(poster image by Museum für Kommunikation).

The latest results of research into our nightlife behaviour are merciless: around 40% of all Europeans, children included, do not get enough night rest. Living in a world where both light and sound are nearly omnipresent (just think of that glowing little screen you might be reading this on), we are on the best way towards un-learning how to sleep.

Also we tend to forget that night is everything else as just another well-illuminated time of the day. Something we notice very quickly when suddenly located in

a place where the night still is pitch-dark, dead silent and ominously empty of other human beings carrying glowing smartphones in their hands, like Brandenburgian forests or historical villages in Derbyshire (my warmest greetings to Sudbury!).

That is why it might be helpful to remind ourselves what Night is and should be about. And what it used to be for people for a better part of our existence. The latest exhibition at Berlin’s Museum for Communication is a very interesting place to begin.

Berlin’s Museum für Kommunikation in Leipziger Straße (image by notmsparker).

Called Die Nacht – Alles außer Schlaf (”The Night: Everything But Sleep”) it shows the time between dusk and dawn as a space in which we rest (if capable of resting), work, enjoy various forms of entertainment (and since this is Berlin, clubbing plays a huge role) as well as one where our fears tend to take on particularly acute forms (be ready to face Nosferatu again).

It also presents our weapons against the latter: the exhibition shows how both Science and Art have been used to understand and disarm those fears. Wonderful maps of night sky and night-sky globes, which you will find in the Sternenklar (Clear as Stars) section, were not only meant as scientific tools, they were also supposed to reassure us: “Look, it is all science. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Die Nacht und Ihre Kinder Schlaf und Tod by Adolf Senff (property of Staatlicher Museen zu Berlin, photo by Karin März).

Art, on the other hand, represented by, among others, a beautiful 1822 painting by Adolf Senff, “The Night with Her Children, Sleep and Death”, tried to bring more peace into people’s minds by showing the Night as a gentle mother, someone who would make sure you rest when you need it the most (including its ultimate form when we die).

But what about those who cannot sleep, either because they may not or because they don not wish to? The exhibition sheds light onto their nights, too. Night-shift workers, prostitutes (not without a reason known as the “Ladies of the Night”) or the homeless – whose rest is disrupted and might be the most perilous part of their life. They are an entirely different group from those whose nights are the time of frivolous abandon and fun.

In the 1920s, often referred the as the “Golden Twenties” (although in Berlin they were everything but that), German capital was a place that never slept. The latest TV series, Babylon Berlin, based on Volker Kutcher’s bestselling novel Nasser Fisch, shows that very clearly: nights in the city were filled with cabarets, clubs, dancing, alcohol and drugs. Die Nacht: Alles außer Schlaf exhibition makes an elegant and clever reference to that in its section “Zwilicht. Salon, Bordstein, Club” (Twilight. Salon, Street Curb, Club).

Objects from the Die Nacht: Alles außer Schlaf exhibition (image by notmsparker)

You enter a room appearing to be literally breathing pink plush, fringes, sequins and beads and you do not want to leave it until somebody passed you a dry martini and a cigar. Surrounded by feather fans, perfume bottles and table-telephones from long-forgotten Berlin Etablissements (Museum for Communication has an original table-phone from the legendary “Ballhaus Resi” on display), you do understand the urge to celebrate the night instead of sleeping through it.

However, the next section, devoted to the Night as work time is a clear wake-up call. Not even the exquisite objects displayed in that room – neither a miniature replica of a Junkers F13 aeroplane used to transport mail between German and European cities at night and a machine which flew at night from NYC to Chicago in 1923, nor a map of all Baltic Sea lighthouses along the Pomeranian coast and not even the original 1930s map of night-train lines in Germany – could convince anyone that working when others sleep could be considered a dream job.

Photo for an audio-walk accompanying the exhibition (image via MfK).

Even though the exhibition, arranged as an enfilade leading you slowly through the museum’s rooms, is not particularly large (a blessing in disguise, really, since – considering the topic – anything bigger would run the risk of being too exhausting), by the time you have reached the end, you get a sense of having learnt something. You cannot put your finger on it, describe it in hard, solid terms but you feel that there are some things you might have to sleep on that night.

Die Nacht: Alles außer Schlaf at Museum für Kommunikation, Leipziger Straße 16 (corner Mauerstraße), Berlin.

Opening hours and prices here. A separate “museum trail” for children available (“BeGEISTert”) – details here (in German).

To find out more about the exhibition visit the following page (in English).

Famously, Berlin has three renowned opera houses: the newly re-opened Staatsoper, the Deutsche Oper and the Komische Oper (there is also a wonderful vagabond phenomenon known of as the Kiez Oper but about it another time). Did you know, however, that at least two more Berlin venues offer high quality opera performances? One of them might be the Smallest Opera House in Germany while the other is about to celebrate its 40th birthday this weekend.

At its regular address in Landsberger Allee 61, Friedrichshain´s Hauptstadtoper (Capital City Opera House) – established in 2009 by a soprano Kirstin Hasselmann – seats maximum 60. When performing at the “Alte Feuerwache” in Marchlewskistraße 6, with whom they have been co-operating for a while, that number grows to 120. But obviously it is not the number of square metres or chairs that decides whether a show is of merit or failed. Judging by the popularity of Hauptstadtopera´s performances, their plan to bring opera to the people (as opposed to bringing people to the opera and that at 50 Euros per ticket) has taken off.

Image via Hauptstadtoper´s own webpage.

Thanks to the Hauptstadtoper´s troupe of kind professionals and devoted amateurs you can see works of Purcell, Mozart, Gluck and, yes, Richard Wagner, staged in a way that none of the latter would have thought possible. However, it is not to say that they would not have appreciated it. On the contrary: the mini-opera performances are very professional yet charming and approachable (something that, now and then, might be lacking in the perhaps slightly more elitist “big-opera” world).

In order to finance their productions, next to performances the Hauptstadtoper also offers singing lessons and opera projects for schools.

Speaking about schools, or rather universities: the other of the two perhaps lesser-known Berlin opera houses, the Neuköllner Oper in Karl-Marx-Straße 131/133 in (unsurprisingly) Neukölln, is where future artists and virtuosos can perform their stage test-flights. The Neuköllner Oper works closely together with Berlin´s Universität der Künste, or Univeristy of the Arts. New pieces by the school´s students are regularly staged and presented to curious, adventurous audiences. And the latter keep returning for more: the Neuköllner Oper, whose venue is a 1909 Art Deco shopping and entertainment arcade designed by Reinhold Kiehl (yes, the one of the nearby Kiehlufer) and Paul Hoppe, is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend!

(Image by kreuzberged)

Established in 1977 by a group of opera aficionados who did not mind practising or performing in the Neukölln courtyards and private living-rooms, moved into the historical ensemble in 1988. Today it offers performances in two halls: a larger one, old ballroom, seating 220 and a smaller Studiobühne for 60 guests. Their repertoire is an eclectic mix ranging from the classics to what can be described as “world music” (the building also houses the first German-Turkish Musical Theatre opened in Germany).

In the past 40 years the Neuköllner Oper has produced a staggering 220 world premieres. Surely, with its 10 productions per year and a total of 250 performances in twelve months, it must be the most prolific music theatre in Europe.

If you would like to get to know it, what better moment than now? The current programme includes two completely different musical pieces: a chamber version of the first-ever Japanese opera, the 1940 “Kurofune” (Black Ships) by Kosaku Yamada, entitled “Rette uns, Okichi!” (Save us, Okichi!) and a real treat to all “Dreigroschenoper” fans, “La BETTLEROPERa”.

The latter, shown on November 9-16 at 8PM, is a tribute to the original eighteenth-century English opera which inspired Brecht´s production of the 1928 “Threepenny Opera” (its co-author Elisabeth Hoffmann translated the English libretto to German and – an often forgotten fact – wrote the new one together with Brecht). After its premiere in 1728 The Beggar´s Opera, a ballad opera by John Gay and Johann Pepusch, became the longest running stage show of the whole century (62 consecutive performances!) In the 1920s it beat that record again after the London “Lyric Theatre” adaptation of what the “New York Times” described later as the “anti-opera” lasted a full 1,463 performances.

Today, Brecht´s, Hoffmann´s and Kurt Weil´s version of the story (in their production the plot remained basically unchanged, while the libretto and the music were produced anew) is one of the most popular musicals in history. The Neuköllner Oper show, featuring the excellent German-Italian Balletto Civile, is a tribute to the original piece.

Should you, however, have no time to go and see the performance this week, despair not:  it will be running throughout the rest of the month. You might, however, want to attend the 40th birthday celebrations at the Neuköllner Oper this Sunday at 11AM. Come and join the crowd. And it won´t matter in the least if your own rendering of “Happy birthday” song is slightly out of tune.

Spittelmarkt seen from Leipziger Straße in 1904.

Spittelmarkt, once a central Berlin plaza in the borough of Mitte and today one of the most non-descript places in the city centre.

A 1900 traffic census carried out there rendered following results: between 6 AM and 10 PM the plaza was crossed by 144,223 pedestrians and 21,237 vehicles. At the time, Berlin had 1,888,848 registered residents.

By the end of nineteenth century Spittelmarkt, named after a small hospital (Sankt Gertrauden Hospital) and a chapel built there in early fifteenth century, became one of Berlin’s busiest traffic knots. This was only possible after the 17th-century Gertraudenkirche – built after the old chapel and the “Spittal” burnt down in 1641- was demolished in 1881 and the area underwent a significant re-design.

Gertraudenkirche in 1880, a year before its demolition (photo by Hermann Rückwardt).

In the 1920s another refurbishment followed and approximately a quarter of the century later, after May 1945, Spittelmarkt lay in ruins. Built anew by the East Berlin authorities in the 1970s, it reflected the then “modern” approach to architecture and urban planning. It virtually vanished again, overridden by the expanded traffic lanes as well as overwhelmed by the monstrous concrete high-rises erected around and partly on it.

Spittelmarkt in the 1920s (photographer unknown, PD).

The two map images – sections of a 1910 and a current Google-Map – featured below strongly reflect that change. The western entrance to the 1908 U-Bhf “Spittelmarkt” marked on both of them will help you locate the former within the latter.

Last night #RBB (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg) – for obvious reasons our favourite German TV station – treated its viewers to another episode of its highly appreciated documentary series Geheimnisvolle Orte (Secret, or Mysterious, Places).

This time it is all about the KaDeWe: since its opening in 1907 Berlin´s Kaufhaus des Westens (the Department Store of the West) remains an elegant temple of shopping, the Mecca of jet-setting keen buyers.

Adolf Jandorf and family in their villa in Tiergartenstraße, 1908 Berlin (image by R. Siebert).

Its story is a rich tapestry of anecdotes and historically significant moments. Its fate reflects that of Berlin itself almost one-to-one: the Wilhelminian show-off opulence, braggadocio and drama, the Weimar Republic “wild & wasteful” craze and sudden financial slump, the Nazi-era tragedy of the Jewish management and staff, followed by the Second World War wreckage and the resurrection; division of Berlin and the 1960s anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-government student movement for whom the KaDeWe became a symbolic enemy (also because the man behind the store´s post-war resurrection, its post-war manager, held his post thanks to the 1933 Nazi process of “aryanisation” of Jewish enterprises). In 1989 the Kaufhaus des Westens was also among the most important destinations for many awe-struck East Berliners.

The RBB documentary captures all of those moments and the experts as well as the store´s management do their best to elucidate the special, almost royal, status of Schöneberg´s old shopping temple. In our humble opinion, they succeed.

The documentary is in German only, however, the precious historical film material it contains makes it worth watching even if you do not understand a word. Please click the image to enter.

KaDeWe in its opening year, 1907 (photographer unknown).