What is the Sammlung Boros?
The Sammlung Boros, or Boros Collection in English, is an astute contemporary art collection concealed in an imposing concrete bunker, which serves as an illuminating portal into Berlin’s layered history.
Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Sammlung Boros History
Several blocks away from the grand architectural opulence of Museum Island sits a 3,000-square-metre concrete cube, squat and solid, its raw concrete façade studded with bullet holes. Having borne witness to a cataclysm of events since its inception in 1942, the Boros Bunker (to use this building’s informal name, adopted from its current owner, advertising mogul and art collector Christian Boros) is one of the great emblems of Berlin’s fractured and turbulent history.
The building began its life as a civilian air-raid shelter, conceived by Karl Bonatz under the guidance of Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer, and constructed using forced labour. In 1945, upon Nazi Germany’s surrender, the bunker was occupied by the Soviet Army and used to incarcerate prisoners of war. By the end of the decade, it had become a warehouse, storing textiles at first, before it switched in function to something rather more unusual: it stored tropical fruit from Cuba, imported by a state-owned enterprise unimaginatively named ‘Fruit Vegetables Potatoes’, which in turn earned the building its somewhat comical nickname, the ‘Banana Bunker’.
In 1990, after reunification, the bunker was acquired by the German Federal Government, though by 1992 it was hosting the hard-core thumping techno and no-holds-barred fetish nights that would mythologise its standing as the world’s most notorious club. Its brusque, many-layered concrete walls would play host to a bewildering array of spectacles: theatre performances; a trade fair for erotic items; and most notoriously, a New Year’s Eve party in 1995 which enacted a local government ban and in doing so, triggered its closure. Since 2003, the bunker has been owned by prominent German advertising entrepreneur Christian Boros and his wife Karen Lohmann. It houses not only their private collection of contemporary art spanning from 1990 to today, but also the couple themselves, who occupy a 550-square-metre glass and steel penthouse perched on top of the Brutalist bunker they have lovingly restored. No doubt they’re thankful there isn’t a club beneath them anymore!
Following an extensive renovation, in 2008 Boros began to exhibit select segments of his collection, accessible exclusively in the format of a pre-booked small guided group tour, led in German or English by a circle of art historians and critics, who infuse their commentary of each work with juicy anecdotes on a palette of topics, from the building’s history to acquisition and logistical challenges and the artists themselves. With exhibitions rotating every few years, the gallery has featured a judicious collection of international artists both established and emerging, from Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson to Pamela Rosenkranz, Yngve Holen, and Kris Martin. In its considered presentation, and the visual dialogue it establishes with the spaces that host it, this assemblage of art conveys the feeling of all that is Berlin.
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