Haus der Kulturen der Welt. This name is not just weirdly uncomfortable to foreigners, but to German speakers too. Haus der Kulturen der Welt. You’d think that Germans, who like to put words together, would call it “Weltkulturenhaus”.
It’s remote area is pretty exceptional, too. To me, it seems just SO out of the way of anything that you’d have to be really dedicated to go to an event or exhibition. I know I used to pass it on one of my many trips with the designated tourist bus line “100”, and keep thinking: man, what the hell, why would they place such a gorgeous object right into the middle of nowhere (and yes, Tiergarten is right in the middle of nowhere to me, because IF IT’S NOT IN KREUZBERG THEN HOW CAN IT EXIST?!).
All joking aside, this is an exceptionally important place in Berlin. The Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the Cultures of the World — seriously, can we just call it Bert or something from now on? It just feels so cold and impersonal) is an institution full of cultural insights, from concerts to exhibitions to readings to films to conferences and whatever else can be visually exhibited in the “world cultures” context. Remember how everybody went crazy about the Transmediale partys a couple of days ago? Well, if you were so inclined to actually participate rather than just get wasted, you’d have known that the Haus der Kulturen der Welt plays a central role in enabling the exchange of cultural practices, even in music and popculture. Besides, it’s one of the last institutions that is still completely funded and commissioned by the state, a growing rarity in Berlin.
The congress hall was sponsored by the US for the International Architectural Exhibition in ’57. Remember how we covered the Hansaviertel last summer in the context of Interbau? The HdKdW is not too far away from it and basically springs from the same cultural, architectural and social time. It was a gift from the Americans to Berlin-West and is now “Germanys center for non-European contemporary art”, which is a very specific category if you’re tempted to believe Wikipedia. But from what I saw and heard at the HdKdW, it extends beyond these borders and offers great performances and insights into anything contemporary.
The architecture is stunningly modern. The building was created by an American, Hugh Stubbins, who was a student of Walter Gropius (which, in all basic-ness on the matter of architecture, should explain enough about the chosen style of complex modernity). The building fits right into the scenery, even though it would seem daring to build something so “forward” right on the Spree bank, surrounded by greens. And yet: it works.
From the website of the Haus:
In 1955, Hugh Stubbins started work on a design for a building that would soon become a remarkable landmark in the cityscape of post-war Berlin. Stubbins, who had been Gropius’s assistant at Harvard before the Second World War, was familiar with Germany. Wanting to make a statement on that conflict between the systems commonly referred to the Cold War, Stubbins planned a building with a hall to hold cultural events and congresses. It was intended to serve as a symbol and beacon of freedom with its message reaching the East too. The former Zeltenplatz square was chosen as the site. To ensure its contours would be clearly seen from Communist-ruled East Berlin, the Congress Hall was erected on an artificial mound.
Stubbins described the symbolic value of his architectural design as ‘completely free’. The form of the curved roof bore a striking resemblance to that of wings. In Stubbins’s view, the roof upheld the promise that there would be no restrictions on the freedom of intellectual work — a political vision shared by the Benjamin Franklin Foundation, which commissioned the building.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt though wasn’t actually founded til 1989 — before that, it existed purely in a purpose of hoarding people in its chique congress hall. The year the new concept was born should really tell you something about its meaning and its perfect — its only — timing. The focus on interdisciplinary, cultural exchange was needed for Berlin to grow out of its long lasting restrictions. So when Berlin reunified, the HdKdW became a cultural symbol of that unification, an institution that knows no borders at all as opposed to limiting itself to one city or one country or one continent only.
Apparently, the HdKdW is lovingly reffered to as “the pregnant oyster”. Allegedly because it looks like a “pregnant oyster”. I have never heard anyone call it that. Please do not call it “a pregnant oyster”. I’d rather say its whole, lanky and disturbingly uncomfortable name out time and time again than “a pregnant oyster”. I bet that’s the invention of some “poor but sexy” type of politician who wanted to be flashy with dubbing things. Just.. don’t.
If you’ve never been inside of the HdKdW (Bert), you should definitely check the event listings and see for yourself. The interieur is dramatically awesome. Whether it’s an exhibition or performance, never have I been sucked into a space like this before. The feeling of being in a truly unique and iconic place is overwhelming.
Anyway. Stefan, talented and willing as always, went around to take some great pictures in the snow of the whole thing. Please do check out the latest events on the program, they are usually worth the trip. Speaking of: the Berlinale also takes place at the HdKdW in some aspects.