted. I heard a Sister later say, ‘If I had seen this earlier in my life, I would never have become Christian’. Her words ring in my ears years later. Slavery was selling human misery for a profit. Anything to get rich. The Jewish Museum concentrates on centuries of discrimination, punctuated by periods of extreme hate. It demonstrates that antisemitism makes no sense on any level. The new wing houses a stunning modern art sculpture. It is a cold, silent structure in steel, yet says so much.

The Jewish Museum, is a must-visit feature, but be warned by the words of my Ugandan friend.

How to Find the Kreuzberg Kiez

The North/South subway line U6 bisects Berlin. Alighting at the Koch Strasse, allows a visit to Check Point Charlie and its museums of the DDR, before the short walk to the Berlinische Gallerie. The subway station Stadtmitte is one stop northwards and opens up access to the old French Hugenot quarter, around the Gendarmen Markt. This houses some of Berlin's most splendid buildings, and the neighbouring Friedrich Strasse, Berlin's finest shops, including Lafayette, of Paris fame.

Take a Chance With a Bike

I get around Berlin by bike. The city has been kept small, in terms of surface area, by its history, and has few hills. That makes it perfect for cycling and bikes can be hired for around €10 per day. The cycle-path network is comprehensive, and the few spots where a separated path is missing, you can ride defensively on the pavement. It isn't legal, but no one minds and pedestrians help cyclists out.

Pay attention at crossings. There are often two sets of lights - one for vehicles and one for cylists. Green for cars may not coincide with green for bikes.

Wilberforce - The Force Behind Slavery Abolition

Wiberforce, in front of his birthplace, now a museum.
Wiberforce, in front of his birthplace, now a museum. | Source

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      Christine Knauber 3 months ago

      Thanks for the review, Clive!