Update: Where the abandoned women’s prison once stood is a boutique hotel today. The adjoining courthouse is nowadays the Bocci showroom. The Canadian light fixture designers have left the landmark protected building as untouched as possible, decorating the sparse rooms with mesmerizing installations.

It’s Berlin Art Week: the big fairs abc and Preview, the multitude of institutional partners and the heaps of exhibitions open all over the city. But I was particularly happy to spare some time to pay a pop-up exhibition a visit, that found an unusual spot: a former women’s prison, that is abandoned for some thirty years now.

Elisa and I took a ride to Kantstraße, where, behind an unremarkable facade, in the second courtyard lies a prison made of bricks. It dates back to 1896. During the 3rd Reich, many women from the resistance movement “Rote Kapelle” were imprisoned here. Years later, the prison was still in use by the German Government, until it closed down in 1985. Since then, a private owner bought the premises and kept everything intact – but closed to the public.

From Rote Kapelle to art pop-up

The London based art project Platform79 had the chance to plan and conduct an exhibition at this unusual site: they invited artists to develop ideas on how to use the building in an artistic approach, and to install their pieces reflecting the history and mood of the space. Platform79 used only a few rooms and cells throughout the whole building for their exhibition, but opened the rest for the public as well. In that way, art takes a step back and merely highlights certain details.

There were some pieces that played well with the somewhat strange notion of this former and now abandoned prison: The British artists Kite & Laslett arranged mirrors in the courtyard and invited people to join a specific observation point to experience the installation as a panopticon similar to those known to prison history.

Antonio Riello installed in one of the cells a sound piece of child laughter that both quietly and uncannily filled the whole floor. Malin Holmberg used a peephole in one of the walls to guide the visitor’s view to a room hidden behind, where one of her paintings is exhibited.

The abandoned prison of Berlin – abandoned once again.

However, most of the other pieces shown are not site-specifically made and thus do not or do not wholly reflect the structures found. Of course, the venue distracts a lot from the art shown, but given the fact that it unobtrusively invaded the building, the whole experience stays consistent nevertheless.

In fact, Elisa and I went curiously and gingerly through all the floors and all the cells, in deep amazement of the history still visible there. The occasional art completed the experience, however, it didn’t constitute it.

The prison, which is situated at Kantstraße 79, will be closed to the public soon again: Platform79’s non-profit exhibition will only last until Sunday, so make sure to drop by in time, leave a donation for these great and self-sacrificing people until they head back to London, and discover this unusual place!

Posted by:Matthias

Born and raised in Berlin, Matthias' true love lies in this city. It's a deep relationship: passionate about all the charming parts and in affectionate acceptance of what lies beyond the much lauded spots. Whenever he's not strolling through Kreuzberg or Marzahn, he plunges into art, often writing about it at Castor & Pollux.

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