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Organising an artistic shake-up in a brewery

The KINDL Center for Contemporary Art is located in the former Kindl Brewery

Two Zurich-based art collectors are hoping to turn a former brewery into a cultural institution that will revive Berlin’s Neukölln district. Members of the local art scene welcome the development, but not all are convinced the lively quarter actually needs reviving. 

Walking up to the former Kindl Brewery is like entering a cathedral. The brick entrance is framed by a tear-shaped nook. The 5,500 square-metre space, crowned with a 38-metre tower, is currently under construction but will soon thrive as a multi-level contemporary art centre with galleries, studios and a café. 

Art in former breweries is a growing trend. Seattle has the Old Rainier Brewery, which rents out studio lofts to artists, while Los Angeles has the Brewery Art Colony, a live-and-work space for artists. Now, Berlin, the city of micro-breweries with its own brewing school, has given birth to the KINDL Center for Contemporary ArtExternal link

Two Zurich-based art collectors, German banker Burkhard Varnholt and Swiss architect Salome Grisard, stumbled upon the KINDL beer brewery by chance. Fascinated with the neighbourhood of Neukölln, the married couple took a tour of the abandoned space during a summer trip to Berlin and were instantly inspired to do something with the brewery. 

“It was love at first sight,” said Varnholt. 

In 2011, they bought the space; construction began the following year. Two more exhibition spaces will open, along with a café and invitation-only artist studios for an artist-in-residency programme. The space is privately funded and the current renovation costs €6 million (CHF7.2 million). 

“Our very personal passion for culture and art is what gave rise to the idea of founding KINDL,” said Varnholt, head of asset management at Swiss bank Julius Baer. 

The couple have made it clear their own private art collection will not be on show. Rather, they want to host rotating exhibitions in a lively cultural neighbourhood. 

Building on the past 

Neukölln is the southeast district of Berlin, located in the former American sector of the city. In recent years it has gentrified as a hip neighbourhood with 40% immigrants, according to a 2010 city report, but it still retains the rawness of earlier years. 

Leah Stuhltrager, founder of THE WYE art space, is an active member of the local art community. Originally from New York City, she has lived in Neukölln for five years. 

“Currently, the communities living and working in Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Kreuzkölln are building on the past and redefining the future of these areas,” she told 

“What we can hope for from those buying meaningful parts of any neighbourhood is that they acknowledge, engage and contribute and don’t see themselves as ‘reviving’ a community which is very much alive.” 

The brewery was built in the 1920s. Berlin’s Kindl beer used the facility for 70 years before relocating to a larger location in Weissensee in 2005. When the power was turned off on the last day of work, the clock in the Brew House froze. Now, the brewery’s main clock is forever locked at 11:41am. 

On a recent visit, construction was all around – 119 luxury apartments are being built next door, just a five-minute walk from the neighbourhood’s unemployment centre in a district where many inhabitants live below the poverty line. 

Inside the main tower, the Power House is under construction. Walking through the industrial space shows where artist studios will be built (as well as the international artist-in-residency programme) alongside more exhibition floors which will be open to the public. 

Not a local artist 

The 1,200-square-metre space will have three floors of exhibition space, including the “M2” (Machine Room 2) gallery. From there, Berlin’s landmark television tower can be seen in the distance, with rows of yellow-and-white, five-storey residential buildings lining the streets of Neukölln. 

The Boiler House space opened in September during Berlin Art Week. An exhibition by 76-year-old Swiss artist Roman Signer, “Kitfox Experimental”, features a DIY Kitfox aeroplane hanging from a 20-metre ceiling by one cord. Two fans are planted on the walls, making the plane rotate, as if spiralling downwards. 

‘Kitfox Experimental’ by Swiss artist Roman Signer Jens Ziehe/Photographie

The plane was bought in Switzerland, shipped to Berlin and will return to Switzerland to continue to fly after the exhibition closes in summer. 

“The intensive cooperation with Roman Signer took about one-and-a-half years,” said the Swiss artistic director, Andreas Fielder, formerly a curator at Helmhaus Zurich. “He was impressed and at the same time enthusiastic about the volume of the space.” 

In Fielder’s view, Signer’s solo exhibition is a “very characteristic work for his oeuvre.” 

However, it was reported in the Berliner Zeitung that Signer didn’t know when he created his piece that the former Tempelhof Airport was nearby. Hanging a 200kg plane upside-down could be seen to symbolise the history of the neighbouring district, which is under development, including the former airport, which is also being culturally revived. 

Stefanie Dörre, editor-in-chief and art critic of the Berlin city magazine TIP, says because Signer is Swiss he “does not refer to Neukölln” and therefore “at the moment I do not think KINDL is reviving the neighbourhood”. 

“This might be different when artists based in Berlin show their works. Then there might be a positive influence, but minimal,” she told 

‘Prime opportunity’ 

Next up, KINDL plans on working with schools and authorities in the area to integrate workshops into their programmes. It will also host lectures on the history of building, as well as neighbourhood discussions. One artist a year will be invited to do a site-specific work in the Boiler House. 

They hope to complete everything by autumn 2015. Until then, they still have time to connect with their neighbours. 

“Potentially, KINDL could be an amazing resource to a thriving cultural community if it chooses to be,” Stuhltrager said. 

Salome Grisard and Burkhard Varnholt

Salome Grisard runs Grisard Architektur. Burkhard Varnholt, a graduate of the London School of Economics and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is head of asset management at Julius Baer. 

Earlier this year, Swiss public radio, SRF, followed Varnholt on a trip to Uganda to a children’s orphanage and non-profit organisation he founded in 2004 called Kids of Africa. He was awarded the Swiss Re Civilian Service Prize in 2006.


The Roman Signer exhibition runs at the KINDL Center for Contemporary Art until June 28, 2015. 

Next summer, a solo show by German painter Eberhard Havekost is scheduled in the Power House. It will be shown alongside a group exhibition in the Power House entitled “How Long Is Now?” featuring the works of seven artists, including Swiss Art Award-winning artist Uriel Orlow, who is currently a visiting artist at the Geneva University of Art and Design. 

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR