On the advice of the very chatty Turkish cab driver who took us from the airport to our East Berlin garden house, we went to Hasir, one of the best and most popular Turkish restaurants in Berlin. Located in Kreuzberg, one of the older working-class suburbs, this gave us a chance to check out the student/artist/Turkish neighborhoods. The restaurant was great, excellently prepared Mediterranean food (fantastic red lentil soup!)–we recommend it highly! The neighborhood was to be expected, I guess, but disappointingly lacking in evidence of creatively artistic shabbiness. Just dirty and every building covered in bad graffiti. I kept getting little memory flashes of attic apartments in the 1970s, smoking Revals, drinking really bad wine, and having sex in narrow beds under covers in very cold rooms. Ah, student life!
Serendipitously, the restaurant was right around the corner from the Museum der Dinge–the Museum of Things–which is an exhibition space associated with the Werkbund-Archiv, the archives of the Deutscher Werkbund, the early 20th-century organization promoting good product design and architecture, that is considered the forerunner of the Bauhaus. When I had my Fulbright in 1973-74, I worked in the Archiv when it was still in Darmstadt (my research topic was “the artist’s ambivalent relationship to the machine”, so it made sense that the Fulbright Committee sent me there, even though they thought the Bauhaus-Archiv was also still there, not realizing it had just moved to Berlin). At that time, it was housed in the beautiful Ernst-Ludwig-Haus by Joseph Olbrich on the Mathildenhöhe–part of the Jugendstil artists’ colony supported by Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hessen. I even got to live in the Haus when I came back a few years later to produce the index of the Werkbundś magazine Werk + Zeit. So I was curious to see what the Archiv’s Berlin digs were like.
Of course, being Sunday, the Archive itself was closed, but the Museum der Dinge was open. The young folks running the place had no idea that the Archive had been in Darmstadt, and they had never heard of the magazine that I indexed. Sigh. Talk about feeling historically old! Never mind: on to this very odd museum.
The purpose of the Werkbund was to establish guidelines for “good” design, a very fraught idea in even the most “high culture” of times, and nearly impossible to sustain as a concept in today’s post-modern world. “Who is to tell US what good design is?” is the operating attitude now. The Museum, then, has tried to decide on a way to present the overwhelming number of industrial objects and designs that they have acquired over the years. The curators have put an enormous quantity of everyday objects into cabinets labelled “Objekt Depot”, with minimal organization except by nostalgic types of things–such as glass insulators or toy animals. In the middle cabinets the objects are meant to tell a historical story about Werkbund design and the development of 20th century graphics and industrial design–but avoiding all sense of what should be considered “good.” Those vitrines focusing on particular periods in German modern history–such as objects from the DDR or, our favorite, handmade objects from WWII made out of necessity, were the most poignant and comprehensible. (The wooden green cow says “I am MUH MUH, the green Hope-Cow, let’s hope that in your life there will be butter again!”)
The best part, as far as George was concerned, was the inclusion in the Museum of a genuine ”Frankfurter Küche”, the Frankfurter Kitchen, designed by Margerete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1928 for low-cost housing projects in Frankfurt. It became the model for a clean, efficient use of space for projects.This one had been in one of these apartments from 1928 until 1993, when it was brought to the Museum. George could actually look at the joinery, and admire the little drawers for rice and flour.
After this visit, we walked down one of the main Kreuzberg streets to come to what was recommended as the best coffee house in Kreuzberg, Five Elephants. It must have been very good, since it was so packed with students and a line out the door that we decided to move on. Ah, student life!