Berlin Design Week: one city, two perspectives.
10 min read
Last month we sent our Creative Lead Daniel Thompson to Berlin to meet up with our Brand Strategy & Marketing Manager Josh Lawrence who heads up our studio there. The purpose of the trip was for the pair to attend Berlin Design Week 2022 and experience what the city has to offer in terms of design, creativity, and culture.
Berlin Design Week takes place every spring and showcases the latest design trends, insights, and approaches that are shaping the future. Over 11 days, the event is hosted across various cultural institutions, galleries, museums, and open studios, featuring an array of events, talks, presentations, installations, and participatory projects.
During the week, Daniel and Josh visited exhibitions, attended networking events, and explored the city. As this was Daniel’s first time in Berlin, Josh made sure each day was filled to the brim, split between working in our studio at Factory Berlin and taking part in Berlin Design Week events. From a seasoned Berliner to a first timer in the city, these are the guys’ top 5 moments from their week in Berlin.
BNDWK Opening Party at POP Kudamm
Following on from our first Berlin Design Week events, we made our way to west Berlin for the Official Berlin Design Week opening party at POP Kudamm. This temporary cultural venue recently opened on the bustling main street of Kurfürstendamm in the heart of the city and hosts lots of different events around culture, design and urban development. The striking structure is built from huge silver shipping containers and has a spacious main room that makes for a perfect setting to host exhibitions, workshops and discussions. Dubbed ‘The Creative Cathedral’, it’s the former ‘PLATOON Kunsthalle’, which had been moved from another part of the city and given a new lease of life through POP – Place of Participation.
Meeting lots of interesting people from Berlin’s creative community, who all have a shared love for design and art, was a real highlight for me!
Needless to say, we were quite excited for the opening party, to meet other designers, artists and creatives who were attending Berlin Design Week. After grabbing a drink at the open bar, we took a tour of the impressive location and met some fascinating people. A DJ provided a musical backdrop, playing old-school house and disco adding to the buzz around the place as people chatted, danced and enjoyed the Open Studio Nights exhibition upstairs. Meeting lots of interesting people from Berlin’s creative community, who all have a shared love for design and art, was a real highlight for me!
The Captured House
One of the exhibitions I was most interested in seeing was ‘The Captured House’, which showcases the work of over 50 Ukrainian artists who highlight the tragedies and human catastrophe caused by the Russian invasion of their country. Organised by the Ukrainian cultural management agency, the exhibition featured paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, installations, digital and musical works of contemporary Ukrainian artists created during the war.
Located in a dark and damp underground cellar, with lots of different rooms and hidden passages, it was a very emotional experience taking in these expressive and provocative pieces of work that conveyed the horror, trauma and sadness experienced by Ukrainians. Walking through what was a bunker-like structure I was confronted with the harsh reality of what this war means to so many people. It was a very striking exhibition that will stay with me for a long time. ‘The Captured House’ will be touring Europe, with planned stops in Paris, Rome and Amsterdam.
As a big fan of immersive audio-visual installations, the Berlin Design Week event I was most looking forward to was Seaphony – The Symphony of Life on Planet Ocean. Hosted in one of the main rooms of Alte Münze, Berlin’s former State Mint, this new spatial sound and light art experience is the work of Chris Watson, Tony Myatt and Theresa Baumgartner. Seaphony enables you to virtually dive into the depths of our oceans and experience the scale and unheard soundscape through 360 audio and projections. The artists have composed a ‘symphony’ through field recordings, gathered along the great ocean currents from the southern Polar Sea to the vastness of the Pacific and the depths of the Atlantic.
It put the vastness of the ocean into perspective by creating a whole new world we’d never experienced.
It was a truly mind-blowing experience. We were asked to take off our shoes, put on slippers and walk into a large, blacked-out room filled with shimmering blue light and projections that mimicked water. The floor was covered in a smooth, shiny, metal surface, which reflected the light and gave the impression of walking on the surface of the ocean. Suddenly the light changed and we were engulfed by deep, pulsating sounds and recordings of ultrasound communication between sea life. After exploring the space, the crowd lay down on the floor and for the next hour we were submerged into the depths of the ocean, passing through multiple audiovisual scenes. It put the vastness of the ocean into perspective by creating a whole new world we’d never experienced. This definitely highlighted the importance of this precious environment, how little we know about it, and how we should be doing everything in our power to protect it.
Weval at Silent Green
A trip to Berlin would not be complete without a taste of its music and nightlife scene, as it’s one of the key things that make the city so exciting and one of the cultural capitals of Europe. After a full day of Berlin Design Week activities, we had a look at what was on at the many clubs Berlin has to offer. We’d caught wind of a band called Weval playing at the newly opened ‘Betonhalle’ at the Silent Green Kulturquartier, which I was keen to visit for the first time.
Silent Green is a relatively new cultural project located in a former crematorium and is home to multiple creative initiatives such as the Music Board Berlin or the Art Space Savvy Contemporary. This makes for a great meeting spot for creatives, musicians, and artists to come together, helping push the Berlin scene to new limits.
After exploring the beautiful 20th century buildings that make up the quarter, we ventured into the ‘Betonhalle’ as the concert started. The massive underground concrete structure, lit up with neon lights, was buzzing with hundreds of people looking forward to seeing the show. For the next two hours we danced and enjoyed the performance, which was a blend of electro pop, dance music and jazz. It was amazing to share some of Berlin’s culture with someone visiting for the first time in Daniel, and it was a great start to the weekend.
A trip to Berlin would not be complete without a taste of its music and nightlife scene, as it’s one of the key things that make the city so exciting and one of the cultural capitals of Europe
Café am Neuen See
For the last stop on our Berlin Design Week journey I thought it would be nice to visit my favourite beer garden, the renowned Café am Neuen See, and introduce Daniel to some traditional German cuisine. Located in the middle of Tiergarten, a massive park in the middle of the city and Berlin’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park, this beautiful beer garden and restaurant is a favourite among locals and tourists alike. Situated in a clearing, surrounded by trees and next to a beautiful lake, you easily forget you are in the middle of the city, making it a great place to wind down after a busy couple of days.
We sat down and mulled over everything we’d seen at Berlin Design Week over a refreshing beer. As this was our first official Holdens team visit to Berlin, I enjoyed listening to Dan’s thoughts and hearing everything he particularly liked about Berlin and the Design Week. Sitting there reminded me that this was the same beer garden where I’d met Ted Holden, giving me my first introduction to Holdens and probably one of the reasons I’m here today!
Holdens Berlin is stationed at the co-working space Factory. I was really impressed by the quality of amenities, the interior design, and the surrounding park. With everything from private booths to ball pits, Factory is the perfect space to think, work, and relax. It was a beautiful base of operations during my time in Berlin.
An early Creative Mornings
The simple delight of meeting new people over coffee and pretzels was a welcome reminder of what we’ve missed over the last few years.
I had followed Creative Mornings on YouTube for years, watching their videos for inspiration and insight.
After the recent years of online-only events, it’s hard to describe the buzz I felt being in a room of like-minded people. The simple delight of meeting new people over coffee and pretzels was a welcome reminder of what we’ve missed over the last few years.
The main show was proceeded by Veronica Kirin, an entrepreneur and anthropologist. Veronica studied the pandemic by interviewing people around the world about their experiences and coping mechanisms through this global paradigm shift. It was fascinating hearing Veronica’s findings and connecting with people’s stories during that time. As with most traumatic events, it followed the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’m looking forward to Veronica’s upcoming book so I can dive deeper into the fascinating topic.
Dieckmann’s chairs exhibition
‘The Forgotten Bauhaus Master Erich Dieckmann’s exhibition was a real highlight, taking place at the Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbemuseum). Seeing the sheer breadth of Dieckmann’s work and realising that I had already encountered his designs without even knowing it was enlightening.
Appreciating the various iterations that refine and improve the final design is not only incredibly interesting, but also so useful to understand as a designer.
The exhibition was comprehensive and showed the full design process from initial ink scamps through to refined technical drawings and the final product.
Seeing the process of other designers fascinates me. Appreciating the various iterations that refine and improve the final design is not only incredibly interesting, but also so useful to understand as a designer.
Not only was Dieckmann a master product designer, he also created stunning geometric abstract paintings with immaculate perspective and foreshortening. That only comes from years of honing your craft and relentless practice. I would recommend this exhibition to any designer – no matter what field you are in. It felt like I was recharging my design batteries and reinvigorating my curiosity to blur and blend into different areas of art and design. When I arrived back at the hotel, I instantly picked up my sketchbook and started to draw.
World MOD interactive installation
The opening event hosted an interactive exhibition by students from the master’s program Design & Computation of UdK and TU Berlin. The piece was a segment of a globe with various environmental geodata visualised and projected upon it. We got an introduction from both its creators, that started a fascinating conversation about the purpose, potential use cases, and future iterations of the project.
Finding a way to present complex and sometimes impenetrable information in an interactive and visually beautiful way has always been one of design’s superpowers.
Finding a way to present complex and sometimes impenetrable information in an interactive and visually beautiful way has always been one of design’s superpowers. Helping people understand something that could take days to comprehend in a different format is where design shines in my opinion.
One of the parameters was sea-level, something I always found hard to visualise in my mind. What does a few metres in the rise of sea level mean for us as a coastline-hugging species? With a toggle of a switch, I witnessed massive areas of the map disappear under the ocean. A complex thought made simple in a few seconds.
The beauty of the visuals paired with the simple user experience of the console meant that once it drew people in, it allowed them to play and discover at their leisure. It inspired me to think – what complex issues could we point the power of design at next, making them simple, engaging and beautiful to leave a lasting impact?
A moment of peace at Paris Bar
Design Week Berlin was a bewildering tornado of trains, bikes, scooters, glorious architecture, networking, exhibitions, working, documenting, and experiencing as many things as possible during the five-day trip. I said my farewell to Josh after our last beer in the park and travelled back to the hotel with the intention of having an early night.
I couldn’t leave Berlin without adding my name to that incredible list and sit in the same space as these creative misfits.
Then, I remembered Josh had mentioned Paris Bar. An institution of Berlin nightlife that for the past 40+ years has hosted the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Yves Saint Laurent, and many contemporary German artists. I couldn’t leave Berlin without adding my name to that incredible list and sit in the same space as these creative misfits. It turned out to be a fantastic decision in the end and was a great place to reflect on the intense few days of design. The eclectic interior and the low humming atmosphere was a great place to sip a drink and think about the inspirational events and exhibitions I’d seen.
As my mind and body were engulfed by the ambience of Paris Bar, I finished my drink, put a David Bowie playlist on and went for one last midnight stroll around this captivating city. Thank you Berlin, you didn’t disappoint. And don’t worry, I’ll be back.