A designer’s guide to Berlin, Germany

Maya Lekach

With its storied history, emerging popularity as one of the coolest cities in the world, and its title as a UNESCO City of Design, there is a lot to look for – and look at – when visiting the German capital. Whether you look at official institutions or simply wander the streets, you will find more than a dash of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing.

Museums, galleries and creative sights

Bauhaus Museum

[carlo cravero]

Photo: [carlo cravero] (via flickr)

Germany’s claim to fame in the realm of design is far and beyond the Bauhaus school of design, which was founded in Berlin itself in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The design ideas fostered by the pre-WWII era school covered architecture, visual design and industrial design.

All of these elements are apparent here in the museum, which is housed in a Gropius-designed building. Bauhaus has made an undoubtable contribution to the field of graphic design and you can see exhibits of how it all began here with sights like László Maholy-Nagy’s early poster designs and Paul Klee’s color theories.

For more information, please visit their website.

Sammlung Boros

++lichtempfindlich

Photo: ++lichtempfindlich (via flickr)

While not specifically design related, Sammlung Boros has got to be one of the coolest galleries in the world. It exists in a stone building that went from beign a Nazi bunker before transitioning into a Soviet era prison and a underground nightclub after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Now the space is in what art lovers can hope is its final (at least for now) incarnation as an art gallery with some of the most forward-thinking art pieces from contemporary culture. Many of the works here, which will remain for 4 years at a time before shifting, are taken directly from art festivals like the Venice Biennalle or Art: Basel.

While the works can be extreme and abstract, what strikes most about this artistic space is the way it encourages the viewer to consider the way a space changes the way our works are seen – reminding designers to always consider the end role of their project.

Visits by appointment only. To make an appointment, visit their website.

Alphabet Museum

Gerben van Heijningen

Photo: Gerben van Heijningen (via flickr)

Known as the ‘Buchstaben Museum’ in German, this hall is unique in that it is one of the only museums worldwide entirely dedicated to typography outside of its original context. The collection is of soon-to-be lost or fading signage and comes from a variety of cultures. Each example includes the name of the fonts used and their original locations.

This museum values physical signage in an age of digitalization. A great place to get inspired by industrial history and its use of lettering. Also, you can be sure that anyone you meet there will have an equal interest to you in this kind of full font-al nudity.

For more information, please visit their website.

Mauerpark & East Side Gallery

Manuela Hoffman

Photo: Manuela Hoffman (via flickr)

No visit to Berlin is complete without paying homage to the wall that once stood to separate East and West Berlin. All history aside, you can tell at this ultimate sight, first and foremost, how artistically minded Berlin is as a city. Check out the differences between these two maintained sections of the wall that have each been given over to artistic visions.

In Friedrichshain’s East Side Gallery, perhaps the more postcard-friendly of the two, officially commissioned murals line the length of this section of the wall for memorable imagery that has become synonymous with the image of the city. Up north in Prenzlauer Berg you can view a different kind of art, as the wall segment here is covered in graffiti works, which range from large-scale to some name scribbling.

Regardless the style or scope of the work, the art here is meant to be impermanent, and something you see on this visit could be gone by tomorrow. Be inspired by multiple generations of artistry that has come to represent freedom and unity in this previously divided capital.

Underground design

Berghain & nightlife flyers

Berghain Jan2015
BerghainSept
berghainmarch2014

Top to bottom: January 2015, September 2014, March 2014 (via Berghain)

Much has been said about Berlin’s temple of partying and hedonism that is Berghain. Sex, drugs and techno aside, one aspect of this institution often not considered is its incredible aesthetic accomplishments. While it is hard to get past the bouncer and through the doors of this former power plant, if you do you’ll be rewarded with a monthly flier, featuring an original artwork every month.

Going along with the countercultural and often erotic vibes of the space, the imagery is often shocking, but always beautifully handled. Each month’s pamphlet is an artwork within itself as well as a collector’s item. Berghain is only one example of some of the amazing artwork that accompanies Berlin club nights. Wander around town for wall hanging-worthy postcards and flyers.

U Bahn

UBahnMap

The map of the Berlin subway, just one element of the design of the U Bahn.

The Berlin underground, known as the U-Bahn is a highly efficient urban transportation system. With the city’s population growing at such a rapid rate, the city is encouraging its citizens to move to some of the outer suburbs of the city.

In order to convince them of the merits of outlying regions of the city, they are putting on a program called “Kunst im Untergrund”, which translates to Art in the Underground. This project will be installing art projects in these outer stations along the U5 line throughout 2015 (the project began around October of 2014), and the projects will respond to the question “what is outside?” History is being made along the transit lines in Berlin and you can see it happening.

Streets of Kreuzberg and Neukölln

KreuzbergAstronaut

Astronaut off of Skalitzer Straße (via wikimedia)

Kreuzberg, and now Neukölln, are the center of Berlin’s subcultural activity. With counterculture histories like punk squats and anarchists ideals, it’s no wonder that graffiti has flourished here in a way that makes it arguably the densest street art location in the world.

Berlin’s political and artistic denizens took to the streets during the area’s history of political strife, and while original works may be long gone, their predecessors remain. You could literally throw a stone in these regions and find something fascinating to look at, but there are also plenty of walking tours available as reference online or you can sign up for a guided tour (although that’s not very DIY).

Catch up on your reading

germanmags

Whether or not you speak German, Berlin is a great center to find all sorts of literature on your favorite subject: design. Here are a couple of design-flavored mags you can pick up in this trendy metropolis.

Form Magazin

Form Magazin exists to cover the changes in design that have occurred over the past 60 years in design, and those that will continue to happen. With a sleek minimalist style itself and copies available in English and German, this mag, that has been around since 1957, continues to showcase art, architecture, interior, graphic and fashion designs and more.

T3N Digital Pioneers

T3N Digital Pioneers reflects Berlin’s newest turn of events: towards becoming a center of tech and startups, much like San Francisco is today. In order to fit in with the growing business demands, as well as the interests of trendy web entrepreneurs, there is T3N Digital Pioneers. With news on development, design, marketing and more, this magazine holds interest for anyone who works on a computer.

brand eins

Finally, brand eins, a leader in sleek branding advice in Germany since 2005, is easily considered one of Germany’s thought leaders on identity and branding, having won such a title from the LeadAwards in 2007. Their topics range from work to money, quality to art.

Happy traveling!

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