Berlin red light district turns into art hub

Fri May 25, 2012 1:23pm EDT
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By Elisa Oddone

BERLIN (Reuters) - A shabby area of Berlin best known for its curb-crawling prostitutes and drug dealers is recovering some of the Bohemian allure of its glory days in the 1920s as low rents and its central location lure art galleries.

Art lovers are surprised to discover such a wealth of galleries on and around Potsdamer Strasse, a long artery stretching southwest from the revamped and now-glitzy Potsdamer Platz to the traditional gay stronghold of Schoeneberg.

The galleries, numbering nearly two dozen, are often tucked away in quiet courtyards or hidden in grand 19th century buildings.

"This creates the kind of intimacy art lovers appreciate. Visitors feel exclusive as if they were discovering secret places" said Sassa Truelzsch, whose eponymous gallery off Potsdamer Strasse focuses on contemporary art installations.

"I was the first one to move here (in 2006) and I felt as though I was the only gallery owner in Berlin. Visitors arrived by chance, surprised to find an art gallery in such a context while today we count almost 30 visitors daily," she said.

Also helping to draw in both new galleries and visitors is the area's proximity to such architectural jewels as Mies van der Rohe's glass-and-steel New National Gallery and Hans Scharoun's tentlike Philharmonic concert hall.

The process is typical of Berlin's dynamism and capacity for reinvention, said Juerg Judin, a partner of the Nolan Judin gallery on Potsdamer Strasse which also has a base in New York.

"Berlin represents a unique case in the art world... The city constantly rediscovers its forgotten cheap areas, making them become in turn the main hub of the city's art scene before disappearing again shortly after."   Continued...

Portraits of writer Joseph Roth's contemporaries are seen in the Joseph Roth Diele restaurant in Potsdamer Street in Berlin, May 24, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter