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Sammlung Boros, Museums, Galleries, Berlin
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The 14 best art museums and galleries in Berlin

The best art museums and galleries in Berlin still brim with talent and creativity; cities don't come more creative

Written by
Anna Geary-Meyer
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Berlin is one of the great art cities on the planet. Yes, we know, really putting our necks out there, but how else are we to start this run-through of the German capital’s best galleries? Creative types have been flocking this way since forever, eager to tap into the intangible something that makes Berlin so magical. Cities don’t come much more exciting (a night out here proves that), and that excitement extends into the best art museums and galleries in Berlin.

From high-end masterpieces to grimy experimental work, Berlin’s art scene is as varied as it gets. New ideas are born here, given space to grow and then celebrated. If you like art, you’ll love Berlin. Heck, if you like anything at all, you’ll love Berlin.

Best art museums and galleries in Berlin

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Arguably Berlin’s best-known gallery space, Contemporary Fine Arts has been promoting idiosyncratic art from around the world since 1992. Run by Nicole Hackert and Bruno Brunnet, CFA’s programme blends the outré and fresh with big names in their airy Chipperfield-designed building near Museum Island. The diversity of the roster means that at any one time, you’re likely to see works by everyone from Berlin’s infamous Jonathan Meese to Georg Baselitz, Marc Brandenburg, the late Norbert Schwontkowski, Gert and Uwe Tobias, Daniel Richter and Katja Strunz, as well as Brits including Sarah Lucas, Peter Doig and Chris Ofili.

This mile-long section of the Berlin Wall preserves the paintings made on the Wall’s eastern side when it was brought down and is one of the most significant open-air permanent art exhibits in the world. The East Side Gallery, featuring over 100 murals, graffiti artworks, slogans and tags executed by a collective of Berlin artists, is a memorial to the pioneering street spirit that buzzed around the city during reunification.

Today the Gallery’s artworks are almost as anachronistic as the Wall itself and are in constant danger of vanishing under duress of the elements, lack of resources for restoration and countless scribbles from tourists, graffiti artists and vandals. Although attempting to preserve the spirit of the time, an argument blew up when the restoration project of recent years was seen to overstep the mark, with original artworks being painted over without the artists’ permission. Despite this, the Gallery is still essential, providing a flavour of the city’s cultural and artistic history.

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Galerie Capitain Petzel
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Housed in a dramatic, Soviet-era modernist block at the top of the Frankfurter Allee in East Berlin, Capitain Petzel is a light and airy space that, in a former life, was used to showcase ideologically-friendly art during the GDR era. Today, thanks to Cologne gallerist Gisela Capitain and her partner Friedrich Petzel, the programme takes in a wide range of contemporary artists from around the world, including John Stezaker, Wade Guyton, Martin Kippenberger and Sarah Morris. Even if none of these names draws you, Petzel’s premises are worth visiting for the architecture alone. 

Far removed from the swanky galleries out West and in Mitte, Künstlerhaus Bethanien is both an exhibition space and a studio for working artists. Bethanien is a former hospital built in 1847 under the orders of Frederick William IV, and today the impressive grounds house contemporary art with a sociopolitical bent. The open studio events get lively, especially in the summer months.

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  • Art
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Johann König (half-brother of New York gallerist Leo and son of museum-man Kaspar) is one of Berlin’s bona fide iconoclasts. After opening his gallery aged 21 in 2002, he promptly eschewed convention by inviting his friend, artist Jeppe Hein, to install a wrecking ball that swung about perilously, knocking chunks out of the gallery walls whenever anyone entered the room. Nearly two decades later, König is regarded as one of the leading lights in a gallery scene that’s certainly not short of wilful, eccentric and obstinate characters. Today the gallery has taken up residence at St. Agnes Church, an imposing Brutalist structure.

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Housed in a former margarine factory, Kunst Werke has been a major non-profit showcase for new talent since the early 1990s. Today curator Ellen Blumenstein promises more emollient, audience-friendly programmes, insisting the institution move back from the (occasionally) esoteric and baffling and return to engaging with the public. A lively programme of exhibitions, film screenings, talks and presentations means that 20 years on, KW remains very much at the heart of Berlin’s cultural agenda.

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Gerd Harry ‘Judy’ Lybke is one of the more eccentric characters on the Berlin art scene. A charismatic colossus of post-reunification German creativity, Lybke – along with Christian Ehrentraut and tutor Matthias Kleindienst – nurtured the so-called ‘Leipzig School’ in the early 1990s. Lybke, perhaps more than anyone, recognised the value of exporting the distinctive blend of figurative and abstract painting, executed at a time of unprecedented upheaval, to collectors worldwide. In doing so, he made art stars out of the likes of Neo Rauch and Matthias Weischer, for whom he once life-modelled back in the early 1980s at Leipzig’s Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst.

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A steadfast local institution on the city’s contemporary art scene, DAADGalerie, founded with funding from the USA’s Ford Foundation, is steeped in post-war Berlin history. Its ongoing Berliner Künstlerprogramm sees 20 artists take on an annual residence, the fruits of which are exhibited just steps from Checkpoint Charlie.

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More museum than a gallery, this concrete bunker from the Second World War has been transformed into a 3,000-square-metre space containing the formidable collection of advertising mogul Christian Boros and his wife, Karen. Works on view include contemporary titans such as Olafur Eliasson and Sarah Lucas and a healthy selection of local and international names that have caught Boros’s beady eye. Tours are on weekends by appointment only. Book well in advance through the website.

This gallery space is in the gardens of the Kronprinzenpalais, which itself claims to be the world’s first contemporary art institution (the palace displayed work by Berlin’s expressionists from 1918 until the Nazis closed it down for showing ‘degenerate’ art). Today the octagonal pavilion with its wall-to-ceiling glass, designed to GDR specifications in 1969, happily shows all manner of installation, sculpture and performance art, cheerily degenerate or not.

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After partaking in Gallery Weekend for the first time in 2019, BQ quickly became the epicentre of art-world discussion. Leda Bourgogne’s ‘Skinless’, with its multimedia reflection on human skin, made a particular impression on critics, while Raphaela Vogel also presented a surrealist series titled ‘Vogelspinne’, blending sound collage, sculpture and painting. Co-run by Yvonne Quirmbach and Jörn Bötnagel, the Berlin-Mitte gallery focuses on emerging talent (and does it well). 

Galerie Buchholz
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A hushed repository of elegance and refinement along Charlottenburg’s Fasanenstrasse, this gallery left Cologne in 2008 after 20 years and moved to Berlin. Run jointly with Christopher Müller, it represents a raft of well-known names, including 2006 Turner Prize winner Tomma Abts, Wolfgang Tillmans and Richard Hawkins.

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In 2019 Markus Hannebauer (a Berlin software entrepreneur) opened the doors to his private collection of time-based art. Housed in the former US Army headquarters on the western outskirts of Berlin, Fluentum is an idiosyncratic space, but the interplay of light and dark elements in the military building work to enrich, rather than overshadow, the works on display. For now, Fluentum operates on an appointment-only basis.

Daimler Contemporary
Photograph: Hans-Georg Gaul

14. Daimler Contemporary

Just as you’d expect, Daimler’s art collection tends to the serious. And it sticks to the 20th century, focusing on abstract and geometric art; the collection contains around 1,800 works from artists such as Josef Albers, Max Bill, Walter de Maria, Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. Staff host one free guided tour per month.

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