Hits and Misses at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum

Subterranean Installation ©FrogDiva Photography

There may be a shortage of politeness, customer service, and hospitality in Berlin, but the sheer amount of museums and galleries in this city more than make up for everything else. When it comes to visual art, Berlin is a haven for all those who seek inspiration, entertainment, and momentary distraction from reality. I can name you 50 reasons for not moving to Berlin in five minutes, but I can also name you 50 great reasons for choosing this chaotic and mismanaged city as home, or even just a holiday destination.

I am no great fan of museums per se, especially of natural or ancient history (I take after my mother and will find ways and means to avoid having to pay an entrance fee to see someone else’s broken pots and bones). Thankfully, there are so many photography and art museums around town to help me along, one of those being the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum.

As the name implies, the building was the main train station for the Hamburg – Berlin line in 1846 before it became a museum for contemporary art. Having said that, the elevation of the ceilings and breadth of the rooms are huge enough for locomotives to be driving in and out. The present-day decor and interior design pays homage to the dignified past, and the installations have found a marvellous home within the walls and arches. There are times when I felt as though I was back in the Guggenheim, but then I spotted the grouchy, bored, and disinterested guards and remembered that I was in Berlin.

I am not an art critic, so I won’t even bother to give an opinion on the installations and collections. Suffice it to say that what passes for art in some cases is mind boggling. I could have sworn I was walking through a construction site… then there are some unforgettable items like the works of Marc Quinn, particularly his 1997 piece called Shit Head. Click on the link and all will be explained.

An open mind and a lot of time to spare are needed to cover the full extent of the museum. Some exhibits are more challenging than others, and it helps to have lived through the 60s and 70s at times, but on the average you need three to four hours to explore and soak it all in. One thing I absolutely cannot recommend is having a meal at the museum cafe. It is big enough to have been an old-fashioned ballroom, complete with charming parquet floors. The staff runs around with an air of bored disdain, giving you the impression that you are interrupting their train of thought by placing an order. The prices are astronomical, the portions leave you hungry, and the salads were an abominable excuse for a presentation. The New York Cheesecake that I had was more like a gelatinous milk mass, nothing remotely similar to a cheesecake, let alone a New Yorker. Oh, and the coffee machine was broken so cappuccino and espresso were not possible.

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