The Grand Design


Admire design from every era with Hilda Hoy's museum picks.



Designergruppe "Memphis". Mailand. v.l.n.r.: Alessandro Mendini: Beistelltisch. "Papilio", 1985; Ettore "Casablanca", 1981; Martine Bedin: Lampe "Super", 1981; Michele De Lucchi: Stuhl "First" und Beistelltisch © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum / Achim Kleuker

 Berlin has a wealth of museums and galleries spanning every era in art history. But what about art’s more pragmatic, utilitarian cousin – design? For all you fans of beautiful objects, eye-catching typography, and everything in between, several design institutions should be on your itinerary.

A good place to start is the Bauhaus Archive (Klingelhöferstr. 14, www.bauhaus.de), dedicated to the most influential movement in the history of German design. The Bauhaus was a school that moved between Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin from 1919-1933, teaching a design approach that emphasized functionality, simplicity, and symmetry. The result: striking objects and architecture that still look modern even today. The permanent collection at the archive explores the movement’s influence on everything from architecture, photography, graphics, and typography to furniture and ceramics. Admire seminal Bauhaus pieces like Marcel Breuer’s 1920s tubular steel chair, inspired by bicycle handlebars, then pick up some eye-catching posters, toys, lamps, and household objects in the on-site shop.

The minimalist look favored by Bauhaus followers is a fitting segue to a visit to the Buchstaben Museum, or Museum of Letters (Stadtbahnbogen 424, www.buchstabenmuseum.de). It’s the only museum in the world to collect typographic signage that once hung in the public space, and the curators have rescued many a treasure from the trash heap, such as the cursive neon signage from a shoe store and the colorful retro sign from a specialty store for pet fish. From small to huge, the museum’s collection of letters is a joyful exploration of local typographic history.

Another notch up the quirkiness scale is the Museum der Dinge, or Museum of Things (Oranienstr. 25, www.museumderdinge.de). What’s on exhibit there? Why, things, of course! All sorts of marvelous and enchanting little things, from important to trivial, selected for their unique contribution to 20th-century design. The exhaustive collection of toys, doodads, home appliances, food packaging, and so much more is neatly curated by categories like era (such as the DDR) or function (don’t miss the entire shelf of antique razors), all of it arranged into eye-catching displays.

In contrast to those three design institutions, which focus on work from the last hundred years, the Kunstgewerbe Museum (Museum of Decorative Arts – Matthäikirchplatz, www.smb.museum) explores centuries into the past. This state-run institution has an unbeatably thorough collection of handcraft and design on display, beginning with medieval devotional objects and eccentric curiosities from the Baroque era’s trend for collecting. Stroll through rooms containing mockups of art nouveau and art deco homes, or get lost in the gallery dedicated to chair designs, including an original Eames chair from the 1950s.