If you are a full-fledged Berliner or a tourist passing through, Berlin has loads to offer to the contemporary art aficionado. Whenever you are in the city be sure not to miss your chance to take part in the art contagion that sweeps through the Art Festivals in Berlin during the spring through autumn months. Check out this run-down of the main Contemporary Art Festivals to try to catch while in town.
Berlin: Europe’s New Art Capital
It’s no secret. Berlin has a way of attracting artists and hoards of hipsters to its once poor but sexy way of life. After the unification of East and West Germany and the relocation of the national capital to Berlin, the city was poised to reclaim its historical place as a center of culture and innovation.
The combination of relatively low living costs and available studio and project spaces made Berlin an art haven attracting emerging artists from all of Germany and across Europe. But while rents have since gone up, those creatives who made Berlin their ‘Base’ have matured over the past years, as has their art, and the ‘art scene’ in Berlin has grown with them.
Today, Berlin is host to a plethora of annual and biannual art festivals where investment collectors, art geeks, and pseudointellectuals like myself can gather and bask in the sense of collective self-importance, and if you are lucky, you may even get inspired.
Contemporary Art Festivals in Berlin
Below is my list of the most significant Art Festivals the city of Berlin has to offer. While Berlin is home to various dance, performance, theatre, and musical festivals, this list focuses primarily on Contemporary Visual Arts.
These festivals offer more than just visual eye candy, as a new global center of art, they define the latest artistic trends, themes, and practices. If you are an art practicioner and you are in or around Berlin during one of these festival seasons, don’t miss out on participating, attending artist talks and free-admission openings, rubbing elbows, and crashing after parties.
Top 7 Art Festivals in Berlin
- Berlin Gallery Weekend
- Gallery Weekend in Berlin has been in gear since 2005, coordinating a series of openings, art talks, and events with around 50 different galleries in Berlin over the course of one weekend. Usually planned in the springtime, in celebration of the promise of good weather, art connoisseurs crawl out of their winter caves and congregate to collectively gallery hop. Download the map or grab a brochure from your nearest participating gallery and head out to the streets to enjoy the vibe.
- Berlin Biennial
- Berlin Biennial marks summertime in the art world in Berlin. Not to be confused with the Berlin Berlinale Film Festival, the Berlin Biennial, true to its name, occurs every two years and is usually spread out between a handful of museums and venues. Since 1996, the Biennal has marked Berlin’s place in the global art discourse. The international exhibition is guest curated and tends to explore cultural and political themes. Although the shows have been hit or miss in recent years, the immense crowds on opening night are always a sight to behold, plus admission is free on opening night.
- Berlin Art Week
- Berlin Art Week usually happens at beginning of autumn and is the quintessential celebration of private art galleries, cultural institutions, and contemporary art museums in Berlin. It’s where the Berlin Art scene really flexes. During this time you will find performances, installations, open studios, art fairs, and major exhibition openings all taking place all over the city.
- Berliner Liste
- Although often coupled with Berlin Art Week, Berliner Liste offers a unique view of Berlin’s art market. Rather than highlighting political views or engaging in institutional dialog, Berliner Liste, as the oldest traditional art fair in Berlin, shows essentially what kind of work is selling in Berlin and where people’s interests and wallets are lying. Open to private commercial galleries and individual artists it displays a broad variety of works, themes, and styles.
- Transmediale is considered a year-long festival. While it started as a festival for film and video art, with its focus on Digital Art, Berlin’s annual Transmediale festival continues to gain traction as technology pushes contemporary art’s boundaries to the future. The themes of each year’s festival are thought-provoking and approached with a variety of cutting-edge digital media including VR, generative art, and NFT art.
- 48 hours Neukölln
- Much smaller and more ‘grassroots’ than the other festivals mentioned, 48 hours Neukölln can be easily overlooked, but it is very much a reflection of the true Berlin art scene that put Berlin on the map in the first place. It prides itself on its decentralized nature of art production and promotion and highlights some of Berlin’s smaller art hubs and emerging artists. Taking place in both culturally diverse and lower-income areas, it is full of flair and some surprises.
- EMOP Berlin
- EMOP stands for European Month of Photography. It occurs every two years and is spread throughout Europe, however, EMOP Berlin has established a name for itself, and it is the largest Photography Festival the city has to offer. March 2023 is the next scheduled month after the publishing of this article with over 100 venues planned to take part. Projected spaces, public spaces, and gallery spaces alike come together during this time to celebrate the medium of photography and its vibrancy in Berlin.
Tips for attending Art Festivals in Berlin
If you live in Berlin or are traveling here are some tips if you plan to attend art festivals in Berlin.
- Tip 1. Go by bike. Many festivals have nearby participating galleries and events, and even if some galleries are not officially involved in the festival, they may be coordinating their own openings to coincide. Traveling by bike makes it easy to get around quickly and not miss other events streetside.
- Tip 2. Bring water. Basically, be prepared for a full day. If you really want to complete the Berlin Art Festival experience, keep yourself hydrated and fuelled to go the distance.
- Tip 3. Bring a Tote Bag for brochures. You won’t be able to resist grabbing the brochures, postcards, art newspapers, and magazines laid out near gallery windows, so take a bag to keep them in. If you are lucky, you may even pick up a free Tote Bag to remember the event.
- Tip 4. Free Admission on Opening Nights and Events. While the crowds might be large, at least you can browse the shows and see if it is worth your time and money to go back later when it’s less crowded. Think of it as a free preview.
- Tip 5. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember to have fun, keep an open mind, and relish in the opportunity to embrace art as a way of life.