by Ermi Miao
After a great concert in the Philharmonie, my friend and I walked out of the concert hall enjoying the beauty of the Philharmonie building lighted up in the night. “How about let’s take a group picture with the Philarmonie as the backgroup?” one friend suggested. We walked around the Philarmonie and found a weird space nearby. It seems to be a park or maybe just a parking lot, surrounded by poorly maintained and randomly scattered bushes, trees and big rocks. I crippled my way through the rocky pathway in my dress shoes to the best photo location. Under the dim light, I can vaguely see a few grey-ish low rises building behind. Once we positioned ourselves, not even a single person can be found passing by to be the photographer. In contrast with the popular and bright Philarmonie a couple of steps away, this place is oddly empty and gloomy. While shivering in the wind and waiting in the dim light, bees started to attack! There is a huge beehive dangling in the tree right next to us. We immediately left this unpleasant place after the picture for the nearby Potsdamer Platz, maybe watching a movie and an enjoying a cocktail.
What is this place in the golden location of the city?
This is the Kulturforum, the Museum Island of West Berlin.
The Kulturforum is a collection of cultural buildings constructed in former West Berlin during the 1950s and 1960s to compete with the Museum Island on the other side of Berlin. This complex of buildings include the Philarmonie, the Berlin State Library, Neue Nationalgalerie and almost ten other cultural institutions. The Kulturforum covers all aspects of cultural activities from art, music and literature to science. The architectural styles were popular modernism at the time of construction, which initially attracted many architect’s and international attention. The Kulturforum is in the center of West Berlin near the famous commercial district of Potsdamer Platz. Today, in term of cultural importance and popularity among locals and tourists, the Kulturforum is in no way near its Eastern component, the Museum Island.
The modernist architecture is a popular trend during the 1950s and 1960s. The style is best known as simple, geometric and with minimal ornamentation. Many modern architectures attract large amount of visitors because of the unique style and aesthetic value, such as the Berlin Philharmonie; however most other buildings in the Kulturforum lack the eye catching factor making it unable to standard out from the surroundings. The buildings look like a short and wide grey geometric box surrounded by a couple other grey boxes. Without even a clear sign or a large colorful billboard, the cultural forum is extremely hard for tourists and locals to even notice.
A City is more than just buildings and roads. The space for city dwellers and tourists to wander, to relax and to hangout is extremely important. The Kulturforum failed miserably to provide such a space. The small square described in the opening paragraph could be a perfect lunch break spot for nearby office workers or after concert hangout site; however, with its poor maintenance and strange design, the space is barely used by anyone. The ground is uncomfortable, the bench to seat on is no way to be found or even a simple nice patch of grass under a tree seems to be a wild wish.
The emptiness is sharply in contrast with the vividness and popularity of the Museum Island, its Eastern opponent. The Museum Island offers excellent hang out space for people to seat in the grass enjoying the sun, talking and simply chilling. All the traffic running past the Museum Island give it a more lively and pleasant vibe, and further it seems to attract more people to come to enjoy the place.
It is a pity that the Kulturforum fails to attract tourists and provide a space for the locals. The exhibitions inside the museums are topnotch, but it seems that rarely anyone knows of their existence. It would also be extremely easy and cheap to make this space more attractive and more accessible, with a few maintenance, few cultural open-air events and more advertisement. Hopefully, one day, after a great concert in Philharmonie, I can hang out in the lively Kultureforum enjoying the night in the city with art and architecture without worrying about bees.