Shaking Up the Art Scene In ‘Self-Centered’ Berlin

By Ann Brocklehurst
Originally published 26 June 1993, International Herald Tribune

Whether it is because he is new to the Berlin art world or in spite of it, the gallery owner Thomas Schulte is not shy about making his strong opinions known. He has no regrets about announcing in a podium discussion that “Berlin has more bad artists living well that any other city in the world,” a quote that has since been much repeated. “No one said I was completely wrong,” says Schulte, adding that several members of the art community outside Berlin sent him telegrams and letters of support. In Schulte’s assessment, the visual arts in postwar Berlin have existed in almost total isolation, cut off from international contacts and influences. Artists and art organizations supporting what he says can be called a Marxist approach to evaluating art have been heavily and unselectively subsidized with government money.

“It is a system that definitely existed outside of the commercial world….From my point of view, that was not in the end a big advantage for Berlin because it led to extreme self-centeredness in the art world here.”

Flipping through a special Berlin issue of the German magazine Art, which features six Berliners deemed important to the local art scene, Schulte is critical. “Some of them stand for the biggest mistakes in institutional curating in Berlin,” he said. “They receive millions of marks in public funds to arrange exhibitions, but they have practically no idea of the international art scene…and the quality is below standards expected.”

In contrast, Schulte praises the curator Rene Block, who represented the Dusseldorf artist Joseph Beuys at “the best gallery in Berlin” before taking over as director of the DAAD Gallery, a position he left last year. The DAAD Gallery displays the work of foreign artists brought to live and work in Berlin as part of the DAADacademic exchange service. The Berlin artists program was set up after the building of the Berlin Wall in an attempt to counterbalance the city’s physical and artistic isolation. Past participants include Alex Colville, Edward Kienholz and Nam June Paik.

“The artists’ program was a real link to the international art scene,” said Schulte, who believes that unified Berlin has become a more attractive and interesting place to be for both artists and gallery owners. Although Cologne remains without question the art center of Germany, two of its major gallery owners – Max Hetzler and Paul Maenz – are moving to Berlin.

They will be arriving almost three years after Schulte and his partner, Eric Franck of Gallerie Eric Franck in Geneva, opened Franck and Schulte in Berlin in 1991. Before that, Schulte, 37, had been in charge of the John Weber Gallery in New York and worked at the Museum of Modern Art as assistant curator. A German, born in Dusseldorf and educated there and in Berlin, he was fed up with working and living in New York and wanted to return to Europe.

After much deliberation, Schulte chose to set up in Berlin not only because he sees it as “the only cosmopolitan city in Germany,” but also because it gave him the chance to represent artists who would not have been available in cities with a more diverse gallery scene. Franck and Schulte’s artists include Rebecca Horn, Sol LeWitt, Richard Artschwager, Robert Mapplethorpe and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Since Berlin has not yet developed a serious art market, Franck and Schulte is relying extensively on its already existing international clientele as it tries to build local sales. Once the gallery is established, it will concentrate more on promising Berlin artists. Schulte names Maria Eichhorn, the East German Via Lewandowski and the Israeli Eran Schaerf as a few who are garnering attention.

As another project, Schulte has proposed that Berlin build a gallery house along the lines of the 420 West Broadway Building in New York, which houses different galleries on every floor and which was emulated by Hetzler and others in Cologne. Ideally, the house would be situated in eastern Berlin or close to where the Wall used to stand. Galleries in Berlin are scattered throughout town and such a location would provide easy access to the National Gallery, Museum Island and the Martin Gropius exhibition hall.

Schulte says that with limited financial support from the Berlin Senate, a gallery house could become a reality in three years. But having been such an outspoken critic of Berlin’s subsidies, Berliners’ dependence on them and the city’s nonmarket-oriented art policies, Schulte is careful to point out that the kind of financial help he is advocating is a different type.

Instead of giving so much grant money to artists and entrenched institutions, he favors programs such as lending money to people buying works of art. He would also like to see money given to qualifying galleries to help them hold important individual exhibitions.

Berlin is still trying to figure out just how much the unified city can afford to spend on culture, including the visual arts. Many cultural institutions still exist in duplicate in east and west.

Along with several others, Schulte is calling for an in-depth study to examine the roles of Berlin’s museums, art academies, art schools, art unions and private galleries, and suggest how they can best serve their own and each other’s needs.

“I think there’s a lot of money being spent here unwisely at the moment,” he said. “Whatever’s being spent should be spent, but we should really look at these institutions and where the money goes and what we are spending it for.”

A Chef Takes on Berlin Cuisine

By Ann Brocklehurst
Originally published 16 July 1993, International Herald Tribune

Rolf Schmidt is as diplomatic as possible when discussing the state of cooking in his new home town. The Michelin two-star chef, who was lured to Berlin to help raise the standard of eating to one befitting a European capital, is one of the stars of the German cooking scene and a vigorous defender of his country’s cuisine. But he does not delude himself that the task ahead will be easy.

“Berlin is special,” he said. “Berlin cooking is very simple. The choice is very sparse.”

Schmidt, who comes from the Black Forest and made his reputation in the Rhineland, attributes Berlin’s problems mostly to its Prussian and Huguenot heritage. Neither group is renowned for its sybaritic tendencies and the recipes they invented and passed down were for modest, uncomplicated and filling fare. Traditional Berlin dishes include Eisbein, pig’s knuckle with sauerkraut, Boulette, a giant meatball, and Sulze, jellied meat. The food is usually washed down with beer and for dessert there is the famous Berliner jelly doughnut.

In search of variety, Berliners have turned to foreign foods and restaurants, but in the blending of the different cuisines, Berlin cooking, usually undeservedly, wins out. The city has the dubious distinction of having invented the enormously popular Currywurst, a boiled sausage sliced into bite-size pieces, sprinkled with curry powder and drenched in ketchup.

Schmidt, however, sees signs of an improving culinary climate. He is impressed by the food shelves of local department stores, particularly at the well-known KaDeWe, which devotes its top two floors to food and drink. “They are very well done,” he said. “People must be eating better at home.”

In his effort to help upgrade the restaurant scene, Schmidt, who is now in charge of the Silhouette Restaurant in East Berlin’s Grand Hotel Maritim, meets and talks regularly with the city’s other top chefs. There are no Michelin three-star restaurants in Berlin, just one two-star restaurant and two one-star restaurants. The chefs agree that a city of Berlin’s size and stature needs far more. At the less expensive bistro level, Schmidt says cooking is stuck in the 1950s with Wiener schnitzel and fried potatoes still popular fixtures on the menu.

Although he talks wistfully about south German cooking and refers to Munich as “the eating capital,” he is not neglecting the local recipes or products. Schmidt wants to develop Berlin cooking, using his style of classical cuisine with personal touches. Instead of plain old Eisbein, he has created an Eisbein roulade wrapped in a cabbage leaf, stuffed with goose liver and served in a truffle sauce. Perch from the nearby Havel River is filled with sauerkraut, encased in pastry and accompanied by a sauce of fresh young grapes. Crayfish, which can, depending on the season, be found in the region, have been flown in from California to be eaten with fresh Brandenburg asparagus.

Schmidt buys as much as he can locally and sends to Paris for the foods that either aren’t available or up to his standards.

THE restaurant has extensive German and French wine lists as well as wines from Australia, California, Israel and – yes – Berlin. Before a storm wiped out all the vines in 1740, Berlin was a flourishing wine center. On a small hill in the middle of town, it still grows the grapes to make 600 bottles of wine annually. A Kreuzberger Riesling sells for 135 Deutsche marks ($80) per half bottle, but management admits the price is based more on novelty than on taste.

Schmidt expects a difficult time winning two Michelin stars for Silhouette as he did for the Ange d’Or restaurant in Essen-H Kettwig in 1987. He says the French hold German restaurants to higher standards in awarding stars than they do their own. Just as important for him is to be recognized in his new role and at his new restaurant as one of the 20 best chefs in Germany.

“I maintain that here in Germany we have just as good food as in France and Italy and more good restaurants than in France,” he said.

German Sales Translate Into Profits for U.S. Books

Originally published in the International Herald Tribune, June 30, 1993

By Ann Brocklehurst

For publishers and writers of English language books in search of profits and audiences abroad, Germany has often proved their most lucrative foreign market. Germans are the world’s biggest book buyers on a per-capita basis, and the country’s publishers have become more aggressive about buying the rights to English books they believe will be a success. In turn, English-language publishers, authors and agents have been asking ever-higher prices for the licenses to print their books.
.
As a result of the increased competition, book prices in Germany have risen to the point where most titles on the bestseller list cost almost 40 Deutsche marks ($23.50) or more. Michael Naumann, the head of Hamburg’s Rowohlt books, predicts that with the country in a recession, publishers will have to be more careful about what they can afford to pay for licenses.
.
“Books can’t get more expensive, which means we can’t pay such high prices for licenses,” he said.
.
Books, like most consumer products, benefited from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the access almost overnight to a new market of 17 million people. Book sales by West German publishers rose to 14.26 billion DM in 1991 from 12.74 billion in 1990. Sales figures for 1992 are expected to show slowing growth.
.
Publishers say the book industry is generally a profitable one, but exact figures are difficult to come by since many of Germany’s 2,000 publishers are privately owned and the big conglomerates, such as Bertelsmann AG, do not always break down their figures.
.
German publishers also prefer to keep quiet about license prices, unlike in the United States, where publishers often boast how much they have paid to acquire a book as a publicity ploy to boost sales. Rainer Heumann, the head of the Zurich literary agency Mohr Books, said license costs range from 100 DM to 1 million DM. “The prices paid by the German publishers are among the highest internationally,” he said. “The big conglomerates can pay the highest, but even smaller publishers pay a lot these days.”
.
Mr. Heumann, whose company sells rights to English books to German publishers, said the German-speaking market of 100 million people, which includes Austria and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, is rivaled only by Japan in its financial importance for English-speaking writers.
.
Of the almost 70,000 book titles published in Germany in 1991, every seventh one was a translation; two thirds of the translations were from English. The country’s current best-selling fiction list includes several authors and titles familiar to English readers: John Grisham’s “The Firm,” Stephen King’s “Dolores Clairbone” and Rosamunde Pilcher’s “The Shell Seekers.”
.
But perhaps the most curious case is the book at the top of the list, “Shaman” by Noah Gordon. The American writer’s first book, “The Physician,” published by Simon & Schuster in 1986, sold only half its original 35,000 print run. The Munich publisher Drömer Knaur had, however, been impressed by the tale of a wandering doctor in the middle ages and bought the German rights. “The Physician” climbed to the top of Germany’s best-seller list, selling three million copies. Mr. Gordon’s German triumph led to translations into other European languages and new editions in English, although the writer remains relatively unknown to American readers.
.
The case is not as isolated one. They are range from the mystery writer Patricia Highsmith to the New York intellectual Harold Brodkey.
.
While some of the stories of fame and fortune can be attributed to quirks of German taste, in most cases, foreign authors’ successes, both great and small, are due to Germany’s book publishing and distribution system as well as to readers’ eclecticism.
.
“The Germans are still a book reading people,” Mr. Heumann said. Germans spend 120 DM per capita annually on books, more than double what Americans pay and 40 percent more that the British.
many has often proved their most lucrative foreign market. Germans are the world’s biggest book buyers on a per-capita basis, and the country’s publishers have become more aggressive about buying the rights to English books they believe will be a success. In turn, English-language publishers, authors and agents have been asking ever-higher prices for the licenses to print their books.
.
As a result of the increased competition, book prices in Germany have risen to the point where most titles on the bestseller list cost almost 40 Deutsche marks ($23.50) or more. Michael Naumann, the head of Hamburg’s Rowohlt books, predicts that with the country in a recession, publishers will have to be more careful about what they can afford to pay for licenses.
.
“Books can’t get more expensive, which means we can’t pay such high prices for licenses,” he said.
.
Books, like most consumer products, benefited from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the access almost overnight to a new market of 17 million people. Book sales by West German publishers rose to 14.26 billion DM in 1991 from 12.74 billion in 1990. Sales figures for 1992 are expected to show slowing growth.
.
Publishers say the book industry is generally a profitable one, but exact figures are difficult to come by since many of Germany’s 2,000 publishers are privately owned and the big conglomerates, such as Bertelsmann AG, do not always break down their figures.
.
German publishers also prefer to keep quiet about license prices, unlike in the United States, where publishers often boast how much they have paid to acquire a book as a publicity ploy to boost sales. Rainer Heumann, the head of the Zurich literary agency Mohr Books, said license costs range from 100 DM to 1 million DM. “The prices paid by the German publishers are among the highest internationally,” he said. “The big conglomerates can pay the highest, but even smaller publishers pay a lot these days.”
.
Mr. Heumann, whose company sells rights to English books to German publishers, said the German-speaking market of 100 million people, which includes Austria and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, is rivaled only by Japan in its financial importance for English-speaking writers.
.
Of the almost 70,000 book titles published in Germany in 1991, every seventh one was a translation; two thirds of the translations were from English. The country’s current best-selling fiction list includes several authors and titles familiar to English readers: John Grisham’s “The Firm,” Stephen King’s “Dolores Clairbone” and Rosamunde Pilcher’s “The Shell Seekers.”
.
But perhaps the most curious case is the book at the top of the list, “Shaman” by Noah Gordon. The American writer’s first book, “The Physician,” published by Simon & Schuster in 1986, sold only half its original 35,000 print run. The Munich publisher Drömer Knaur had, however, been impressed by the tale of a wandering doctor in the middle ages and bought the German rights. “The Physician” climbed to the top of Germany’s best-seller list, selling three million copies. Mr. Gordon’s German triumph led to translations into other European languages and new editions in English, although the writer remains relatively unknown to American readers.
.
The case is not as isolated one. They are range from the mystery writer Patricia Highsmith to the New York intellectual Harold Brodkey.
.
While some of the stories of fame and fortune can be attributed to quirks of German taste, in most cases, foreign authors’ successes, both great and small, are due to Germany’s book publishing and distribution system as well as to readers’ eclecticism.
.
“The Germans are still a book reading people,” Mr. Heumann said. Germans spend 120 DM per capita annually on books, more than double what Americans pay and 40 percent more that the British.
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A first for acclaimed architect, Daniel Libeskind

Ann Brocklehurst
Originally published 18 September 1993, International Herald Tribune

Daniel Libeskind is one of the top names in international architecture today. He was a finalist in the Alexanderplatz urban design contest in Berlin, winner of the competition to design Berlin’s Jewish Museum, one of seven architects selected for the New York Museum of Modern Art’s “Deconstructivist Architecture” exhibition, a visiting professor and lecturer at universities in Europe, North America and Japan, and a holder of a standing invitation to become a senior scholar at the J. Paul Getty Foundation in Los Angeles.

With all these accolades can it really be true, then, that the Jewish Museum, on which construction began in November, is the first of Libeskind’s designs that is actually being built? In fact, it is.

In an interview in his Berlin office, the 47-year-old architect explained: “I’ve designed many buildings but it’s really my first building. I’ve never been one of those architects who worked his way up from additions, renovations and buildings for the bourgeoisie.”

“I never really made the separation between architecture’s spiritual existence and as it is realized. Of course, I was wrong. I really think building is really a matter of luck or just cleverness. It’s not the only thing. But I want to stress it’s very important. It’s another stage. It’s wholly public. It’s not only for architects who can read drawings.”

For years many of those who can read drawings have been praising Libeskind’s work as visionary. Detractors, on the other hand, have called it unbuildable, on technical and financial grounds. And although the history of architecture provides many examples of prize-winning projects that never got built, it is highly unusual for an architect of Libeskind’s stature not to have had a single design realized. The Jewish Museum appears, however, to have marked a turning point.

When he won the design competition for it in 1989, Libeskind, a Polish-born Jew most of whose family was killed during the Holocaust, moved to Berlin with his wife, Nina, who is his business partner, and children to ensure that the museum would indeed be built. Although there was a debate about whether unified Berlin could afford to pay the estimated 117 million Deutsche mark ($73 million) price tag, the city’s Senate eventually decided the museum was a crucial project.

But even if it is completed on schedule in 1995, it may not be the first Libeskind building to be realized. The architect recently won a contest to design a 50,000-square-meter (538,000-square-foot) office building in Wiesbaden.

“The building represents a totally different idea of an office. It’s not a box with corridors,” he said. “It’s more like a city with many different spaces. It combines leisure aspects of work with work. It doesn’t make strong distinctions between dining rooms, cafeteria, meeting rooms and so on.” He added, “To my great fortune, the developer was on the jury. Otherwise people would have said, ‘It’s a great project but it can’t be built.'”

Libeskind expects the Wiesbaden office to be finished before the museum.

Libeskind has also been occupied with two other much talked-about German projects. Although the chairman of the jury for the redesign of Alexanderplatz, the prewar center of Berlin, derided Libeskind’s proposal as chaotic, it was one of five to enter the final phase of the competition and was awarded second prize.

The second project is of an entirely different nature. In February, Libeskind was awarded a special prize for his proposal for the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg, north of Berlin. He proposed demolishing the old SS barracks but leaving their ruins exposed in a newly created lake. The design also included a “hope incision,” buildings providing retraining facilities for the unemployed and offices for physical- and mental-health clinics as well as space for a library, archives, museum and ecumenical chapel. Libeskind aimed to create a place for those trying to rebuild Germany at a site whose “history is paradigmatic for the catastrophe of Germany and its responsibility in the future.”

The jury, however, decided that his plan would “mean a new trauma for Oranienburg” and gave first prize to the Viennese architect Hermann Czech, who proposed turning the SS barracks into an 8,000-unit housing estate. That provoked outrage among Germany’s Jewish community and others who eventually persuaded local government to exclude any housing plans. In an effort to deal with criticisms about the costs of his plan, Libeskind has altered it to use canals instead of flooding the area to create a lake, a change that, he says, is still in keeping with the spirit of his original design.

PARTLY to save money, he also transformed the design of the Jewish Museum, eliminating its original sloping walls. The building, officially called Extension to the Berlin Museum with Jewish Museum Department, is zigzag-shaped with what the architect calls a “void” or “a straight line which is empty” cutting though it.

Libeskind, whose family emigrated to Israel and who then studied architecture in New York and England, is now a U.S. citizen. He believes, however, that it was part of his destiny to work in Berlin.

Asked about the current racist violence in the country, Libeskind said: “In my case, I feel these events underscore the necessity to be here, particularly when construction on the museum is being carried out….I don’t think there’s anything that alters public attitudes more than a big public building which is part of a city. Architecture of the city has a tremendous impact on people’s thinking and attitudes.”

Take the EC Train: Berlin to Warsaw or Prague

Ann Brocklehurst
Originally published 7 January 1994, International Herald Tribune

I knew for certain that I was on the right train when a man charged into my compartment and, before I had even had time to sit down, began tugging the window wide open. It is my experience that it is next to impossible to take a train in central Europe without, at the very best, a heated discussion and, at the very worst, an acrimonious argument about whether the window should be open or closed.

Until this trip I had always sided with the window openers against the closers, people I believed lived in overheated, overfurnished apartments and complained constantly about nonexistent drafts. But on the day I was traveling from Berlin to Warsaw, it was below zero and there was snow on the ground. With the window open, there would be a winter gale blowing through the compartment.

I decided this was not something to argue about, picked up my bags, and moved to another compartment where the window was closed for the seven-hour trip.

Personal tastes about windows aside, train travel in central Europe has become a lot more comfortable and a lot less time consuming since Eurocity trains started on the major routes last year. The new EC trains are faster, make far fewer stops and switch engines quickly at the border crossings where there used to be long waits. The tickets cost about 20 percent more than for a milk-run train.

The Varsovia, outfitted with glass luggage racks, pink and gray upholstery and matching carpets, left East Berlin’s old-fashioned Hauptbahnhof at 8:01 A.M., speeding past grayish urban sprawl and straight through the many S-Bahn stops leading out of the city.

Most of the 80-kilometer (50-mile) route to the Oder River and the Polish border is cut through evergreen and birch forest and it is only in Poland that it becomes clear the train is traveling across the North European Plain with hardly a hill in sight all the way to Warsaw. When pressed, even the locals will admit that this dry, mostly agricultural countryside is an acquired taste.

The passengers are a mix of prosperous- looking German businessmen and Polish shoppers returning from bargain hunting in Berlin. Most people have brought their own food to save money or because they’re wary about the meals served in the dining car. The prices are low by Western standards, but 5.20 Deutsche marks ($3) for scrambled eggs, ham, toast, butter and jam appears less of a bargain when the butter turns out to be rancid.

Because of the lack of customers, the dining car is not, as it is on some trains, a good place to strike up a conversation. According to horror stories making the rounds, however, lack of company is not necessarily a bad thing. One traveler befriended by strangers on this route woke up bruised and penniless by the train tracks and later came to the conclusion that his newfound drinking buddies had slipped something into his drink and dumped him from the train.

B ERLIN to Prague with a stop in Dresden, is a shorter but prettier trip than the one to Warsaw. The two- hour leg to Dresden is by far the most crowded; late arrivals may have to sit on their suitcases in the aisles. Escape to the dining car was not an option when all the places were taken by people without other seats.

After the familiar and drab Berlin suburbs, the train passed through the more cheerful towns and farm country of Saxony. Entering the Saxon capital of Dresden, I caught little more than a glimpse of the old city, where the government has embarked on an ambitious program to restore and rebuild monuments destroyed by World War II bombing.

As we moved further away from Dresden and into an area known as Sachsische Schweiz, the views more than made up for the bitter double-strength instant coffee in the dining car. The area gets its name from the dramatic sandstone cliffs rising several hundred meters on either side of the Elbe. The chalet-style and timber-frame houses help make it possible to forget temporarily just what a polluted river the Elbe is.

But then comes the Czech border, and almost immediately the effects of years of neglect and pollution are more evident. Approaching Prague at the end of the four- and-a-half-hour journey is something of a letdown since the Eurocity trains from Berlin stop short of the city center at Holesovice station in a northern industrial suburb.

On the return trip, made mostly in the dark on one of the winter’s longest days, I headed directly to the restaurant car and ordered a Pilsener Urquell and a Hungarian salami plate. The more exotic items on the menu such as duck and rabbit pate were unavailable.

I could only be grateful on this journey that the staff outnumbered the customers and that in my compartment I was on my own – there would definitely not be any disputes about the windows.