Cultural Capital: Berlin galleries and artists’ April arts extravaganza

Cultural Capital: Berlin galleries and artists’ April arts extravaganza

Every year since 2004 Berlin’s pre-eminent commercial art galleries – now nearly 50 of them – have participated in an initiative known as Gallery Weekend. Over three days (this year April 27 to 29) a calendar of special exhibitions and events celebrates the city’s cultural dynamism; it is an excellent time for anyone with an interest in contemporary art to visit the city.

The city’s thriving gallery scene is underpinned by the fact that it is home to about 20,000 artists from all over the world. And three years ago, one of them, the Berlin-born figurative painter Jonas Burgert, felt they ought to do something less obviously commercial themselves. The result was Artistweekend, which runs more or less concurrently (April 26 to 29).

Its focus is a huge yet still slightly under-the-radar non-selling exhibition of work by 126 international artists, entitled Ngorongoro, after the collapsed volcanic crater in Tanzania that is ‘a paradise of […] predatory animals’. (No prizes for discerning a subtext there.)

The studio complex on Lehderstrasse CREDIT: GUNTER LEPKOWSKI

It’s held in Burgert’s own 65,000sq ft studio complex on Lehderstrasse, built as a semiconductor factory, in the northeastern suburb of Weissensee that he has gradually transformed (there’s now a big heated outdoor swimming pool in its courtyard) and now shares with a handful of other artists.

This year they are repeating the project with a show that promises to be even bigger and starrier than the first iteration. To date more than 170 blue-chip artists have been confirmed, among them Etel Adnan, Georg Baselitz, Marius Bercea, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Mat Collishaw, George Condo, Marlene Dumas, Elmgreen & Dragset, Gilbert & George, Polly Morgan, Bruce Nauman, Shirin Neshat, Tim Noble & Sue Webster… And to see their work in the context of a raw industrial space like this, as opposed to a shiny white cube, promises to be exhilarating.

Lehderstrasse is less than four miles (about 15 minutes by taxi) from Mitte, the smart central area where most of the city’s upmarket hotels are concentrated, notably Rocco Forte’s excellent Hotel de Rome, which has a well-established arrangement with the Circle Culture Gallery. Works from the gallery are displayed in the hotel’s La Banca restaurant and it will open a club room-cum-library in the property this summer, where talks and other events will be held.

Accommodation at Berlin’s Orania

The newest hotel in the city, however, is Orania in edgier Kreuzberg, another area rich in galleries, though the artist population that helped gentrify the district has been largely priced out. The lavishly specced 41-room boutique, where the penthouse Loft has its own Steinway, is the creation of Dietmar Mueller Elmau, owner of Schloss Elmau in Bavaria.

Like its sister property down south, cultural activities are a core part of the hotel’s offering, hence the programme of concerts (chamber music, piano recitals and jazz, all free to guests) by Berlin-based musicians that it holds in its Salon, a library come rather stylish sitting room with an open fireplace, bar and kitchen.

Hotel Orania, rooms from €150 (£130).