Berlin is no Las Vegas or any other archetypal entertainment metropolis. But what role does entertainment play in a capital city that has over fifty theatres, countless bars and clubs which know no compulsory closing hours? And what was it like in the past, in the Wilhelmine era or in the 1920s? Where does entertainment actually begin, and where does it end?
For over one hundred years Berlin has been a melting pot for different cultures and styles, which from here have found their way back out into the wider world. Berlin likes to present itself as cosmopolitan and experimental – but exclusion is also part of the culture of entertainment. As part of the exhibition Berlin and the World, entertainment in all its various facets is showcased in its own large thematic room.
The entertainment industry is often in the spotlight. Whether at fairgrounds or on cabaret stages, in casinos or clubs, bright colourful lights glint and dazzle. And in the room devoted to entertainment on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum you can also encounter light, mirror images and reflections. Among these are the ceiling lamps which have been reassembled from original elements of the famous lighting in the foyer of the East German Palast der Republik. Their round form has been echoed in the oversized, walk-in mirrored balls. The reference to the building which stood here for decades resonates with the ambiguity of its function. On the one hand, the Palast der Republik housed the Volkskammer or parliament, making it a visible symbol of East German rule. On the other hand it was also an entertainment venue for the general public, hosting festivals, concerts and performances by Western artists.
In a room that appeals to all the senses, visitors can explore various aspects of the theme of entertainment in Berlin, one example being how intercultural exchange has animated Berlin’s entertainment culture since the nineteenth century. Whether dance, theatre or other performance genres, international influences have always inspired the assorted entertainment branches. This appears to be a constant factor, for even today it doesn’t really matter which music we listen to, and whether we dance tango or swing, or party to Arab folk music or techno – without exchange there would be no innovation. Our longing for the exotic and the unknown is satisfied by a succession of new styles which enter the city and fuse with those already present. The city ceaselessly produces new trends, which in turn find their way back out into the world.
Hip-hop culture is just one example. In the room visitors can trace how this global youth culture continued its development in Berlin. While in the birthplace of hip-hop, in New York’s Bronx, it was young African-Americans and Hispanics who were looking for new forms of expression, after the fall of the Berlin Wall it was the numerous young people with Turkish roots who established a kind of music dubbed “Oriental hip-hop” in our city. When it was imported into Turkey from Berlin, it then laid the foundations for the local hip-hop scene there. The room lets visitors experience the trends that have been set and the styles that have been invented here in Berlin.
The room also describes economic ties and financial interests. To what extent does entertainment have a political and social dimension? What freedoms and what limitations do cultural practitioners experience when living in exile? Who is allowed to amuse themselves and who is excluded? Anyone who has been turned away by the bouncer after a long wait outside a club knows how fine the line is between access to entertainment and exclusion. This thematic room raises numerous questions and provides an insight into the wide-ranging history of Berlin’s entertainment culture.
In future to be seen in the “Berlin Exhibition” on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum.
The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights were being presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin. The exhibition on Museum Island has been extended until the end of September 2019.