Haus am Waldsee

Lily Philipose discovers art and modernist architecture at Haus am Waldsee…

The Loftcube by Lily Philipose

The Haus am Waldsee is the kind of museum you may have missed if your art and culture forays tend to gravitate toward the state museums on the Museumsinsel or around Potsdamer Platz.

A small, private museum and sculpture garden at the edge of the Grunewald in Berlin-Zehlendorf, the Haus am Waldsee is an important part of Berlin history.

It was one of the first museums in West Berlin to open its doors after World War Two, as early as January 1946, when much of the city was still in ruins (the Neue Nationalgalerie would only open in the 1960s).

The first post-war performance of the Berlin Philharmonic took place in the house, and the list of artists whose works came through here in the 1940s and 50s reads like a Who’s Who of the great names in London, Paris and Berlin: among them, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Schlemmer, Max Ernst, Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner and Henry Moore.

Like the Liebermann Villa by the Wannsee or the Villa Schöningen on the Havel, the Haus am Waldsee is as much about nature as art and sculpture. “A sculpture garden doesn’t necessarily mean figures on pedestals,” says Katja Blomberg, the museum’s curator. Blomberg wants to showcase the work of international artists living and working in Berlin, but also to find subtle means of letting the idyllic natural surroundings play off their artistic vision.

Take the “Shy Fountain,” an installation in the lake by British conceptual artist Simon Faithfull. The fountain spurts upward only when nobody is paying attention. As soon as somebody approaches, it retreats back under the water. It is as though the artist is giving nature a refuge from those who come busily seeking “art”.

The grassy rushes at the edge of the lake have actually been planted there by Austrian composer Peter Ablinger as a sound installation. The music is heard only by those who stop to listen to the different tones emerging as breezes rustle the water’s surface, the rushes, or the leaves on overhead branches.

The villa was built by architect Max Werner in 1922 on a 10,000 square meter stretch of land between the lakes Krumme Lanke and Waldsee. Hermann Knobloch, a Jewish businessman who had made his fortune by producing raincoats, had commissioned Werner to build a villa where he and his large family could retreat from urban life. Werner’s idea was to combine the natural beauty of the woods and lakes in this part of Berlin with the architecture of British country homes.

By the early 1920s, the area around Zehlendorf-Süd between Nikolassee and Schlachtensee was developing into a villa quarter, with homes designed by great Bauhaus architects such as Hermann Muthesius, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. Fans of architecture in the city, familiar with the most iconic works such as van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie, are sometimes surprised by this concentration of modernist homes near the Waldsee, waiting to be discovered.

Haus am Waldsee by Lily Philipose

Blomberg, inspired by the audio-guide tours of sections of Chicago featuring houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, saw an opportunity to create something similar in Zehlendorf.

The museum provides an audio-guide tour by bike through the villa quarter, beginning and ending with the Haus am Waldsee. The tour stops at twelve points of interest, including homes designed by Muthesius, Gropius and van der Rohe. Blomberg aimed for the unpretentious, informal style she had found so appealing in the Chicago tour.

“The guide gives you a lot of information about these houses, who built them and what makes them architecturally unique, “ says Blomberg, “but it does so in a playful way.”

The bike tour ends at the Loftcube. Designed in 2004 by Werner Aisslinger, a Berlin designer working in innovative living concepts, the Loftcube is a mobile living unit, meant to be placed on flat roofs by helicopters or cranes. Aisslinger says it provides urban nomads with a home that has a view, total privacy, tranquility and freedom.

Placed at the edge of the sculpture garden, in a quiet corner behind the Waldsee and among the trees, the Loftcube has a stunning effect: the glass panels of the cube bring water-dappled sunlight and birdsong into a modern living space.

You can either rent a bike from the museum or ride your own. Best of all, you are free to do the tour at your own relaxed pace — a great idea for a crisp fall day in October or November, when the leaves are turning colour and living in a Loftcube seems close to heaven.

The Haus am Waldsee is at Argentinische Allee 30, close to U Krumme Lanke. See their website for details and calendar of events, including concerts, guided tours with the curator and vernissages for children. The homemade tarts in the museum’s cafe are a treat, and you can enjoy them outside in the sculpture garden, which is beautiful any time of the year.

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