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August 17 2011

10 of the best museums in Berlin

Berlin resident and travel writer Rory MacLean chooses some of the city's most impressive museums, whether you want to taste life in the former DDR or admire works by world famous artists

• As featured in our Berlin city guide

Käthe Kollwitz Museum

Of all Berlin's artists, no one captured the pain suffered in and exported from this place more than Käthe Kollwitz. The intense intimacy of her work revealed residents' hopes and horrors, as well as the unspoken pains of the poor, in images and forms which – 60 years after her death – still appear to burst from the artist's heart. This privately owned museum, just off the Ku'damm, includes hundreds of her finest drawings, etchings and sculptures. A passageway connects the museum to the neighbouring Literaturhaus, with one of the city's most civilised cafes.
• Fasanenstrasse 24, +49 30 882 5210,, adults €6, concessions €3. Open daily 11am-6pm

Neues Museum

Over the last decade the Neues Museum, a bombed-out ruin since 1945, has been repaired and rebuilt by British starchitect David Chipperfield. His recreation is a striking building which can be read like a book, telling – through its original walls, surviving textural details, all-but-lost classical frescos and soaring new spaces – the story of man's ability to create, destroy and preserve. It is the perfect museum for Berlin. The collection, which includes a Neanderthal skull, the bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti and Heinrich Schliemann's Trojan antiquities, isn't half bad either.
• Bodestrasse 1, +49 30 2664 24242,, adults €10, concessions €5, under-19s free. Open Mon-Wed, Sun 10am-6pm, Thur-Sat 10am-8pm

Bauhaus Archives – Museum of Design

Berlin has long been a capital of creativity but unlike London, Paris and New York the radiance of its arts shines brightest against the darkness in its past. The city is the spiritual home of the Bauhaus, the most influential school of architecture, design and art in the 20th century. Its Archive – or Museum of Design – houses a sensational collection of sculptures, ceramics, furniture and architectural models by Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Klee, Kandinsky and the many others who – with the Nazis' rise to power – fled Germany and carried modernism to the New World. A free guided tour runs every Sunday at 3pm.
Klingelhöferstrasse 14, +49 30 254 0020, Open Wed-Mon 10am-5pm (closed Tuesday), adults €7, concessions €4

Museum Berggruen

Heinz Berggruen bought his first painting in 1940 for $100 – a watercolour by Paul Klee. Half a century later, he gave to Berlin the bulk of his fabulous collection, then valued at $450m and including 165 masterpieces by Braque, Matisse, Klee and Giacometti. This intimate gallery, situated opposite the Schloss Charlottenburg, also has more than 100 works by Picasso from early student sketches to the blue and rose period through his cubist years and up to the year before his death in April 1973. Guided tours for children are offered on most Saturdays (paper and crayons provided).
• Schlossstrasse 1, +49 30 2664 24242,, adults €6, concessions €4. Open Tue-Sun 10am-6pm

Topography of Terror

That Germany is open and dynamic today is a consequence of taking responsibility for its history. In a courageous, humane and moving manner, the country is subjecting itself to a national psychoanalysis. This Freudian idea, that the repressed (or at least unspoken) will fester like a canker unless it is brought to the light, can be seen in Daniel Libeskind's tortured Jewish Museum, at the Holocaust Memorial and, above all, at the Topography of Terror. Be aware that this outdoor museum, built on the site of the former headquarters of the SS and Gestapo, is not for the fainthearted.
• Niederkirchnerstrasse 8, +49 30 2545 0950, Open daily 10am-8pm, free

Jewish Museum

At the start of the 20th century, Berlin was the largest Jewish city in the world. One third of the 100 richest Prussians were Jews. By 1945 Hitler had destroyed Germany's rich diversity, making it both poorer and more homogeneous. Berlin's Jewish Museum – with its extension by Daniel Libeskind – explores two millennia of German Jewish history. But far from being locked in the past, the museum looks forward with child-friendly tours, weekend workshops and special shows including a histories of Jewish football and radical Jewish music in New York.
• Lindenstrasse 9-14, +49 30 2599 3300, Open Mon 10am-10pm, Tue-Sun 10am-8pm, adults €5, concessions €2.50, under-6s free

Allied Museum

At the end of the second world war, the victorious Allies divided Berlin into four sectors. Stalin's secret intention was to draw Berlin – and then the whole of Germany – into the Communist orbit. In 1948 he blockaded the city as a means of driving the Americans out of Europe, but the Allies retaliated by launching the Berlin airlift to sustain its freedom. The cold war heated up and in 1961 the Soviets built the Wall to completely encircle the western sectors. The Allied Museum tells the story of those years. Displays include the guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie, an RAF Hastings, as well as a section of the Berlin spy tunnel, the largest ever SIS/CIA operation.
• Clayallee 135, +49 30 818 1990, Open Mon, Tue, Thur-Sun 10am–6pm, free

The Berlin Wall Memorial

Bernauer Strasse witnessed some of the most tragic scenes when the city was divided in 1961: East Berliners jumped from apartment windows, vaulted over barbed wire, tunnelled beneath the streets in an attempt to reach freedom. The Berlin Wall Memorial – which includes the city's only unadorned stretch of border fortifications and a superb museum – marks the iniquity, compliance and heroism of East and West Berliners during those tragic years. A must.
• Bernauer Strasse 111/119, +49 30 4679 866 66, Open April–October, Tue-Sun 9.30am-7pm, November-March, Tue-Sun 9.30am-6pm, free

DDR Museum

Trabants, hidden microphones, beach volleyball nudists and Spreewald pickles: Ostalgie (or nostalgia for life in former East) might worry parts of country (a recent survey found half of 16-year-olds believed East Germany was never a dictatorship), but at the DDR Museum visitors can safely experience life in under communism – at least for their 90-minute visit. Watch TV in the authentic East Berlin living room, spy on your neighbours, join the FDJ pioneers or march in the May Day parade. The museum is located on the river Spree opposite Berlin cathedral.
• Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 1, +49 30 847 123 731, Open Mon-Fri, Sun 10am-8pm, Sat 10am-10pm, adults €6, concessions €4

Currywurst Museum

The currywurst is as much a part of Berlin as the Brandenburg Gate, with more than 70,000,000 curried sausages scoffed in the city every year. No surprise then that Berliners should celebrate their civic dish with a feel-good museum. Uncover the story of fast food through the ages, learn about the "currywurst war", lie back on the Sausage Sofa and discover why Volkswagen is one of Germany's largest sausage makers. Entrance is far from cheap but the souvenirs are among the best in Berlin (for non-vegetarians) and the complimentary "Currywurst in a Cup" has the tastiest, fruitiest sauce I've found anywhere in town.
• Schützenstrasse 70, +49 30 8871 8647, Open daily 10am-10pm, adults €11, concessions €8.50, children €7, under-6s free

Rory MacLean's book on Berlin will be published in 2012. He writes a weekly Berlin blog for the Goethe Institut © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 14 2010

How Christine Keeler provided inspiration for Giacometti

As the Profumo scandal raged, the artist Alberto Giacometti was fascinated by a French news report and dashed off some previously unknown sketches

Dozens of previously unknown sketches by the artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti have come to light, including impromptu drawings of Christine Keeler, the showgirl whose 1960s affair with Conservative minister John Profumo shook the British establishment.

Nine months ago, one of Giacometti's sculptures sold for £65m. Now the Swiss artist's family has allowed his biographer, the distinguished art historian Michael Peppiatt, access to the collection for a major new book and a loan exhibition. The unseen images reveal Giacometti at his most intimate and unselfconscious.

Giacometti seems to have taken his inspiration for the Keeler sketch from a 1963 French newspaper report. A series of nude female figures sketched across a page from France-Soir is thought to represent her. The collection also contains sculptures, paintings and drawings not seen since they left his dilapidated studio in Paris. Another find is an art book owned by Giacometti which he used to produce a striking drawing of Van Gogh's self-portrait.

Another previously unknown sketch appears across a torn-out page of L'Express, a 1964 edition with a report on Lee Harvey Oswald, President John Kennedy's assassin. Giacometti scribbled over Oswald's photograph, giving him a beard and scrawling across the page the repeated word continuare ("to go on") and the phrase "the busts were made quickly, and a painting this evening, the drawings soon". The words seem to convey Giacometti's constant urge to push himself into yet more work. The artist, who died in 1966, obsessively scrutinised his work for hints of failure, always destroying works that did not match his vision. Peppiatt said that the newspaper sketches showed that drawing was fundamental for Giacometti. "Drawing was a form of instinctive thinking for him. He was never without a pencil in his hand or a fag in his mouth," he explained.

Peppiatt, an art critic for the Observer during the 1960s, recalled his excitement at being given access to the images, taken from a collection owned by the widow of Giacometti's nephew, Silvio Berthoud: "There is something very intimate about these works. I was allowed to choose from 300 drawings. I was deeply moved. I felt that Giacometti was almost there with me … as if his drawings were dropping from his hands. He had scribbled over the inside covers of books, doodled on bits of paper in cafes." Some of the unknown images are in Peppiatt's forthcoming book, In Giacometti's Studio, and a loan exhibition he has curated at the Eykyn Maclean gallery in New York.

Through newly published letters, Peppiatt offers new insight into Giacometti, the man and his art. He has delved into the artist's relationships, notably his doomed affair with Isabel Rawsthorne, a raucous, bohemian painter and model.

Peppiatt said: "Isabel was a terrifying animal, a man-eater. She was having affairs with both sexes and drinking everybody under the table. He was ambivalent towards women. What he liked were prostitutes. Giacometti was both attracted and repelled by Isabel." Feelings of despair emerge from their letters, Peppiatt said. In one, Giacometti wrote: "I didn't think your stay was a washout, Isabel, otherwise I wouldn't have felt so upset when you left. My throat was tight. I was sobbing inside."

Peppiatt also casts light on the artist's friendship with Samuel Beckett. Describing Giacometti's skeletal figures as a visual embodiment of the Irish writer's pared down prose, he said: "They had the same nocturnal habits. They'd bump into one another in Montparnasse around midnight, go to the same brothels together and walk home together." He tried to imagine their conversations as they strolled the deserted streets. "I researched and researched, following every line of inquiry, until I came to the truth," he recalled. These 20th-century geniuses would walk in "deep, utter, total silence", he said. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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June 16 2010

The Surreal House at the Barbican

This new show is 'a mysterious dwelling infused with subjectivity and desire' featuring artists such as Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti and René Magritte

February 03 2010

Fat price for Giacometti's thin man

Sotheby's auction also sees record price set for landscape painting by Gustav Klimt

So big spenders are cutting back? Clearly not all of them. A sculpture of a grimly determined walking man by Alberto Giacometti tonight broke records by becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction when it was bought for £65m.

The price, achieved at Sotheby's in London, was five times more than its estimate of £12m-18m, and beat the record set by Picasso's Garçon à la Pipe in 2004. That sold in New York for $104,168,000. With exchange rates the way they are the Giacometti pipped it at $104,327,006.

It was a recession-defying sale with something of a circular feel to it: the only reason it was up for auction was the banking crisis. It was part of the collection of the collapsed Dresdner Bank – bought in the 1980s – and was being sold by its new owners Commerzbank which promised to give all the money to charitable foundations.

For the buyers and their representatives, the Giacometti sale was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. The sculpture is considered to be one of the most important by the 20th-century Swiss artist.

There was a genuine sense of anticipation in the auction room. Not only could you smell the expensive perfumes and colognes, you could smell the money. Interest in the sculpture was clear from the start with bids being shouted before the auctioneer had even had chance to ask for them. "On your marks, get set, I'm going to start at £9m," said auctioneer Henry Wyndham.

"£12m," came the first bid. "That's my kind of price," said Wyndham.

The figure then rattled up quickly, ping-ponging around the room. In total there were 10 bidders but it came down to two telephone bidders from the mid-£30m mark onwards. When it went from £47m to £50m in a giant leap – what's £3m after all – there were gasps. When the hammer went down, there was loud applause.

But the Giacometti was not a one-off at the sale of impressionist and modern art. If there was any doubt the top end of art market is back on track it was dispelled by another record set tonight : the sale made £146,828,350, the highest amount ever made at a London sale.

Announcing that the audience had just witnessed "the highest price ever paid for any work ever sold at auction," Sotheby's co-chairman Melanie Clore said they were "absolutely thrilled."

Philip Hook, a senior director at Sotheby's, said one bidder told him he had been waiting 40 years for something like this to come on the market and "that's not the winning contender."

The auction house was refusing to give any details as to who might have bought the work, cast in 1961.

The sale had been the first of its type in London to have three works estimated at more than £10m. One of the most jaw- dropping, in terms of beauty, was a landscape by Gustav Klimt, Church in ­Cassone – Landscape with Cypresses, which had been estimated at £12-18m. It sold for £26.9m, setting an auction record for a Klimt landscape.It was also interesting because it was owned by an Austrian family before the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. The owners tried to hide it before being taken to the gas chambers but after the war it was gone, not reappearing until 1962.

A deal was brokered by Sotheby's restitution department whereby the seller split the proceeds with Georges Jorisch, the 81-year-old heir to the family who originally owned it.

In a statement he said: "Today's sale closes a long open chapter in my life in which I recover part of my forbears' legacy and pass it on to future generations, just as my parents would have wished."

Another highlight sold last night was a still life by Paul Cézanne, sold on estimate at £11.8m.

• This article was amended on 4 February 2010 to correct some spellings of Giacometti. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 12 2010

Lost Klimt to go on sale

Masterpiece saved from Nazis in 1938 to sell alongside key works by Cézanne and Giacometti. See gallery here

A rare and luminously beautiful landscape by Gustav Klimt that was crated up by its owners during the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938 and then more or less disappeared for decades is to be auctioned in London, Sotheby's announced today.

The painting – which represents a key turning point for the artist – is being sold in what the auction house says is one of the most eye-catching sales of impressionist and modern art it has ever held. As well as the Klimt, conservatively valued at £15m-£18m, there is a quintessential Cézanne still life estimated at £10m-£15m and a similarly valued Giacometti life-size sculpture. It will be the first London sale of its type to include a trio of £10m-plus masterpieces.

All three were today displayed at the auction house's London headquarters; but it was the gorgeousness of the Klimt that was turning heads.

"It is absolutely wonderful," said Sotheby's specialist Patrick Legant. "It's a dream in a way to be so privileged to handle a painting like this."

But it is the story it tells – of Klimt and Vienna as well as the tragic story of its owners – that makes the painting so special. "In one painting you get some of the history of the 20th century," said Legant.

Klimt painted Church in Cassone – Landscape with Cypresses while he was on holiday in Italy with his lover and muse Emilie Klöge in 1913. The picture postcard village on the edge of Lake Garda, with its dominating church and ramrod cypress trees, clearly caught the artist's eye, but the nearest point he could paint it from was too far away – so he used a telescope.

The painting represents a key moment in Klimt's artistic journey, the point where he began embracing the modernist influences that were swirling, ever louder, around Europe. So while you can see the influence of the impressionists and Monet – just look at the reflections in the water – the new influences also loom large, ­people such as his friend Egon Schiele and the Cubists.

Legant said: "When you think of all the earlier Klimt landscapes you have the beautiful meadows, lots of flowers, all very playful. This picture is one of the first that shows a much more modern style – it's very geometrical and architectural, and that's something you wouldn't have found in his earlier pictures. This painting reflects the change in approach to art, an absolutely new way of approaching landscapes."

It was owned by one of Klimt's most important patrons, the Austro-Hungarian steel magnate Viktor Zuckerkandl and his wife Paula. After they died childless in 1927 it passed into the hands of Zuckerkandl's sister Amelie Redlich, where it occupied pride of place in the family's grand Vienna home.

Everything changed with the Anschluss in 1938. Redlich had arranged for her paintings to be stored by a shipping company, even paying what was an enormous bribe of 2,000 Reichsmarks for them to be kept safe and away from the Nazis.

In 1941 the story takes a depressingly predictable turn: Redlich and her daughter Mathilde were deported by the Nazis to Lodz in Poland. They were never heard of again.

Redlich may have succeeded in keeping the art from the Gestapo but the overall goal failed: when her son-in-law went looking for the paintings in 1947 the crates were empty. No one knows what happened and that, for the Klimt, was pretty much that until 1962 when it suddenly appeared at an exhibition in Austria labelled 'from a private collection'.

It comes to auction after a deal was brokered by Sotheby's between the painting's unnamed owners – who bought it in good faith – and the Redlich family's surviving heir and son of Mathilde, Georges Jorisch, a retired Montreal camera shop manager, now 81.

He was lucky enough to get out of Vienna aged 10. An amicable restitution deal has been struck in which the ­proceeds from the sale are split.

The Klimt, the Cézanne and the Giacometti will be sold at Sotheby's on 3 February along with works by artists including Henri Matisse, René Magritte and Joan Míro.

Sotheby's impressionist and modern art vice-chairman, Helena Newman, said the success of its New York November sale – it realised $182m when the upper estimate had been $163m – had encouraged sellers that the big buyers were still out there.

The top end of the market has also seen a new buoyancy because of the new billionaires on the block – the Chinese.

A few years ago they were mainly buying Chinese contemporary art; now Chinese collectors are competing with Russians, Americans and British buyers for the very best examples of European impressionist and modern art, Newman said.

The Giacometti sculpture of a thin walking man (L'Homme qui marche I) has the distinction of being the only lifetime cast of the subject ever to come to auction and could easily realise a record price for the artist. That it has come to market is partly down to the banking crisis – it was part of the collection of the collapsed Dresdner Bank and is being sold by new owners Commerzbank, with proceeds going to charities.

The Cézanne, Pichet et fruits sur une table, is regarded as a particularly fine example of the artist's work, so quintessential that it was used as the cover for John Rewald's authoritative biography of the artist. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Sotheby's auctions three modern masterpieces

Sotheby's has unveiled three impressionist and modern art masterpieces which are to be auctioned at the Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, London

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