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Artful Travels: Highlights from Germany & Spain

Note: This is part of a series of TOKY blog posts about artful trips our staff have taken. Today’s entry is from Senior Strategist Stephen Schenkenberg.

I had the great pleasure of living in Berlin between fall 2010 and summer 2011 — my wife was there on a fellowship — and one of the ways we spent much of our time (and many of our Euros) was checking out the incredible museum and architectural scene. In eight months, we were able to only scratch the surface of what was available. (In Berlin alone, there are 175 official museums, plus all kinds of smaller galleries that don’t make that cut.) Still, we were able to tour some tremendous buildings, museums, and art installations. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Pablo Picasso’s Sitzender Harlekin, 1905, and the entire Museum Berggruen, Berlin

Picasso seated h

This modestly sized institution in West Berlin is an absolute gem — three floors of works by Picasso, Klee, Matisee, and Giacometti, all collected by Heinz Berggruen, who died in 2007 at the age of 93. One of the unique touches of this first-rate museum experience was hearing Berggruen himself talk from time to time on the audio tour, about how he came to buy this Klee, what it was like to meet this companion of Picasso’s … The man had a killer eye. Walking through, I felt gratitude for the gift he’s given to Berlin and its visitors.

2. Basilica de La Sagrada Família, Barcelona

Schenkenberg sagrada 2

Schenkenberg sagrada 1

An awe-inspiring work of spiritual architecture by Antoni Gaudí. Work began on March 19, 1882. It’s still going. The official website is rich with content — timelines, videos, aerial images that show just how astounding this building actually is — so jump there to learn a lot more. And if you’re in Barcelona, just go. Yes, there will be a line to get in. There should be.

3. Jewish Museum Berlin

Schenkenberg jewishmuseumberlin

Magnificent. A moving, informative chronicle of 2,000 years of Jewish history that takes place within a remarkable building. Here is the introductory text about the architecture that greeted us before our initial descent to start our tour:

Daniel Libeskind called his design for the Jewish Museum Berlin “Between the Lines.” The floor plan is shaped like a zigzag line and is intersected by a straight line. Empty spaces called voids extend the height of the building at the interfaces. The zinc-clad façade is covered by diagonal slashes — the window openings. Three paths cross on the lower level: the Axis of Exile, the Axis of the Holocaust, and the Axis of Continuity, which leads to the museum’s upper stories. Daniel Libeskind was born in 1946 in Poland. He first emigrated to Israel, then to New York. Of his architecture, he says: “What is important is the experience you get from it. The interpretation is open.

My suggestion: Read Nicolai Ouroussoff’s 1999 review of just the building, published two years before the museum opened to the public. It holds up. (More of my photos are here.)

4. Otto Dix’s Familienbildnis, 1925, and the entire Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden

Dix familie rechtsanwalt

Although Dresden’s Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) is more unique — an eye-popping, literally dazzling collection of objects made of gold, silver, gemstones, amber, mother-of-pearl, rhino husks, coconuts, ostrich eggs … — I was blown away by the art collection of Galerie Neue Meister (New Masters Gallery): Several important works from Dix, including the above and the justly famous Der Krieg (Triptychon) (which was initially denounced because it showed war scenes devoid of heroic acts); Degas’ spectacularly colored Zwei Tänzerinnen; Theodor Rosenhauer’s seriously spooky Kind auf gelbem Stuhl; and on and on. You know that feeling when you’re rushed toward the end of a museum visit? That’s no good here — our route closed with a whole room of Baselitz and two rooms of Richter that held, among other works, Secretary, Aunt Marianne, Motorboat 1, and a new series of small-scale works described as acrylic on backs of glass (here’s one).

5. Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Also known as the Holocaust Memorial, this unforgettable and moving permanent installation was designed by American architect Peter Eisenman. It’s located just a block or two south of the Brandenburg Gate and across from the Tiergarten, which you can see in the first photograph above. Experientially, I found much to agree with in Nicolai Ouroussoff’s review of the project in 2005, when it opened to the public:

The new Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by Peter Eisenman, is the apotheosis of this soul-searching. A vast grid of 2,711 concrete pillars whose jostling forms seem to be sinking into the earth, it is able to convey the scope of the Holocaust’s horrors without stooping to sentimentality — showing how abstraction can be the most powerful tool for conveying the complexities of human emotion.

The memorial’s power lies in its willingness to grapple with the moral ambiguities arising in the Holocaust’s shadow. Its focus is on the delicate, almost imperceptible line that separates good and evil, life and death, guilt and innocence…

I’m ending on perhaps too poignant a note, and with so many more possible highlights to mention … The Pergamon and Gemäldegalerie and C/O Berlin and David Chipperfield’s restoration of Neues Museum. Or at least just the view of The Bode Museum across the River Spree. Or Prague’s intentionally unnerving Kafka Museum. Or Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavillion. Or, for that matter, Mies’ Neue Nationalgalerie back in Berlin…

Damn, we’ve gotta go back…