Across from Berlin's number-one tourist attraction, modern furniture and contemporary art harmonize at the apartment of a former art dealer
Michael S. Cullen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
When the artist Max Liebermann, who lived next door to the Brandenburg Gate, was once asked his address, he answered, "When entering Berlin, just turn left!" Since the Brandenburg Gate was completed in 1791, Pariser Platz—the end of Unter den Linden nearest to the monument—has been an enormously prestigious spot. A 1913 book lists four of the seven buildings there as the property of millionaires. American ambassadors in the '20s worked for years to obtain 2 Pariser Platz for a U.S. Embassy, on the theory that this was the city's best location. It is again, smack in the middle of the capital of the most powerful nation in Europe.
From the end of World War II until November 9,1989, however, Pariser Platz was a no-man's-land between the outer and inner parts of the Berlin Wall. There was nothing but grass growing there in 1992, when Paul Maenz made up his mind that this was where It was at. Maenz, who for many years owned a Cologne gallery specializing in conceptual and minimalist art, had recently moved to former West Berlin, and he single-mindedly set about fulfilling his dream of living at Pariser Platz. ("It was either that or Venice.")
He had little difficulty in obtaining information. At the time, Berlin newspapers covered progress at Pariser Platz on a daily basis. All Maenz had to do was drop by a real-estate agency and jot down details about the property in question. Soon, he made contact with the developer, who in turn introduced him to the architects, Ortner & Ortner Baukunst. Explaining his double requirements for the future apartment—that it both showcase his collection and furnish the comforts of home—he was able to modify the location of non-load-bearing walls and work several additional changes into the floor plan.
By 2000, Ortner & Ortner had finished the project, a residential-commercial hybrid with an unobtrusive facade of gray-greenish travertine cladding and bronze-framed windows. (Tourists tend to overlook the building while contemplating Frank Gehry's DG Bank, Christian de Portzamparc's French Embassy, currently being completed, and Günter Behnisch's Academy of Arts, also under construction.) There are no names on the door to the apartments, just number pads. Understatement is the word. It's almost British.
Who knows how many diplomats, managers, and wealthy individuals Maenz ultimately beat out to secure his airy 2,800-square-foot duplex? Up on the seventh floor, he receives guests—all charm and winning smiles. Everything about the apartment declares that its proprietor has accumulated a fortune.
Most of the tables and chairs are either vintage Gerrit Rietveld or contemporary versions of Charles and Ray Eames designs, and a large sofa by Antonio Citterio anchors one corner of the living area. "My career was in contemporary European art, and I like furniture from the same period," Maenz says. He adds that he also enjoys the tension between the rationality of European art and the emotional "energy" of African sculpture, which he has collected since his student days.
The position and selection of artwork is in constant flux. To encourage visitors to flow through the space and view more, Ortner & Ortner took the measure of giving almost every room two or more doors. Maenz also requested high ceilings, which draw the eye upward to paintings and photography, and a skylight, sited to cast flattering illumination on the art.
For cold Berlin days, Ortner & Ortner project manager Florian Matzker says he made sure to design a "warm place," centered on the living area's mantelpiece of 4-inch-thick French limestone. In summertime, the tree-lined terrace wrapping two sides of the lower floor offers uninterrupted opportunities for gazing.
The traditional master bedroom, on the lower level, may seem like a visual disconnect. A pattern of birds and foliage adorns both wallpaper and bed linen. Above the headboard, a pair of 18th-century French mirrors reflects an 1833 ancestral oil portrait opposite. The reason for the shift, Maenz explains, is that he needs a "cave" to unwind in at the end of the day.
Throughout the apartment, the 10-foot-high windows, framed in Oregon pine on the interior, are curtained only by lengths of pure white fabric, minimizing interruption to the continuous public pageant below. Everything that happens in official Berlin plays out at Pariser Platz—it would be like having a Rome apartment at the open end of Bernini's colonnade. Maenz has but to look outside to watch demonstrations aimed at members of the German parliament or take in state visits to the Brandenburg Gate. The view, he feels, more than compensates for such occasional inconveniences as braving earphoned security types and masked, black-clad sharpshooters when George Bush is in town, staying across the street at the renowned Hotel Adlon.