I visited the new Humboldt Box the other day. The Humboldt Box has nothing to do with the famed cannabis of Humboldt County, California, in case you were wondering. No, I mean the Humboldt Box, that blue thing on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße which looks like the result of a chimp with ADD trying to make rhomboids on Photoshop. The Humboldt Box, that techno-blob that was financed by an outdoor advertising company (get ready for another decade of Titanic-sized H&M ads on the Museumsinsel), is Berlin’s second stupidest building. What’s so stupid about it, apart from its lame-ass wannabe digital appearance? That it announces (it’s an “infobox”) Berlin’s all-time stupidiest building, the Stadtschloss, aka Prussian Turd, aka Humboldt Forum – which will be built right next to it in the coming years for at least €590 million. Unless we get lucky and the government gets cold feet, or if the donation slice of the funding (€80 million) fails to materialise.
Casting aside my doubts that the Humboldt brothers (an explorer and an education reformer, neither of them monarchists) would be enthused about having their names associated with a simulation of the king’s palace, I enter the blob (it costs a euro to get in) via a metallic walkway. At the end of the stairs I am immediately immersed in the Schloss reconstruction section of the building, erected by the dodgy Hamburg-based non-profit behind the whole project, the Förderverein Berliner Schloss e.V.
Here, a besuited Mormon-style Schloss reconstruction propagandist explains – with the aid of multimedia, a scale model of the old palace and his own sanctimonious voice – that the Schloss is “part of your identity” to a herd of pensioners in khaki hunting vests. The Mormon wraps up his infotainment with a nod towards the gimmicky “donation machine”, a converted parking meter which spits out receipts for contributions to “Germany’s biggest cultural project since the war”.
The remainder of the 1st floor is taken up by a second gift shop (there’s also one on the ground floor) peddling Schloss knick-knacks,I Love Berlin pens, and assorted Prussian fan gear.
Floor two gives a sampling of the contents of the future Humboldt Forum planned for the Schloss: a sprinkling of ancient Asian art, an iMac that plays “ethnic” music from around the world – I listened to an Irish jig and the Slovakian national anthem. In the kiddie corner is a plush 1970s-style womb thing you can lounge in, perfect for a little private romance.
Above that is an event space where one imagines Swiss watch execs hobnobbing with German car execs or getting down with their personal assistants. I begin to yawn as I drag my feet to the next level.
The penthouse bar with neo-Baroque chandeliers is awash in soul music, though utterly soulless. At least the view of the Berlin skyline from the patio, nearly 30 metres above the ground, is reassuringly grey and un-Baroque. I gawk down at archeologists poking around in the old castle cellars, and sink into depression.