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Berlin: die Offene Stadt / the Open City, part three

Extreme Home Makeover: Berlin Edition

A problem most cities don’t have: indestructible war infrastructure. What does one do when a hulking Nazi bunker is occupying valuable real estate? One solution is to just build right over the top of it, like Jürgen Sawade’s apartment building, otherwise known as the “Social Palace”.  It’s a lot easier to build around a bunker than to knock it down.

Bunker at Pallasstraße, image credit c_e_s

The Boros Collection

The firm REALARCHITEKTURE transformed a structure meant to protect 2,000 people from bomb raids during WW II into a gallery for exclusive works by cutting edge artists. Their design not only utilizes the roof, but also the bunker itself, with the up to 10 foot thick walls and floors proving to be a serious challenge, even for diamond cutting technology. By brute force and artistic genius, the Boros collection advances the concept of “adaptive reuse” on several fronts.

 Boros Collection, image credit World_3

Although the bunker was intended to serve as a utilitarian shelter, the design by the architect Albert Speer is clearly classical. The facade is well proportioned (for a bunker), and the floor plan is chillingly reminiscent of Palladian architecture. After WW II, the bunker was used by the East German government for produce cold storage, giving rise to the name “Banana Bunker.” When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the bunker became a hardcore techno club. In 2003, advertising mogul Christian Boros bought the bunker, and in 2008, the Boros Collection was opened to the public; with over 500 works, it is considered to be the largest collection of private art in Germany. In addition to the art exhibition spaces, the design for the bunker also includes his penthouse, which allowed the architects to permit the project as a single family home with a five story basement.

So what does Boros have in his “basement”?  The Boros Collection includes work from artists such as Michael Beutler, John Bock, Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen & Dragset, Kitty Kraus, Santiago Sierra, and Katja Strunz. Many of the artists collaborated with the architects to carve spaces for their work out of the raw concrete; no curator was involved in the installation of the pieces.

Santiago Sierra’s sculpture required four holes to be cut in the massive bunker wall, image credit Nosche

Olafur Eliasson has several works in the collection which range from the mystifying to the ephemeral. The piece Berlin Colour Sphere, hangs in the first room of the gallery sequence. Its installation required the partial removal of the bunker’s 2nd floor.

Olafur Eliasson’s Berlin Colour Sphere , image credit Nosche

Another work by Eliasson is a fan that hangs from the ceiling in another two story room. The fan blows itself around the space, changing speed and sometimes swinging wildly in the direction of the onlookers. Its absolutely random, mesmerizing, and borderline ridiculous. Olafur Eliasson is one of the best contemporary artists today, often utilizing the laws of physics to create sensorial reactions in his viewers. His work is always beautiful, leaving one with a sense of wonder.

Olafur Eliasson’s mesmerizing fan, image credit Nosche

There are moments in the bunker when the black residue from the techno club is still discernible, along with the phosphorus glow-in-the-dark paint from its days as an air raid shelter. These traces, along with the aggregate visible in the cut concrete, interact with the works of art to create an eerie ambiance that is subtle and appealing. The Boros Collection is a poetic work in progress, with artists visiting to adjust their work, or to install new pieces as needed. Although the bunker’s brutal exterior has remained the same, its insides have been hollowed out and are continually undergoing a metamorphosis.

The eerie ambiance of residue and art. Installation by Monika Sosnowska , image credit Nosche

Written by Elizabeth Golden, Senior Lecturer.

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