Re-opening of museums in berlin: cautious art visits

Some Berlin museums have reopened as of May 12. This is a logistical challenge and also not easy to manage economically.

Back of the Haus am Waldsee, in whose garden it is good to wait Photo: Bernd Borchardt

The lockdown has been loosened, with varying speed in the individual federal states. Some galleries and exhibition houses have already reopened in Berlin. In the Haus am Waldsee in Zehlendorf, a plexiglass screen separates the woman at the cash desk from the public. A sign kindly points out that one should please wash one’s hands before visiting the exhibition. Up to four people are allowed in the loosened corona regime in the entrance area, and up to 15 visitors are allowed into the exhibition of the painter Bernhard Martin at the same time.

Waiting, however, does not mean punishment at the Haus am Waldsee. The large garden surrounding the building is enchanting. Numerous chairs have been set up on the lakeshore, from which one can look out over the reflecting water surface and the flying ducks cavorting there. The Haus am Waldsee was among the first institutions to reopen to the public after the relaxations were enacted.

The larger institutions have had more difficulty. The Gropius-Bau opened its doors on May 11. Accessible is the exhibition "Akinbode Akinbiyi: Six Songs, Switrling Gratefully in the Taut Air," which opened just before the lockdown. Brand new is Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei’s solo exhibition "Li, Gifts and Rituals." It was already half set up when the closing order came. "We then continued to build it up, also in order to still provide work opportunities for the freelance exhibition builders," Stephanie Rosenthal, director of the Gropius-Bau, tells the taz.

Now the exhibition is freshly open for viewing. Under special conditions, of course. "Access to the house and the exhibitions is limited. Entrances and exits are spatially separated. A guidance system has been developed. The checkroom remains closed," Rosenthal informs.

Consequences of outsourcing

At Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin’s largest house for contemporary art, an opening is not yet in sight. Apparently, the bigger the house, the more complex the exit strategy. "It’s not done with a mere ‘Open the door!" remarked Christina Haak, Deputy Director General of the National Museums in Berlin, which includes the Hamburger Bahnhof, in an interview on the website. Haak pointed to supply bottlenecks for Plexiglas panes: "This is the new toilet paper." But the consequences of outsourcing are also being felt – in the form of the increased need for coordination with numerous service providers for supervision, security and cleaning.

After all, some of the museums on Berlin’s Museum Island open Tuesday. These are the Old Museum, the Old National Gallery and the 360-degree panorama of the Pergamon Altar. The Gemaldegalerie (Picture Gallery) at the Kulturforum should also be able to welcome visitors again from today. For this, however, time slot tickets must be purchased, preferably online (www.smb.museum/tickets), depending on availability also at the box offices on site.

The tourists are missing and with them revenues

The major institutions did not yet open on the earliest possible date, May 4, not only for logistical reasons, but also for economic considerations. At present, they have to do without a large proportion of their visitors. Haak estimates that tourists account for 70 to 80 percent of the visitors to the Museum Island. And they won’t be coming just yet. It’s true that Haak expects a loss of revenue of up to two million euros per month of closure. But an open museum also costs more – and the reduced income cannot compensate for this.

Other exhibition houses also suffer. "An opening means economic deficits. Those who open must expect low visitor numbers, because in order to protect staff and visitors, the number of visitors must also be regulated. In case of doubt, this means lower revenues with simultaneous fixed costs and rising expenses for the necessary measures," explained Thomas Kohler, Director of the Berlinische Galerie and Chairman of the Board of the Berlin Museums Association. He demanded, "If Berlin’s museum landscape, characterized by great heterogeneity, is to continue to exist in its diversity, politics must also act and be held accountable."

Projects at risk

In the case of the larger museums, it’s certainly not the inventory itself that’s at risk. But many exhibition projects are financed at least in part by audience revenues and are now in danger of being cancelled altogether or postponed to a later date. This in turn means postponements or cancellations of follow-up projects. So even if the Covid 19 pandemic is medically controlled, the cultural sector will continue to feel the effects for longer, into the year after next.

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