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Here lies treasure: a guide to Berlin’s art

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Berlin is a city of subtle seduction; somewhere expression was born out of oppression. A diverse Mecca for artists, here kunst (art) is an experience not limited to galleries, but alive throughout the streets, people and experiences the city has to offer.

Organise your wanderings for an efficient art gallery extravaganza using our weekend-long itinerary; from Friday-night cocktails through to Sunday brunch, go forward and find a wealth of artistic treasure waiting for you all over Berlin.

Portraits daubed in black sit on a background of chaotic psychedelic graffiti on a preserved stretch of the east side of the Berlin wall - Lonely Planet © Ewais / Shutterstock The preserved stretches of the Berlin Wall have become a space for artistic expression © Ewais / Shutterstock

Day one: kick off in Kreuzberg

Jump in at the deep end in Kreuzberg and immerse yourself in the pinnacle of what the Berlin art scene has to offer; the free König Galerie is the perfect introduction. Johann König’s self-named space is staged in a former Brutalism-style church, St. Agnes; designed by Werner Duttnamm in 1967. Matching the city’s rough exterior, this gallery has a glowing kaleidoscope of movements and colours inside too. The building’s bones were constructed from post-war rubble to blend with the socialist-era of uniform city-planning. Accommodating large-scale works has set this gallery apart, while frequent circulation of contemporary mediums keeps the vibe fresh.

Right around the corner you will find the Berlinische Galerie. In 1975, Jörg Fricke resurrected a glass warehouse into this museum for modern art with the philosophy of creating a bricks-and-mortar love-letter to the magical city.

Cafe ORA's shelves are stacked to the brim with glasses, botlles and tins of different teas and coffees, surround by dark-stained wooden furniture - Lonely Planet © ORAPick your poison at ORA while soaking up the classic vibes © ORA

After your eyes have had their fill and hunger starts to creep up on you, stroll to Oranienplatz and seek out ORA. This cafe was once upon a time an apothecary; shelves that were lined with vials of medicine are now organised with wine glasses and coffee necessities. The grandiose bar wraps around the room while olive-green chairs invite you to stay for treats all day.

A colourful three eyed cat casts its gaze over the rooftop housing the bustling bar at Klunkerkranich against a cloudy blue sky. © Jennifer Sojka / Lonely PlanetBerlin’s art escapes out onto the streets at every given opportunity © Jennifer Sojka / Lonely Planet

Evening inspirations

If you’re looking for a chilled end to the day with a drink or two, take the u-bahn to Klunkerkranich in Neukölln. This cool and undemanding hangout on the roof of the Neukölln Arcaden is where locals gather beneath the three-eyed cat for refreshments. Summer months bring paradigm-shifting sunsets over the city-scape of old and new Berlin colliding. Live music events and an eclectic indoor bar create a paramount experience.

Feel more like going out-out? Stay in Kreuzberg and get your bad self to Roses where pink-fur walls and red hues snake through this cozy after-hours spot. It’s a grown-up Barbie dream house and a 1920s cafe with a feisty reputation. Popular among the LGBTQ community but has a come-as-you-are attitudeRules: leave your camera at the door and present cash for your intoxications.

An exhibition called Fleischeslut (Carnal Desire) on display in Galerie Deschler Berlin. George Grosz in dialogue with Rainer Fetting, Sven Marquardt, Xenia Hausner, Jörn Grothkopp © Galerie Deschler Berlin / George Grosz / Sven MarquardtFLEISCHESLUST (CARNAL DESIRE): George Grosz in dialogue with Rainer Fetting, Sven Marquardt, Xenia Hausner, Jörn Grothkopp © Galerie Deschler, Berlin

Day two: get lost in the art and find yourself dining on a bus

Sitting on Auguststrasse you will find two treasure troves of culture a stone’s throw apart. Galerie Deschler is refreshing and intriguing with small-scale charm. Crown moldings line the ceiling, tracing along the art that focuses on new trends; often with a provocative and airy approach. Opened by Markus Deschler in 1995, the creations here have opened the dialogue for many artists. Rotating exhibitions make every visit different, but always a quintessential experience.

Then there is the Museum the Kennedys, housed in what was once a school for Jewish Girls, owner Michael Fuchs transformed the building into a space honouring the past and inviting in creative spirit. On the second floor, the museum displays rare photos primarily shot by Mark Shaw and Cecil Stoughton while President Kennedy’s recorded voice eerily echoes the hallway. A note card in his handwriting, phonetically spelling out, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ adds to the, at times, heavy experience, but a well-crafted exhibition.

Contemporary cuisine

Just around the corner from these two galleries lies Buck and Breck. If you want to stop in for an aperitif, you must ring the doorbell and a nonchalant man will open the door with no more than an unassuming nod. The store-front window appears abandoned, but upon the bottom of the staircase the vibe shifts to quiet conversations, deep-navy walls, exotic art, and exclusivity. Complex drinks should be sipped here and again, no photography.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but if you are of an inquisitive nature, the enchanting and upscale Katz Orange restaurant will give you life. Set in a former 19th-century brewery, tucked behind the busy streets with a personal terrace, you can lounge on Aztec blankets and sheep-skinned pillows that dress the tables, while sharing an endless wine-list and environment-conscious cuisines. Owner, Ludwig Cramer-Klett named his creation after meeting a spiritual man in Peru with an orange tabby, explaining the amalgamation of cultural influences.

The inside of one of Cafe Pförtner's dining spots on a converted bus. The bus has been refitted with wooden tables, orange school chairs and colourful fairy lights © Jennifer Sojka / Lonely PlanetGallery trawling is hungry work, stop at Cafe Pförtner where you’ll find the art on your plate © Jennifer Sojka / Lonely Planet

Alternatively, you can take a longer walk or hop on the u-bahn to Weddings best-kept-secret. Cafe Pförtner is an indoor-outdoor restaurant, with a 1960s-bus converted into a dining area with mint and sherbet lights. The menu circulates every day with local products and unique fusions of food styles.

Day three: paint the town red

Start the day at House of Small Wonder – the dreamiest, most picturesque brunch-spot that’s begging to be Instagrammed. Once you enter, the focal point is a spiral staircase surrounded by Japanese-inspired art mixed with an Alice-in-Wonderland vibe. Ascend the stairs to find a cosy room reminiscent of a greenhouse, where diners enjoy Japanese influences with organic breakfast options that support the food-is-art thesis. Be warned, they don’t take reservations and expect a wait if you roll out of bed late.

From here you’re within wandering distance of a pair of progressive galleries. The first you’ll come across is a former dance hall in the Jewish District of Mitte. Sprüth Magers is a commercial driven gallery owned by legendary curators, Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers. The multi-faceted gallery circulates around feminism, conceptualism, minimalism, photography, and film. Artists on their roster include John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Cindy Sherman.

Next up is Galerie Nagel Draxler – a contemporary art gallery with a tradition of displaying well-established artists and the next generation of newcomers. The gallery displays multi-generational artists to create an array of discourses on political and social situations.

Urban Nation marks the spot of Berlin’s newest gallery. An old apartment building has been reborn as the world’s first street art gallery, conceptualising urban contemporary art and helping to legitimise the genre. The museum’s curator, Yasha Young, explains the art has been specially created for the museum. Applaud the anarchic and rebellious works by Shepard Fairey, 1UP, Banksy, and Blek Le Rat all in one home. Stroll down Bülowstrasse to absorb the murals of where this cross-genre aesthetic was born, including the façade of the building that previews their artist’s craftsmanship.

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