Big Things on the Beach

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Visit to Berlin

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Arriving in Berlin
Berlin is one of those cities that's like no other. It has history, architecture and art in abundance. Mostly, it just works. It’s beautiful, it's a great size and it's easy to get around. Berlin and Germany more generally is concerned with design so even everyday things like the ticket machine at a U-Bahn station is built for use and ornament. We arrived in Berlin on a dreich Friday afternoon and we're greeted with a train that would take us directly from the airport to the closest station to our hotel, with no changes and with heated seats to boot. Wunderbar!


Click below to read on for more of Ann Milovic's trip report. This trip is part of the 2007-08 Public Art commissioning course.

After settling into our ultra modern "Motel One" in Alexandar Platz, we went out for a delicious dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant. Feeling relaxed we then ventured into the city to see it by night, in particular the Daimler/Sony Centre at Potsdammer Platz. Potsdammer Platz was heavily bombed during the war and then on the dividing line for the Berlin Wall so it wasn’t properly redeveloped until the 1990’s. Here we saw "The Boxers" by Keith Harding, "Blue Balloon" by Jeff Kuntz and a giant giraffe made out of Lego. None of these pieces was commissioned for the area but they all seemed to fit in well in this ultra modern world.


Saturday morning we headed out to the Reichstag and the memorial to the politicians who opposed the Nazi takeover. We met an historian of Germany history who told us about the memorial and suggested we visit the Chancellor's building and the artwork "Rolling Horse" at the Hauptbahnhof which was worth the short hike across the Spree. We then went to the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate. It is a haunting place that affects people in many different ways. We had heard the usual tales of over budget and over time from the historian we met earlier, but those things didn't matter once we were deep in the maze of the memorial. I hesitate to describe my feelings about the memorial because it’s such an individual experience but one I would recommend.


Public Art Lab talk
We then headed to the north side of the city to meet Susa Pop and Ela Kegal from Public Art Lab in the building aptly titled "Redesign Deutschland", along with Hans Wiegner, a light artist and Miriam Struppek who works on a project called "International Urban Screens". This visit was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me. They discussed their work on the Mobile Studios project which took place in various cities across Europe. They had documented their work well so that we got a real feel for the project. They were keen to engage with local artists wherever they went and let the character of that city show through in the work. They opened their doors to us and were keen to learn about Big Things on the Beach and Portobello.

The following morning we trudged through wind and rain to go to the East Side Gallery, near the Oberbaumbrücke. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin Wall nearly a mile long. After the Wall came down in 1989, hundreds of artists from all over the world gathered and transformed with their paintings the eastside of the Wall that had been untouched during the Cold War, giving the Wall a new face in a new time. Despite the horizontal rain, none of us would have missed seeing it. Some of the paintings are not in good condition due to being outside year round, but the personal and political impact remains vibrant.



Thorsten Goldberg talk
Another highlight of the trip was our discussion with the artist Thorsten Goldberg on our last afternoon. Thorsten truly opened his home and his archive to us. He started by talking about his work to preserve pieces of public artwork from old East German housing projects so that when the housing was no longer considered habitable, the artwork was not lost. He spoke of the need for public art to work on two levels – to be easily accessible but also to give people something to think about, to ponder and question. He also spoke of the need for the art to be relevant to its surroundings, to be site specific and meaningful to the people who live nearby. He was very open with us and gave us much to think about on our journey back home. We would like to thank him for being such a wonderful host and inspirational speaker.


After our visit with Thorsten we had to head back to the airport to fly back to Edinburgh and finally to Portobello. I think it's safe to say that we would have all liked to have stayed longer and hopefully most of us will make it back to Berlin to enjoy its art and people.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 March 2010 23:26  

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Big Things on the Beach is a public art trust in Portobello, a seaside suburb close to the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was formed by a group of residents in 2003 to explore the potential of the seafront as a site for engagement with public artworks by both emerging and established artists.

Since 2004 we have commissioned artists to create substantial temporary artworks, trained ourselves and others in the process of commissioning public artworks through international site visits and guest lectures and successfully raised funding to these ends.

Our current project - The Big Welcome - is supported by Creative Scotland, Portobello & Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership and Edinburgh City Libraries