Boros Bunker: A Mishmash of History & Contemporary Art

Housed in an indestructible war bunker, the building and its varied history are as impressive as the artworks in the Sammlung Collection. The imposing structure (also known as Berlin Reichsbahnbunker) was originally built as a wartime shelter to protect up to 2000 people from air raids, with 150 rooms and walls 2 metres thick.

The building is so indestructible that it took an entire 6 months to cut a chunk out of the ceiling when the current owners renovated it. After the war, it was used as a detention centre by the Soviets, and then as a storage space for tropical fruits – earning it the nickname: ‘The Banana Bunker’.

In the nineties, before the days of Berghain, the bunker began to host raves. It quickly became one of the most infamous clubs in Berlin, known for its hard-core techno and fetish nights. Our guide told us that she has often heard crazy stories from visitors who had partied at ‘Der Bunker’ in their youth and had returned to see it in its new role. One man explained that is was common to see candles burning in the rooms.

These were not meant to create romantic mood lighting but tested the levels of oxygen. When the flame expired it was time to make a hasty exit! Another visitor said that he had emerged from a particularly intense session to workers drilling into the road. He watched in amusement as fellow ravers continued their night by dancing to the sound of the jackhammers.

Berlin Reichsbahnbunker 1987

Nowadays the bunker has a more peaceful atmosphere and (thankfully) there is no shortage of oxygen. Instead of dancing the night away you can visit by day and view some fascinating modern art.

The artworks themselves are from the Boros family’s huge private collection and are put on rotation every four years. Pieces are carefully chosen to complement each other and the rooms they are placed in, although only one artwork has been specifically designed for the building. Several artists have also incorporated sound into their work, which can be heard throughout the space.

This gives the exhibition a sense of being in one big immersive installation. As you walk around, the layers of the bunker’s long history can be spotted too, from the old war-time ventilation system to the peeling black paint and graffiti from its clubbing days.

The current exhibition features such highlights as the moving sculptures of Michael Sailstorfer (including a machine that produces several tonnes of popcorn a week) and the thought-provoking works of Alicja Kwade, which playfully explore theories of time and space. There’s a real mixture of styles and ideas on display, from the beautiful to the downright bizarre.  Of course, not everything will be to everyone’s taste, and some pieces might not fall into what people typically think of as ‘art’ (I had to quickly stop my friend putting her rubbish into what she mistook for a real bin!).

Viewings are only possible with a guided tour, which is just as well as the pieces are unmarked and it’s easy to get lost in the complicated layout. With the collection spanning an impressive five floors, there’s plenty to see, so the ninety-minute tour flies by pretty quickly.

Sadly you can’t take the lift up to take a peek at the Boros family’s penthouse apartment on the top floor, but from the pictures, it looks like something to envy. Personal photos aren’t allowed to leave your camera at home.

If you’re curious about Berlin’s past and culture and interested in modern art, then this unique exhibition is for you.  Make sure you book your tour online a few weeks in advance as places fill up fast! Website.

By Laura Bithell

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