An aesthetic circle of one sort or another has been completed with the opening of Bikini Berlin. The exposed metalwork, the pop-up concessions that crowd the central space, the faded Persian carpets and distressed Chesterfields that furnish the cafe—nothing would look out of place in Kreuzberg or Neukölln. Nothing would look out of place in much more corporatised London either, in third-wave Shoreditch (the All Saints and Top Shop across from Spitalfields Market, say, not to mention Spitalfields Market itself). Here, they look like items that have been re-imported at great expense.
Just as the nearby Europa Center once emblemised the capitalist treasures on this side of the wall, Bikini, and its attached hotel is now being touted as a sign of West Berlin’s counter-offensive to the East’s enduring fashionability. 1 Such are the ideological divisions that cleave this city.
The café and terrace overlook the zoo next door, and while you sip your coffee or sekt, the baboons flash their red arse at you from across the wall.
The overall effect—with the undisguised metalwork and the cramped stalls in the centre and the spacious boutiques on the periphery and the constant traffic on the escalators and catwalks—is of a Tate Modern that sells jumpers instead of exhibition catalogues and knick-knacks. To complete the effect, casual wandering will inexorably lead you to the very heart of the “concept mall”: a dark, “unfinished” space, slightly colder than the rest of the building; its unpainted walls smell faintly of construction materials and serve as screens for projected monochrome images telling the history of the neighbourhood.