Berlin - It could be the coolest club in Berlin. A dark room full of fog with neon triangles hanging from the ceiling. The triangles seem to dance to the loud bass on the speakers while changing colours. But this isn't a club. The installation is part of a light art exhibition in an industrial space in Lichtenberg, on Köpenicker Chaussee right next to an actual club, Sisyphos.
Lichtenberg hasn't yet made it into Berlin's big league of art but suddenly the district is home to a surprising amount of culture. Dark Matter, a show by Berlin light artist Christopher Bauder, opened here in June. Bauder has been a name in Berlin since he and his brother erected a wall of lamps for in 2014 for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Bauder invited borough mayor Michael Grunst (Die Linke) to his Rummelsburger Bucht studio for a talk. The leftwing politician is also a city councilor for culture.
"Art is value creation, that's what I always try to explain to people," Grunst says. "This is currently the most exciting strip in Berlin." He's talking about the stretch of riverbank between Ostkreuz and Oberschöneweide. Most don't know that this side of the Spree belongs to Lichtenberg. In East Germany, the area was mainly home to industry, and as recently as 2017, Grunst voted against the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in the area.
A few years later, loads of design studios and fashion labels have relocated or launched here.
One of them is Whitevoid, Christopher Bauder's company. Born in Stuttgart in 1978, the artist looks like a club owner with a long beard and black clothes, but he thinks like a tinkerer and entrepreneur.
"We deliver our design products all over the world," he says. He shows lamps with motors and winches that will soon be hanging in apartments in China or New York. The exhibition in the neighbouring industrial space is also an opportunity to present his products to potential customers, he says.
District Mayor Grunst sees no contradiction in mixing art with commerce.
"Artists have to finance themselves," he says. "Industry and art get along when there's steam and smoke." It's a Berlin tradition, he says. The intersection doesn't trouble Grunst at all. After all, former investment banker Axel Haubrock is also enriching the neighborhood with his collection in Herzbergstraße.
Dark Matter might just be the exhibition that puts Lichtenberg on the art map. The 650 tickets per day are always sold out, Bauder says, as he walks to the halls to show us his show, which costs €16. Discounts are planned but he has to cover his costs.
The exhibition's instant Instagrammability helps. "I was inspired by computer programmes and wanted to transfer pixels into reality," he explains, while spheres move uniformly from the ceiling in the first room.
"Like a caged underwater creature," says Bauder, showing how precisely the installed motors work. To astral sounds, long LED lights recreate campfires. Children can climb a wooden art mountain while projectors change its colour. A musical scale sounds off when rungs are touched.
By the last room, it's hard not to think of Berghain. But Bauder waves it off the comparison.
"They go for understatement in Berlin clubs. When it comes to lighting, they often say: 'The main thing is dark.'" In the US, on the other hand, people like to show off their installations in clubs.
Despite the club-like conditions, Bauder's relationship with the neighbouring Sisyphos is nothing to celebrate. Bauder would like to construct another building in the courtyard but hasn't been able to because of resistance from his neighbour.
"We actually fit together perfectly; people can go straight to the club after the exhibition," says Bauder. Maybe getting to know each other better would help.
Just like Berlin should get to know Lichtenberg better.