Picture this: a 360-degree mural envelops you in a panoramic world of orange, red and violet. You can pick out ocean waves, mountain ranges, clouds and the contours of continents – and nestled among them, like a collage, are black-and-white, comic book-style images. You’re standing on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum at the entrance to its debut exhibition. And this massive piece of urban art – ‘Thinking the World’, created by New York-based artists How and Nosm – encompasses the show’s leitmotif: Berlin and its connections with the world.
BERLIN GLOBAL, a co-production of Kulturprojekte Berlin and Stadtmuseum Berlin, invites visitors to reflect on the many sides of the city across 4000sqm of space. Split into seven themed rooms, the exhibition covers Revolution, Free Space, Boundaries, Entertainment, War, Fashion and Interconnection. Of course, these things are found in other metropolises; but taken as a whole, they add up to reflect quintessential Berlin.
Tresor vaults and disco balls
Two of the themed rooms, dedicated to Free Space and Boundaries, are separated by a three-tonne rusted door. This barrier once guarded the safe deposit boxes in the basement of the Wertheim department store, before becoming the doorway to the legendary Tresor nightclub after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The door stands for the new free spaces that arose after the fall of the Wall and for the techno movement that brought people from East and West together. Yet it also symbolises boundaries and limitations. (After all, not everyone who wanted to enter the club managed to get past its bouncers.)
Berlin’s reputation as an entertainment and nightlife hub is referenced throughout the exhibition. Visitors can enter four shimmering copper-coloured spheres, the largest of which is a mirror-lined silent disco offering everything from tango to techno. For something less contemporary, the wooden Kaiserpanorama, a replica of the original in the Märkisches Museum, transports viewers back to the early days of mass entertainment around 1900.
Pricing the Kiez
Berlin has a long history of diversity and tolerance; but its history is also one of boundaries and borders – both past and present, visible and invisible. Open spaces in the city appear and are appropriated, only to disappear again under the pressure of competing interests. The BERLIN GLOBAL show explores the tensions linked to gentrification, for example, with a replica of the ‘affordable rent grave’ installed by artists’ collective Rocco and His Brothers on a street corner in Kreuzberg in 2016. Curious Berliners can also check out the current state of the Berlin rental market with an interactive map, accompanied by the photos and experiences of residents. Just adjust your household income and flat size on a slider bar to see which income levels you would need to afford certain flat sizes in certain districts.
A world of Wahlberliners
In today’s globalised world, it is no longer unusual to have close ties to multiple countries – especially in Berlin, where half of the inhabitants were born somewhere else. Short audio portraits in the Interconnection room present 17 Berliners who are connected with other parts of the world in very different ways. They range from a 14-year-old trans boy who has come to know many people online, to a nonagenarian native of Leipzig who sang and played the contrabass for decades on eastern European stages. Meet also an American dancer and choreographer who has worked throughout the world, as well as a Kurd who was reading German philosophy as a youngster in Turkey.
With its wide array of interactive features, this exhibition is an experience that invites visitors to express opinions and take action. After engaging with the exhibition and making choices at various points, visitors receive a summary of their experience at the end of the exhibition with the help of a chip-carrying wristband, along with an invitation to exchange views about the show’s topics. And so the connections explored by BERLIN GLOBAL do not end when visitors leave the museum.
BERLIN GLOBAL, opens July 20, Humboldt Forum, Schloss-platz, 10178 Berlin
Free admission for the first 100 days. Timeslot reservations are necessary and start 13 July.
For more information visit www.berlin-global-exhibition.com.