Bikini Berlin is housed in a striking grade II listed post-War building overlooking the city’s Zoological Gardens. Part of a complex designed by architects Paul Schwebes and Hans Schozberger, it was nicknamed the Bikini Building by locals due to its distinctive facade (the concrete structure is punctuated by an open colonnade on the second floor). A roof terrace offers a view over the Tiergarten park and the zoo’s animal enclosures.
Originally home to the Textile Centre of West Berlin, the building had lain empty but reopened as Bikini in mid-2014 following a six-year renovation project. The surrounding complex, which has also been renovated, now houses a boutique hotel run by German chain 25hours, a restaurant and bar with panoramic views over the city and the Zoo Palast cinema. (The cinema hosted the Berlinale film festival from the 1950s until the late 90s and was recently refurbished – original features such as wood panelling and a ceiling designed to look like the night sky have been preserved).
Inspired by concept malls such as London’s Boxpark, Bikini Berlin houses a mix of high-end and affordable brands alongside a changing line-up of independent artists, designers and retailers.
Alongside a handful of international brands such as Vans, Carhartt and Gant are a mix German retailers – audio brand Teufel houses a store with listening rooms and a demo cinema in the basement (a space formerly home to an underground nightclub) while optician Mykita 3D prints frames on demand. Fashion store LNFA was set up to house clothing by graduates and emerging designers, who often struggle to sell into larger stores and runs a store-meets-fashion agency on the first floor, hosting regular networking events for designers.
On the ground floor, a collection of wooden boxes house temporary pop-up shops by smaller brands and independent designers. The boxes are designed to offer retailers a cheaper and more flexible alternative to long-term lets and most are rented by brands who are new to the German market or creatives who don’t have a permanent store.
Current pop-ups include Copenhagen-based liquorice brand Lakrids, screen print and homeware store Fundamental, neon sign makers Sygns and a handful of artists selling prints and paintings. The line-up changes throughout the year but Bikini says it will always feature a mix of fashion, food and design brands, with a focus on new talent. If pop-ups prove particularly successful, they are offered a space in one of the mall’s permanent sites.
Bikini is also home to design publisher Gestalten’s concept store, which stocks a selection of its books alongside independent magazines, homeware and accessories by brands and designers featured in them. A restaurant and cafe serves recipes featured in Gestalten’s food books and the brand regularly hosts events and panel discussions in the space. Gestalten says the aim is to offer a window into the brand, promoting its publishing business while offering an alternative to a traditional bookstore:
Throughout the year, Bikini is hosting pop-up events and installations from food, flower and Christmas markets to events promoting Fashion Week and the Berlinale Film Festival. To mark its Spring season, it has commissioned British artist Rebecca Louise Law (who worked on our 2015 Annual cover with Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton-Jones) to create a hanging artwork made out of 30,000 flowers. The installation was unveiled this week and will remain in place until May 1.
The artwork is titled ‘Garten’ and took four days to install, says Law. Flowers are suspended from a metal truss hanging from the building’s atrium and each one is held in place by copper wire. With each row a different height, it looks a little like an upside down garden or meadow. Plants were donated by Tollwasblumenmachen.de, an affiliate of the Flower Council of Holland, and Law worked with a local team to create the installation. Flowers will dry out and darken over time and will be used by Law to create permanent sculptures once the installation comes down.
The installation is one of a series Law is working on around the world – earlier this month, she created a ‘Celebration of Spring’ for shopping street St Christophers Place in London and in May, will unveil a permanent large-scale installation in a mall in Melbourne. She is also creating a series of public artworks in London this summer.
With so many European shopping malls featuring the same big brands, it’s nice to see an alternative space set up to support independent retailers and emerging designers (albeit a small number of them). Bikini Berlin gives new life to one of the city’s most distinctive Modernist buildings and its owners hope its year-round programme of events, along with installations like Law’s, will help bring people back to an area that was once one of the city’s most popular shopping districts.