Art in Berlin

1880 – 1980 Permanent Exhibition

Berlin is one of Europe’s leading art hubs. That has not always been the case.

Theo von Brockhusen, Strand mit Badekarren, um 1909
Theo von Brockhusen, Strand mit Badekarren, um 1909
© Copyright has expired

Berlin is always changing. The city’s art scene constantly reinvents itself, too. Narrating this eventful history from the dawn of Modernism around 1900 into the 1980s is the theme of our permanent exhibition “Art in Berlin 1880 1980”.

With fresh vigour and diversity since the revamp in October 2020, the collection at the Berlinische Galerie occupies more than 1000 square metres. Waiting to be discovered among the roughly 250 works on show are paintings, prints, photographs, architecture and archive materials rarely or never displayed before.

Walking around this exhibition is like time travel through Berlin: the Kaiser’s era, the Weimar Republic, the Nazi dictatorship, the new beginnings after 1945, Cold War in the divided city, and the counter-cultures and unconventional lifestyles that evolved in East and West under the shadow of the Wall. In East Berlin, an alternative art community developed from the late 1970s. In West Berlin from the late 1970s, aggressive art by the “Neue Wilden” placed the divided city back in the international limelight.

Richard Ziegler, Knabe im Sandkasten, 1926
Richard Ziegler, Knabe im Sandkasten, 1926
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020

New in the permanent exhibition

In 1913/14 Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) created a spectacular 11-part cycle of wall paintings for the wealthy Berlin entrepreneur Ludwig Katzenellenbogen and his first wife Estella. Six of these are now in the Berlinische Galerie. The comic-like, monumental canvases have not been shown for many years, but now they add a striking highlight to the hall around the stairway. They were made for the dining room of a manor house (no longer standing) at Freienhagen near Oranienburg. Corinth was closely involved in Berlin’s venture into modern art. From 1900 he championed the cause of the Berlin Secession, where he regularly exhibited. By inviting international artists to their shows, the Secessionists also publicised the full spectrum of Modernist styles: Naturalism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Impressionism and Pointillism, all of which are represented in the permanent exhibition.


In March 1912 Herwarth Walden (1878–1941) opened his gallery “Der Sturm” in Berlin. For a decade and a half it was to be a leading forum for modern art. Its very name, “the storm”, conveys the energy and pace with which its founder brought the European avantgarde to Berlin. Walden’s interests centred initially on fairly unknown young Expressionists, Futurists and Cubists. In the 1920s, with his strong feel for new visual forms, he showed the Hungarian Constructivists and the Russian Ivan Puni (1892–1956) and gave a forum to Merz artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948). He was tireless and pugnacious on behalf of “his” artists and so “Der Sturm” came to epitomise progressive art in general. The history of this avant-garde gallery is told through numerous artworks along with original documents from our Artists’ Archives.


For a long time, these works, which are among the most precious in our collection, were out on the road. Now the anti-art of the Dadaists is on show at home again. The Dada movement began as a political reaction by artists to the First World War. Its key protagonists were Hannah Höch (1889–1978), Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971), George Grosz (1893–1959) and Johannes Baader (1875–1955). Through their works the Dadaists vented radical opposition to German nationalism and militarism. Dada devised new forms of artistic expression with an instructive component. The provocations and shock tactis – were intended to make society think about itself.


From the early 1920s, a loose-knit group of artists in Germany began responding to life’s often harsh realities. Their style soon became known as New Objectivity. Its proponents were not united by any kind of manifesto. They simply took their cue from the visible world, casting aside both Expressionism with its formal disarray and Dada with its anti-bourgeois stance. These portraits from the 1920s illustrate a wide range of personal styles. People and objects tend to appear cool, sober and isolated within the setting.


As a fruit of our latest Thomas Friedrich Research Grant in Photography and as a contribution to the European Month of Photography (EMOP), we are showing works by Robert Petschow (1888–1945). Petschow was a well-known balloonist in the Weimar Republic. By 1935 he had completed almost 400 ascents. His aerial views not only appeared in aviation journals and illustrated magazines, but were promoted during his own slide lectures. With his camera  he accompanied the big airships of the period. In the late 1920, his aerial photography also caught the attention of the avant-garde, featuring in exhibitions and publications associated today with the New Vision.

The photographs taken in Russia by Herbert Tobias (1924–1982) are among the most notable war pictures to emerge from the Second World War. In 1943 he was deployed to the Soviet Union to fight as a German soldier on the Eastern Front. At the age of 19, Tobias was already a talented amateur photographer. Like many soldiers he took his camera to war, but the metaphorical quality and symbolic content of his pictures offer far more than the usual souvenir snapshot. These empathetic images not only expose the brutality of the campaign, which left an indelible mark on Tobias’s world view. There are also noticeable signs of his homosexuality, well before he came out.


Among the single-family houses designed for the city from the 1950s onwards there were some stylish detached homes, especially in the Western sectors. Their architects drew consciously on the modernist aesthetic of the 1920s. Styles ranged from organic architecture with its free-flowing, irregular forms in the manner of Hans Scharoun (1893–1972) to a revival of Bauhaus ideals founded on functionality and clarity. Floor plans and versatile references to the outdoor space were tailored to the needs of the occupants. Every house acquired its own distinctive character.

From the late 1970s East Berlin was the most important base for the alternative art community in the GDR. Young artists in particular rejected the concept of social realism, which was ideologically framed. Instead they created their own counter-positions, undermining its claims to offer a faithful depiction of everyday life under socialism. More and more young photographers insisted on a subjective perception of the world and called for an uncompromising gaze on life in the GDR. In the 1980s, the exhibitions organised in galleries, clubs and culture centres, although small, were extremely significant for the photography scene in the GDR. We are showing works by Ulrich Wüst (*1949) and Maria Sewcz (*1960).


Selection of artists


1891 - 1969


1890 - 1977

van Heemskerck

1876 - 1923


1904 - 1954


1889 - 1978


1847 - 1935


1890 - 1941


1890 - 1976


1884 - 1966


1904 - 1944

von Werner

1843 - 1915


1858 - 1929


1900 - 1975


1895 - 1940

Our Permanent Exhibition online

Discover works in our Collection Online

Accesible permanent exhibition

Tactile models of selected works and an inclusive audio guide enable visitors to use all their senses as they explore the Presentation from Our Collection. The guide contains audio descriptions to give the blind and visually impaired a closer idea of the original works. The audio pointers – in combination with our tactile floor guidance system – facilitate independent navigation around the exhibition. This offers our blind and visually impaired visitors interactive, barrier-free access to the Berlinische Galerie collection.

Find out more

Please note: We have removed the tactile models for now to meet the current hygiene requirements. Furthermore we are currently not lending out audio guide devices. You can take the audio tour through our permanent exhibition by downloading our app onto your smartphone or tablet. Thank you for your understanding!

Foto: Besucher auf Sitzgelegenheit mit Blindenlangstock betastet ein Tastmodell im Ausstellungsraum.
© Foto: Daniel Müller

Press release

Art in Berlin 1880 – 1980

Permanent Exhibition

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