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Profile of the Museum für Fotografie

The Museum für Fotografie (Museum of Photography) has been a magnet for photography enthusiasts from all over the world since its opening in 2004. In the last few years alone, over 1 million visitors have flocked to see the exhibitions presented at the museum by the Kunstbibliothek’s Collection of Photography and the Helmut Newton Foundation. These two institutions have 2000 square metres of exhibition space at their disposal in which to present exciting exhibitions on diverse topics in the history of photography.

The Helmut Newton Foundation occupies the two lower floors in the building and has for many years presented its hugely successful permanent exhibition 'Helmut Newton’s Private Property', as well as individual exhibitions on Helmut Newton’s work, his wife Alice Springs, and his contemporaries, including: 'Helmut Newton: Sex and Landscapes', 'Newton, Nachtwey, Lachapelle: Men, War & Peace', 'Pigozzi and the Paparazzi', and 'Helmut Newton Polaroids'.

In the Kaisersaal on the museum’s second floor, the Kunstbibliothek’s Collection of Photography presents a series of rotating exhibitions that explore the medium of photography in all its protean forms. From 2004 to 2008, the Kaisersaal’s prevailing state of ruin formed a strikingly unusual venue for contemporary art and photography exhibitions. A string of photographers and artists – Raimund Kummer, M+M, Philipp Schönborn, Boris Hars-Tschachotin and Hannes Nehls, Regina Schmeken, Reiner Leist, Raymond Depardon and Simone Mangos – designed spectacular installations specifically for the room that had been severely damaged in the Second World War. Their exhibitions always tested the very limits of photography, its relation to other media such as sculpture and film, as well as its relation to religion and history.

The hall’s renovation, which lasted until 2010, means it is now suitable to host exhibitions of all kinds of photography ranging from the 19th to the 21st century. A diverse exhibition programme is presented here, which on the one hand draws from the rich photographic collections held at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin while simultaneously featuring outstanding photographers and outlining important themes in the history of photography. The exhibitions are accompanied by a varied programme of guides, lectures, and symposia on current research topics.

The imposing building opposite the Zoologischer Garten station at Jebensstrasse 2 was designed by architects Heino Schmieden and Julius Boethke and was inaugurated on 2 September 1909 in a ceremony attended by Emperor Wilhelm II. The Neoclassical building originally served as a casino for the Prussian officer corps of the Berlin Landwehr division and contained a restaurant, guest rooms, several ballrooms (one of which was the Kaisersaal itself), and even a bowling alley and target range.

The building’s somewhat sombre façade is in stark contrast with the opulent design of its interior, which was in keeping with the tastes of the Wilhelmine era. This included colourful wall and ceiling paintings in the style of Pompeii, classical pilaster structures, and Jugendstil decorative elements. Modern touches were seen in the electric light fittings and lampshades for indirect light. The most opulent of all rooms, the Kaisersaal on the second floor, was a barrel-vaulted banquet hall, commanding an area of 650 square metres with 11 metre-high ceilings. After several conversions and a period of use as a theatre in the years immediately following the First World War, the Kaisersaal was largely destroyed in the Second World War.

In 1950 the Berlin Senate acquired the damaged building and handed it over to the Kunstbibliothek and the 'Gallery of 20th Century', whose collection went on to form the basis for the Neue Nationalgalerie [LINK] nearly twenty years later. After four years of reconstruction, both institutions were finally able to move in and occupy the building in 1954. Between 1978 and 1986, the Berlinische Galerie (now on Alte Jakobstrasse) also used the building as a venue for its exhibitions. When the Kunstbibliothek took up residency in the newly constructed Kulturforum in 1994, the building was turned over for use as the storerooms and conservation studios for the Museum Europäischer Kulturen and Alte Nationalgalerie.

After opening as the Museum für Fotografie in June 2004, the building serves as the prominent public face for two separate organizations. The two lower floors house the Helmut Newton Foundation’s successful permanent exhibition, 'Helmut Newton’s Private Property', as well as its rotating exhibitions dedicated to Newton’s work and that of his contemporaries. Right up until the start of renovations to bring it up to date with modern museum standards, the Kunstbibliothek’s Collection of Photography used the impressive ruin of the Kaisersaal, with its exposed brick walls and the visible roof beams, as a venue for temporary exhibitions on contemporary photography. After being extensively renovated and newly designed by Kahlfeldt Architekten, the Kaisersaal was reopened in May 2010, giving the Kunstbibliothek’s Collection of Photography an exhibition room equipped with modern lighting and climate controls which make it a suitable venue in which to display all kinds of photography from the 19th to the 21th century.