With its ever-expanding population of artists, Berlin is a constant focus for the international art scene. These artists are having a profound effect on the development of the city, with new gallery districts springing up in places no one would have expected just a few short years ago. It's hard to imagine another city anywhere in the world with a more vibrant arts scene than Berlin. The 2008 Cultural Industries Report estimated that, even at that time, there were around 20,000 visual artists living and working in Berlin - a figure that is only likely to have increased further in the intervening period. Many are represented in the 400 galleries within the capital, setting Berlin apart as the city with the highest concentration of galleries in Europe.
Often, galleries are set up in parts of the city in which art is already on display. The area around the Berlinische Galerie in Alte Jacobstraße and the Jewish Museum in Lindenstraße, for instance, has grown into a veritable arts quarter. The Galerienhaus in Lindenstraße 34/35 used to be the Merkur Department Store, before becoming home to Lufthansa and, later, in the 1990s, providing accommodation for asylum seekers. Today, this period building, with its impressive spiral staircase features 14 galleries filled with design, video installations, sculptures and paintings. The rooms that house Jarla Partilager's contemporary collection are particularly impressive and extend throughout the entire fourth floor. This gallery predominantly focuses on the work of up-and-coming, as-yet-unknown artists.
The side-streets have also been infected with this ‘art virus'. The spacious rooms of a newbuild between Markgrafen- and Charlottenstraße, in itself a rather unattractive piece of architecture, sandwiched between supermarkets and boutiques selling Turkish wedding attire, now house several galleries and art agencies, including Galerie Carlier/Gebauer. It moved from the railway arches at Holzmarkstraße to the expansive premises in Kreuzberg in 2008, where it exhibits works of contemporary painting and photography. There are yet more galleries located not far from Checkpoint Charlie. For Eva Kaczor, founder of art portal ‘artberlin.de', this area is "an absurdity", due to the fact that, just a few years ago, it had little more to its name than the Axel Springer publishing house and a handful of office blocks. Today, come sundown, the sidewalks are packed for the latest exhibition preview event, and more and more excellent restaurants, like Restaurant Tim Raue, are relocating to the neighborhood.
New construction projects are also evidence of the imminent transformation of this entire area: new building projects are underway where the districts of Kreuzberg and Mitte meet, like those at Französische Straße 56-60 and the elegant ‘Palais Vernhagen' development just off Friedrichstraße, designed by star architect David Chipperfield and inspired by the apartments that served as the venue for the sophisticated salon gatherings of the early 20th century. Chipperfield is also responsible for the interior design and the bathroom architecture in these apartments. The design of the foyer in particular was intended as a kind of homage to Rahel Varnhagen von Ense, author and renowned salonnière. David Chipperfield also designed the gallery run by Berlin husband-and-wife art collectors, Céline und Heiner Bastian. It is located on the Museumsinsel, in the company of world-famous buildings like the Pergamon Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie - a magnet for those with an interest in art. Today, this sculptural building is an exhibition space for contemporary art
Mitte continues to be the capital's traditional gallery district. Art enthusiasts will thoroughly enjoy the entire area surrounding Kunstwerke (KW - Institute of Contemporary Art) at Auguststraße 69, and not just during major art events like Gallery Weekend in May and Berlin Art Week in September. Throughout the year, this is the venue for countless events and art tours. Gerd Harry Lybkes' gallery Eigen + Art, which relocated to the suburbs of Spandau from Leipzig in 1992 and which remains there today, has become quite an institution.
Another art hotspot has developed around Hamburger Bahnhof. As well as a varied program of exhibitions, this former terminus station is now home to a collection of modern art, with works by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Anselm Kiefer. This has also drawn gallery owners to the area: the Rieckhallen and Halle am Wasser were the starting point for the KunstCampus development by the Schifffahrtskanal.
However, some gallery owners have already moved on. Potsdamer Straße, not far from the Neue Nationalgalerie, has been attracting growing numbers of art enthusiasts for several years now. Art Agent Sophia Weiser says: "The same thing is happening in Potsdamer Straße as we saw about a decade ago in Mitte." Galleries are springing up like mushrooms; more and more restaurants and shops are opening in the side streets of this once dull neighborhood. The von Friedrich Loock gallery, for instance, used to be located in Tucholskystraße, then by Hamburger Bahnhof and can now be found at "Potse" (the colloquial term affectionately used to refer to Potsdamer Platz) - right next to the former publishing headquarters of the Tagesspiegel newspaper. Today, where once there were printing presses, the high-ceilinged rooms now display abstract metal sculptures from London-based gallery, Blain Southern. Fashion mogul Andreas Murkudis' Concept Store and milliner Fiona Bennett's boutique are located by the entrance area.
Districts such as Neukölln or Wedding are also becoming increasingly popular within the arts and cultural scene. "As far as the artists themselves are concerned, many are joining ateliers in the area around Leopoldplatz in Wedding and all around Luxemburger Straße. However, whether a new gallery scene will establish itself here is anyone's guess", says Elke Melkus. Melkus runs the agency art:berlin, which offers art and culinary tours around various districts of the city. "In general, the expectation that Neukölln would burgeon into the new arts district has not quite come to pass. Sure, there's a lively off-scene, but the real players continue to favor the hotspot around Potsdamer Straße." A public tour offered by art:berlin runs through the new arts neighborhood. Elke Melkus observes the way in which parts of the city change when increasing numbers of artists settle there. "Personally, I think that these neighborhoods always benefit when galleries open". However, she would like to see a better mix of established and off-scene galleries. Insiders compare the current arts boom with that of the 1920s, when many artists like Max Beckmann or Käthe Kollwitz came to Berlin, and the city was the heart of the arts world, as it is again today. This trend looks set to continue into the foreseeable future.