Few people would argue with the fact that Berlin is one of Europe’s core artistic hubs. In fact, some say it is the cultural capital of Europe. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, Berlin has attracted some of the best, most progressive artistic talent into its trunk. For most artists, it is still the place to be, and sits right at the top of the table in Germany’s art scene.
But over recent years, there have been murmurings from within Berlin, and from artists outside of the city, that Berlin might not be the best place to be as an artist. Rent prices are starting to increase, whilst the plastic architecture that Berlin had rejected until a few years ago, is starting to appear across the city. What this suggests, on the surface, is that Berlin is being gentrified in the same way that the artistic areas of London and New York have been in the past.
Because of this, there has been a subtle shift in Germany’s art scene. More artists are starting to move to cheaper areas in the East of Germany like Leipzig, or the more traditional, but currently thriving Rhineland art hubs of Dusseldorf and Cologne.
All of this raises the question: does Berlin deserve its place at forefront of the German art scene? And is it the best place to live, or move to as an emerging artist? To answer these questions, we’re going to compare the pros and cons of two of Germany’s art hubs — Berlin and the Rhineland.
Cost of Living
One of the most important aspects of any city as an emerging artist is the cost of living. Whilst nearly all of us want to be close to a thriving art scene — which are almost always in big cities — transport costs tend to be high, and rental costs even higher.
Berlin has attracted emerging artists over the past couple of decades thanks in part to its low rental costs. Whether you’re renting a studio, or a flat-share, Berlin has always been, and still is, far cheaper than cities like London and Paris, In fact, it still compares relatively well with cities in the Rhineland like Dusseldorf and Cologne.
Despite this, the cost of living in Berlin is starting to rise — rapidly. Last year the cost of property leapt 20.5% — the highest growth in the world. Whilst rent has increased an incredible 71% since 2010. Berlin might have been known as ‘poor and sexy’ before, but when it comes to the former, it most certainly isn’t anymore.
One area in which Berlin most definitely trumps the Rhineland in Germany’s art scene is the galleries and exhibitions in the city. Berlin has always attracted the best artists, so it’s not a huge surprise that you find the best, most groundbreaking art in the city.
You only have to look at the pages of Frieze to see the difference between Cologne, Berlin, and Dusseldorf. But whilst there’s very little we can say about Berlin that hasn’t already been said, we can say something about the Rhine cities. Put simply, Cologne and Dusseldorf are growing. With the launch of Art Dusseldorf in 2017, and Art Cologne going back to 1967, the Rhine cities are booming right now.
And though the number of galleries in these cities doesn’t rival Berlin right now, you can still see some of the world’s best contemporary art on your doorstep.
What really sets Cologne and Dusseldorf apart from Berlin, however, is the sheer number of collectors and investors in the Rhine region. Getting your art in small galleries may be easier in Berlin. But actually selling it is a different matter. The economy of Berlin is growing — which is part of the reason why artists are starting to snub it — but the art buying market is nowhere near close to Dusseldorf, and particularly Cologne.
When it comes to surviving as an emerging artist, the slightly higher rental and studio costs of the Rhine cities should be undercut by the higher chance you’ll have of selling works, and getting picked up by a gallery.
Ultimately, if you want to see the best art — Berlin is still the place to be. If you want to make it as an artist, the Rhine cities might just make more sense — they’re certainly worth considering regardless.
So should which is better?
When it comes to art, Germany is one of the best countries in the world. Deciding on whether Berlin is better than Rhine cities is difficult, however. Berlin still has the best galleries, and the best art schools in Germany — according to the latest results at least. But for emerging artists, being able to develop and sell their works is hugely important, and the Rhine cities certainly offer greater prospects in this regard.
With rising living costs in Berlin, it remains to be seen how long Berlin will hold onto its grungy glamour. There’s no doubt that art will always remain at the core of what Berlin is about. But with tacky, expensive apartment blocks being thrown up around the city, it isn’t as attractive as it used to be.
In the future, it could end up becoming a city that can only attract artists with significant financial backing behind them. When this happens, it could be cities like Cologne and Dusseldorf that have a second wave of artistic output to rival their rich artistic histories. Will you be a part of their renaissance?