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Forward thinking and retrospection at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof

Forward thinking and retrospection at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof

Art and Design, Museums on February 2, 2012 8:42 am

Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart

The beauty of Hamburger Bahnhof is difficult to describe in words, especially for those unaccustomed to the neo-classical architecture imbued in central Berlin. Entering the courtyard in the daylight hours and being greeted by Dan Flavin’s famous external installation of blue fluorescent neon tubes positioned between the windows, you can’t help but feel that if the outside is anything to go by, your time within the building will be spectacular – and largely you are not disappointed.
The museum of ‘living art’ is just that – a bustling, vibrant and energetic building filled with excited and bemused faces from all corners of the earth. Some are bespectacled art students from the nearby university, others families on a day visit, some are lone-rangers, or couples or larger groups – basically everyone drawn in by Flavin’s installation and the promise of what’s inside.
hamburger bahnhof today by schmidthochzwei_flickr
A brief history

The brainchild of architect Josef Paul Kleihues, Hamburger Bahnhof reopened as the Museum for Contemporary Art (‘Museum für Gegenwart’) on November 2nd 1996 following a lengthy reconstruction process. The building itself has a long history of transformation and change. Originally constructed as one of the first terminal stations of the rail system, it was converted into a museum for transport and construction in the early 20th century until – like so much of Berlin’s architecture during WW2 – it was badly damaged, spending the forthcoming years a dormant, disused shadow of its former glory until restoration finally commenced.

The museum today

The permanent collection at Hamburger Banhoff is impressive. Installations by German artists Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer, as well as pieces by Andy Warhol (whose ‘Mao’ piece has become an icon of the museum),Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Morris and Friedrich Christian Flick are on constant rotation.

mao at hambuger bahnhof by StefdeVries_flickr flick at hamburger bahnhof by Irish Typepad_flickr

From the moment you set foot in the gigantic, industrial entrance hall, which also houses the ticket window and information counter, you’ll immediately be struck by the wings of the main courtyard (cours d’honneur), which lead to further exhibitions on the upper floors.  The individual sections of the museum are clearly indicated on a large panel, and museum guides, which are available free-of-charge (also in English), make planning and navigating your visit even easier.

The museum is divided into permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, the latter of which change regularly.  For this reason, a trip to the museum is always worthwhile, since there’s constantly something “fresh” to be discovered, and no single visit will ever be the same as the one before.

The Museum für Gegenwart (literally: “Museum for the Present”) focuses deliberately on the world of art since 1960, featuring works which blur the boundaries of traditional art forms, and emphasize the interdisciplinary mixture which characterizes contemporary art.

Video art – represented (for example) by the Joseph Beuys Media Archive and the Video Art Collection of the 1970s, which was donated to the museum by Mike Steiner -  also plays a major role at the Hamburger Bahnhof.

It is especially important to the Museum für Gegenwart that visitors understand the works on display, as well as art in general, and to this end, numerous events, such as guided tours, are held on a regular basis.  Through intense discussions of the original art works themselves, coupled with precise, cognisant observation, and the additional information provided by the guides, visitors will gain an increased understanding of the objects on display, and be encouraged to view them from an entirely new and different perspective.

Saraceno Cloud Cities


Thomas Florschuetz at Architektonika Fischli and Weiss Turm at Architektonika
Useful Info
Program English/German
Guides English/German
Nearest public transport U-Bahn: U6 Naturkundemuseum
S-Bahn:S3, S5, S7, S75 Berlin HauptbahnhofBus: 120, 123, 147, 240, 245 Invalidenpark; TXL, 120, M85 Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Signs and accompanying literature English/German
Toilets Located next to the cloak room
Disabled access Yes – For wheelchair hire call: 0049 (0)30 39 78 3434/39

Opening Hours:
Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.mFor guided tours:
Tel.: +49 – (0)30 – 266 42 42 42
Fax: +49 – (0)30 – 266 42 22 90E-Mail: service@smb.museum

Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin and temporary exhibitions
12,- EUR discounted admission 6,- EUR
Temporary Exhibition
8,- EUR discounted admission 4,- EUR


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