Cheers – Prost – Salute

Strausberger Platz residents use Bar Barbette as their off-site lounge. But it’s even more than that: contemporary art exhibitions are a regular fixture in the former East German beauty parlour.

antifalten-photocase.de
image courtesy of antifalten / photocase.de

Tonight’s event is supposed to be a private party – supposed to. After all, the locals enjoy certain privileges. So the bartender “smuggles” the wine past the invited guests and serves it to the “intruders”. Bar Barbette moved into the glass cube next to Café Moskau about ten years ago and has since become an off-site lounge for Strausberger Platz residents. On weekdays, unfamiliar faces are rare and the staff have become like extended family. There’s the young woman behind the bar who used to work in the hospitality industry and is now studying psychology. Then there’s the young man who works here every once in a while to save up money for his next trip to Asia. And the Dutch guy who is really a taxi driver but who loves working here so much that he parks his taxi outside the door for a few hours to serve drinks instead. It took Maik Schierloh, who has been running the bar for over ten years, a lot of time and effort to get a licence. In the end, his idea of giving contemporary artists an opportunity to exhibit their work got the green light and the East German beauty parlour was transformed into a culinary establishment. So far, the experiment has proved extremely successful – the place where the ladies of socialism used to come for a manicure has already hosted over a hundred exhibitions.

The structure of the building has been largely preserved, and you can still reach the three former treatment rooms via the first-floor gallery. The bar is at the heart of the ground floor, where the sales counter used to be. The building is shaped like a cube in the style of Mies van der Rohe, even though van der Rohe himself lived on the opposite side of the Wall in the capitalist west.

Be that as it may, the cube offers fantastic views into and out of the building. In autumn, when the trees on Karl-Marx-Allee start losing their leaves, you can look right across the street and check what is happening at the Kino International. As soon as the doors open after a film, insiders know it’s time to order another cocktail quickly before the rush starts. Neither the tourists who discover Barbette as a hip and trendy place to hang out nor the locals find anything odd about sipping decadent concoctions in an East German location. 25 years after the fall of the Wall, this seems perfectly normal. What is far more unusual is the experience of literally sitting in a glass house.

The Aut Records label puts on live gigs here, the prestigious Villa Massimo in Rome celebrated a book launch and one of the staff organised a fundraiser rather wittily titled “Krötenwanderung nach Uganda”. Kröten, the German word for toads, also means “money” in colloquial language, and the money raised at the event migrated to Uganda to fund a school project, accompanied by the woman who initiated the event.
The Barbette locals stayed behind, and they like coming here just for a chat or a sundowner even if there’s nothing special going on.

Bar Barbette is far from the only bar worth checking out on Karl-Marx-Allee. Only a few hundred metres further along, there’s ČSA Bar, named after the Czech Republic’s national airline and located in one of the apartment blocks on Karl-Marx-Allee. Its distinctive mid-century design offers a rather cosier atmosphere than the goldfish bowl that is Bar Barbette. So if you prefer a romantic tête-à-tête to an evening in the limelight, this is the place for you. Strausberger Platz caters for almost every taste.