Glowing Prospects for the Golden Twenties

13.12.2021Glowing Prospects for the Golden Twenties

The Kulturforum poses a challenge to urban designers while boasting a unique concentration of cultural institutions. We talk to Achim Bonte, the new Director General of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, about his vision for the location.

The interview was conducted by Sven Stienen

Portrait of a man in a library.
Achim Bonte Appointed Director General of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. © Amac Garbe

Where do you see the greatest opportunities and the greatest challenges for the Kulturforum as a location?

The Kulturforum is a unique place with a variety of architectural icons, soon to be augmented with the Museum der Moderne, which will doubtless be counted among them. It is also of special importance owing to its geographical location in the heart of Berlin and to what stood here before it: the historic Tiergarten quarter with countless reminders of important parts of Berlin's cultural and intellectual history. For example, the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) stands directly on the site where journalist and editor Maximilian Harden once had his apartment. The manifold historical connections and the close proximity of several important buildings and institutions generate great potential and at the same time they present a not inconsiderable challenge in planning terms.

Do you have a vision for the place? How would you like to see the Kulturforum in the future?

I certainly share the vision of Stephan Schütz, of gmp architects, that road traffic, which currently divides the Kulturforum into two halves, should be limited as far as is practicable. After the removal of the Berlin Wall, which ran to the east of the Scharoun building, we need to deal with the 'wall' formed by the busy street in its current form. It would be clever to do this in combination with the coming extension of the tram line along it. Redesigning this area would undoubtedly revitalize the existing open spaces, which don't offer much quality of life at the moment.

Black and white rendering of a library building
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Haus Potsdamer Straße: Rendering Entrance East Leseterrassen © gmp Generalplanungsgesellschaft mbH, Berlin

Do the institutions located here plan to undertake more joint projects in the future? Do you see any particularly promising areas for synergy?

The Staatsbibliothek is speeding up retrospective digitization, expanding digital research tools, and developing the Prussian Cultural Heritage Picture Archive into an open image resource center, and it will continue to strengthen its profile as a central infrastructure service provider for the Foundation in the years to come. So there is a wide range of starting points for digitization projects. In terms of content, we want to integrate more closely with the long-term exhibition planning of our neighbors in the future. I also see opportunities for greater cooperation in holding events. Together, we are moving forward into the Twenties of this century with glowing prospects of building on the culturally golden 1920s.

What is the significance of the Kulturforum as a whole in Berlin's cultural sector?

As a newly arrived Berliner on his 63rd day at work, I can't really answer that well. I would like the Kulturforum to be just as well connected to the rest of Berlin's cultural landscape as we in the building on Potsdamer Strasse are with the parent institution on Unter den Linden, and at the same time I would like it to develop as strong an identity as possible.

In Berlin, the Kulturforum has to compete with attractive locations such as the Museumsinsel – what do you think are its unique selling points?

The Museumsinsel has museums. With the Iberoamerikanisches Institut (Ibero-American Institute) and the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung (State Institute for Music Research), the Kulturforum brings together highly regarded research institutes and the largest research library in Germany as well as major museums. It is surely easier to unlock the potential added value for inter-departmental cooperation and institutional exchange that exists within the Foundation – to create the laboratory of the SPK as it were – at the Kulturforum than anywhere else. The comprehensive refurbishment of the Scharoun building of the Staatsbibliothek after more than forty years of intensive use will definitely strengthen the laboratory character of the location and give further impetus to community building at the Kulturforum.

Black and white rendering of a library building
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Haus Potsdamer Straße: Rendering Foyer Ost © gmp Generalplanungsgesellschaft mbH, Berlin

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