Winter is upon us, and that means it’s the season of hot drinks, ice skating and the wonderful seasonal outdoor markets that populate cities such as Berlin and Vienna. But what else is there to do in these two European capitals, and how do they stack up? Arsalan Mohammed investigates, and finds the best things to see, eat and do
The Inside Track
“A city condemned to becoming but never being” was how the art critic Karl Scheffler famously described Berlin in 1910, and yet it’s this Peter Pan quality which has drawn artists to its street for generations. A hundred years ago, it was the stately home of the Wilhelmine monarchy. Today, after the chaos of the 20th century, it’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan, 21st century metropolis.
Berlin’s cultural landscape is rich, textured and kaleidoscopic. As the city’s population has grown and diversified, following reunification in the early 1990s, this characterful metropolis has evolved into a progressive, edgy home to thousands of creative characters from around the world. In a city low on collectors and cash, but high on creativity and coffee, finding emerging and experimental art is easy and should be the focus of anyone visiting the city in search of the latest ideas in contemporary art. Quirky, artist-run spaces proliferate, such as Neukolln’s Peles Empire, HORSEANDPONY Fine Arts and Frankfurt am Main or Prenzlauerberg’s Farbvision while more established names such as Johann König and Contemporary Fine Arts cater to the more moneyed set. Most weekends see a wash of openings and afterparties – the city’s underground art crowd tend to congregate in shabby bars around Mitte and Neukolln – while the annual Art Berlin Contemporary fair and the springtime Gallery Weekend promise a manic programme of activities around town. Best of all, the Berliner’s seemingly inexhaustible appetite for coffee, beer and snacks meaning you’re never far from a cosy spot for one or all three.
The former seat of the Holy Roman and then Austro-Hungarian Empire is currently shaking off the dust of history and is undergoing a revival as a place where art is created rather than remembered, fuelled by a fresh generation of artists and entrepreneurs. A resurgent art scene, building on the city’s established network of galleries, collectors and widespread support for emerging artists, means that Vienna is buzzing with creativity. The city’s annual Vienna contemporary art fair embodies a new wave of activity in the city’s art ecosystem, galvanized by increased cultural investment by Russian, eastern European and Austrian channels of creativity.
Galleries are springing up across town and even established art dealers in Germany, such Beck & Eggeling, Croy Nielsen and Galerie CRONE have relocated to, or opened branches in, the Austrian capital. They complement the vibrant grassroots spaces such as Well Well Well, Jupiter Woods, and Autocorrect that have opened, showing work by emerging Viennese artists. The visible effect of this swell of creativity can be found in revitalized districts such as Wieden, in the south of the city, where numerous new boutiques, pop-ups, cafes and art spaces, cater to the next generation of Viennese, inspired by their city’s past and looking to the future.
Names to Know
Jonas Burgert is currently one of the hottest names in German art. A painter based in the north of the city, his vast figurative paintings are nightmarishly fascinating and distil a very German sense of spookiness, via a style that recalls the likes of Bosch or Bacon. Burgert’s exhibited worldwide and is represented by Blain Southern.
Emin Mammadov owns The Galerie Berlin-Baku, the partner gallery of Q Gallery in Baku, which opened ten years ago in the city’s vibrant Kreuzberg neighbourhood. Promoting artistic exchange between Azerbaijan and Germany, the gallery shows paintings, sculptures, photographs and performance art by German and Azerbaijani artists, as well as organizing exchange visits between the two countries and maintaining a busy calendar of events in the gallery.
Olafur Eliasson, the Icelandic-Danish artist, has been based in Berlin since the 1990s, plotting the vast projects and installations of space, distance, colour and light, that have defined his international reputation.
Elke Krystufek is a Viennese artist whose multimedia work serves as a platform for expression. Echoing Austrian legends such as Egon Schiele and the ‘Actionist’ movement of the 1960s, her work is bold, confrontational and utterly compelling.
Johannes Grenzfurthner is an artist, filmmaker, writer, actor, curator, theatre director and lecturer. He founded monochrom, an art and theory group, and is regarded as a pioneering figure on the city’s vibrant digital art and tech scene.
Martina Steckholzer paints large, quiet monochrome canvases which abstract elements from various sources – photographs of trees, buildings, interiors and landscapes. Based in Vienna, her works have been exhibited worldwide.
Bar3, located in a backstreet off Torstraße, Bar 3’s plain décor plays host to many of the city’s art and media types. It’s the perfect space to gather in the smoky fug (it’s a ‘rauschkneipe’ or ‘smoking-friendly’ bar) and observe the city’s movers and shakers drink, flirt, argue, laugh and occasionally, fall over.
Kingsize, an impossibly long and narrow nightspot, is often filled with luminaries from the city’s art, music and fashion scene squeezing inside to party and literally rub shoulders into the early hours. Don’t bother arriving until past midnight and look out for the burly form of legendary Berlin nightclub bouncer Frank, on the door.
Jaja is a result of the gentrification of the gritty neighbourhood of Neukolln, which continues apace. This cosy bar and restaurant serves a hard-to-find selection of red, white and orange (!) wines which complement a delicious cocktail menu. All wines are natural, meaning that not only are they organic, but they have no additives whatsoever.
Futuregarden is situated in the buzzing 6th district, amid galleries and bars and is a magnet for the city’s art and music elite. Get there early to avoid the queues and check out some fantastic local DJs plying their wares.
Flex is a popular club, located in a U-bahn tunnel, that’s hosted the likes of DJ Hell, Trentemøller and Carl Craig in the past, whilst now trending towards drum ’n’ bass and breakbeats.
Places to Go
Konig Gallery was founded by Johann König, the scion of one of Germany’s most illustrious art families, and one of Berlin’s bona fide iconoclasts. Established in 2002, his eponymous gallery hosts some of the city’s most intriguing shows housed in a former Brutalist-styled church in Kreuzberg.
Mogg, a lunchtime hotspot, this charming diner in a renovated former girls school in Auguststrasse is a must if you like thick, steaming slices of juicy salt beef. Run by British expat Paul Mogg, the menu here is small but to the point – Reuben and pastrami sandwiches dominate, in enormous portions, alongside platters of soul-warming, Jewish comfort food favourites.
Ting is a one-stop Aladdin’s cave of design oddities, stationery, appealing knick-knacks and various household accessories. Sourced from around the world by the shop’s founder Laura Huppert, Ting, in Prenzlauerberg, is characteristically Berlin, being eclectic, friendly and a touch quirky.
The Store, situated beneath the imposing Soho House building near Alexanderplatz, is a bright, airy place filled with art books and magazines, quirky accessories, plants, contemporary design, vinyl and fashion. There’s also a daytime café/restaurant serving up delicious organic and homemade snacks, salads and light bites.
Park A repository of covetable, cutting-edge design from Austria and elsewhere, Park, located on Mondscheingasse, has a beautifully-curated collection of clothing, home accessories, furnishings and perfumes.
Georg Kargl Fine Arts Gallery is one of the city’s most idiosyncratic and consistent art galleries. Nearly 20 years old, it’s a haven of multimedia contemporary art, both at its Schleifmühlgasse hub and in dedicated project space, BOX.
The Third Man Museum is a little attraction that exerts a big pull on cinephiles curious to explore the iconic 1949 movie’s evocation of post-war Vienna. Created and run by two impassioned cineastes, Gerhard Strassgschwandtner and Karin Höfler, this quirky place houses 2,300 exhibits relating to the film in 13 rooms, including scripts, cameras used on location in Vienna, an antique projector and lots of audio and video installations.
Do Say/Don’t Say
Do say: Have you checked out KW? The city’s coolest art space, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, has just reopened this spring after a major revamp and refit.
Don’t say: Ah, Berlin – ‘poor but sexy!’ The infamous quote from former mayor Klaus Wowereit came to haunt Berliners, thoroughly frustrated by the erstwhile mayor’s complete inability to manage the omnishambles that is the much-vaunted, endlessly-delayed new airport.
Do say: “Fancy some coffee and cake?” The tradition of afternoon Kaffe und Kuchen unites the Austrians’ abiding mania for cakes of every description – from Sacher Torte, Apfel or Marillen – with the country’s coffee obsession. A perfect opportunity to visit one of the city’s grand old coffee houses and while away a very enjoyable hour or so.
Don’t Say: Wasn’t Mozart technically German?” Shh! The historically fluid nature of Austria’s borders over the decades have led to some disputes with neighbouring countries over the true nationality of such luminaries as Mozart and noted psychologist Sigmund Freud as well as a certain German dictator…
Images courtesy of Getty Images