The Germans have a brilliant word for a cabinet of curiosities: the wunderkammer. The word is so great that it has now been absorbed into the English vocabulary to describe an eclectic treasury or cabinet of wonders. In many ways, the city of Berlin itself is a wunderkammer: it boasts an extensive collection of weird, unusual and quirky places. Below, we’ve compiled our favorite spots in the German capital.
The museum is a testament to both found art and recycling. (Photo: Courtesy of Buchstabenmuseum)
The Buchstabenmuseum, or Museum of Letters, Characters and Typefaces, serves as a testament to not only found art but also the German commitment to recycling; the museum saves old signs and individual neon letters from the garbage. It was established in 2005 by graphic designer Barbara Dechant and museum curator Anja Schulze. Since then, it has become a favorite among letterform enthusiasts around the world, but is fascinating even to those not familiar with the intricate world of typography.
The Tieranatomisches Theater was constructed in 1789 by Carl Gotthard Langhans, the same architect behind the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, making it the oldest surviving example of academic architecture in Berlin. In its heyday, it played host to several decades of animal dissections, under King Frederik William II, who thought the horses and cattle of the country needed a veterinary medicine school to study their diseases. Now visitors to exhibitions there can experience the classicist theater in all its 18th-century medical glory, without the grisly stench.
The clock is made of 24 lights that blink in patterns that measure a 24-hour cycle–if you can crack the code. (Photo: Muritatis/Public Domain)
Mengenlehreuhr, or “set theory clock,” is thought to be the world’s first clock to measure time in colors and light. Designed like a retro-futuristic conversation piece, the timepiece was first installed in Berlin in 1975, commissioned by the Berlin senate and designed by inventor Dieter Binninger. It consists of 24 lights that blink on and off in patterns that measure a 24-hour cycle for those who can decipher the code.
Spreepark, a 1960s amusement park in southeastern Berlin, has been abandoned for the last 15 years, and looks like it. It was originally constructed by the communist government in East Germany, and intended to be a dinosaur themed amusement park. One of its managers also happened to be a drug dealer, who hid part of his cocaine stash in one of the rides. Due to his criminal activities and the park’s lack of visitors, Spreepark was closed in 2002. A recently installed green fence makes it nearly impossible to get inside, but the promenade around the park allows visitors to gaze upon the abandoned installations and speculate on the histories they hold.
Today, the tower is covered in art by famous street artists such as Honest and Sozyone Gonzales. (Photo: A.Savin/CC BY-SA 3.0)
A tree-like building perches on its trunk in the Steglitz neighborhood of Berlin. Built in 1976 by architect couple Ursula and Ralph Schuler, the Bierpinsel (aka The Beer Brush) is an iconic example of the Brutalism craze. The building was originally equipped with a restaurant and a nightclub, but closed down several times and became a monument to Berlin’s sweet and sour urban decay. After renovations, the tower was reopened as “Turmkunst” in 2010 and decorated by famous street artists like Honest and Sozyone Gonzalez, giving it a fresh pop-art makeover.
Some of the radomes of the former NSA listening station atop an artificial hill in the Grunewald forest. (Photo: Jochen Teufel/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Teufelsberg, an abandoned NSA field station, is perched atop an 80-meter artificial hill in the city’s Grunewald forest. The hill itself has a noteworthy history: created from the post-World War II debris of Berlin, it is higher than the city’s highest natural hill. A Nazi military-technical college is still buried deep within it. For a time the hill served as a ski-hill, before it was re-purposed by as a “listening station” by the U.S. National Security Agency. Independent visits to Teufelsberg should be undertaken with caution as there are potentially dangerous openings, but guided tours are available on Sundays.