Moveable Feast

Berlin’s Art Scene Moves West

Vorschau Berlin Art Week
Crowds gather for the preview of Berlin Art Week.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Berlin’s creative reputation has been built on its vibrant art scene that grew up in the empty spaces of East Berlin. Yet as the former East has become more expensive, many galleries have moved to West Berlin.

  • Facts


    • After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the vast empty spaces in the former East attracted thousands of artists to the city.
    • Potsdamer Strasse in the West has become an important art hotspot with around 40 galleries clustered there.
    • An estimated 20,000 artists, both German and international, work in Berlin and there are an estimated 450 galleries in the city.
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Thomas Fischer’s gallery is hidden away on the second floor of a Berlin Altbau, looking out on a courtyard behind what were once the drab offices of a Berlin newspaper.

It is on Potsdamer Strasse, a grubby run-down street in West Berlin, still filled with Turkish supermarkets, cheap casinos and brothels. But now, it is also the epicenter of one of the hippest and most productive art scenes in the world.

Even though it was the empty spaces of the former East Berlin that first attracted thousands of artists and gallery owners to create one of the world’s most vibrant art scenes, the focus has now shifted firmly back to the West.

Yet, East or West, the commercial scene remains still underdeveloped. Despite a plethora of increasingly professional galleries and a burgeoning collectors’ scene, Berlin is still not a site for making money from art. But some critics warn that the city is not doing enough to collect and document the vibrancy of the city’s art output for prosterity.

Nonetheless, the international art world makes sure it has a presence in Berlin. This week collectors, gallerists and curators from around the world are descending on the city for ABC, the city’s art fair.

The fall of the Berlin Wall played a huge role in the creation of what is now one of the globe’s most important art scenes. The artists rushed to the vast post-industrial spaces and huge dilapidated apartments of the former East, to paint, sculpt and live.

Mr. Fischer was no exception. When he first came to Berlin in 1997 from his native Ulm, in southern Germany, he lived and spent all his time in the former East Berlin. “No one was interested in the West in the 1990s,” he told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “Many people are only now discovering that there is a district here that is unbelievably exciting,” he said.

Mr. Fischer feels that part of the charm is that it is a place where people live and work. “It is not like the East was.  It isn’t full of empty spaces.”

The 39-year-old has managed to achieve success quickly since he opened in 2011. He represents both emerging artists, like Sebastian Stumpf and Friedemann Heckel, both young Berlin-based artists who are increasingly well regarded, as well as established artists like  86-year-old Brian O’Doherty originally from Ireland and based for many years in the United States.

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