A Swarm of Artistic Creatures: About the Past and Present of the Berliner Künstlerprogramm of the DAAD

NEUSTART-konsulent Holger Schulze om DAAD og de mange muligheder for at ansøge om berliner-künstlerprogram.

Tidligere på året kunne Snyk præsentere lydkunstneren Ragnhild May som i 2022 blev optaget på det præstigefulde Berliner-künstlerprogrammEt program som sikrer udvalgte kunstnere fra hele verden et længere arbejdsophold i Berlin med mulighed for at arbejde, udvikle og ikke mindst udstille på DAAD-gallerie.

NEUSTART-konsulent Holger Schülze bringer et stemningsbillede af DAAD og fortæller her om mulighederne for at ansøge berliner-künstlerprogram.

A Swarm of Artistic Creatures:

About the Past and Present of the Berliner Künstlerprogramm of the DAAD

By Holger Schulze

When I entered the room I heard a swarm of electric creatures whirring and rattling. I could count around 60 black, rather strange sources of these sounds. I started walking around them. They were placed in a rectangular shape. Each of them was placed on a small metal podium, equally of square shape. And each of those alien, strange objects was hooked to a tiny electric motor and a very small loudspeaker membrane. While walking amongst them I could hear that the origin of the whirring and rattling sounds was slowly changing.

I saw writings in a language I could not understand – but at some of these electric creatures I was surprised to indeed hear a voice declaiming certain sentences or verses. I wandered among them for quite some time.

This is the work „Holy 204“, by Yara Mekawei from Egypt: a work on sufism and cryptography – translating Sufi poems from the early second millennium by Ibn al-Farid and Al-Hallaj, into numbers and speed, frequencies and rounds per minute. They populate the gallery space. They welcome me with their whirring and humming. However, at the beginning their intentions or their articulations might seem obscure or even hermetic. But the more I walk among them, the more I listen to their sounds and the actual articulations of words – though in a language, Arabic, not familiar to me – allow me to relate to them. I assume that they pray. They recite. They worship.


You can visit this exhibition currently in Berlin, in the center of Kreuzberg, close to Moritzplatz, at the famous DAADgalerie. This gallery operated since 1978 and is state funded. It is one of the most prominent activities of a funding programme called DAAD with quite a history, dating back to 1925. The abbreviation DAAD stands for „Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst“, a sequence of words that is understating its mission gigantically. It translates to: „German Academic Exchange Service“ and it supports general academics and their projects to travel to conferences and to invite researchers from various angles of the world.

One of the most prominent activities, however, and surely the most interesting for artists, composers and performers from all over Denmark is its „Berliner Künstlerprogramm“: the „Artists-in-Berlin Program“.

This program existed since 1963 and today it allows artists from all over the world to apply to come to Berlin, to work here, to produce new works, to perform and to engage with the particular artistic scenes and environments in Berlin for a longer period of time. Each of the fellowships lasts for twelve months; the artist can stay in an apartment provided by the Künstlerprogramm, they receive a monthly grant that allows them to live very well in Berlin and they are offered a course to learn or improve their German. Additional funding for works and productions can also be granted, depending on the individual projects, necessities and the current budget of the program. Aside from these awarded fellows there are however also various other programmes and ways to be granted an opportunity to work in Berlin.

So, what is the goal of this program? Since its founding in the 1960’s its goal was to strengthen the many connections to international artistic scenes for the city of Berlin. At that time the city was still split in two, into the capital of the GDR and the city of West-Berlin that belonged to West Germany. Latter was actually an enclave, situated in the middle of the GDR and the mere journey from the rest of West Germany to this island was ideally done by one of the rather affordable flight connections. That was so because the train rides and a drive through the GDR on the transit highways could last much, much longer than expected due to unforeseen controls or occurrences on the heavily police controlled roads.

West Berlin apparently needed such a support at the time – and it actually somewhat thrived through that support. The character of an island is often cited today as one of the most attractive traits of the city in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of the artists, be it from avantgarde scenes or scenes of popular culture gave indeed living proof of that. Berlin at that historical period served as a weirdly paradoxical location that could be experienced as a cosmopolitan metropolis that indeed was still as accessible and not very complex as a small village. From this paradoxical past, the program still retains its peculiar focus and lasting energy.


Since the reunification, however, this function was altered and even reversed. No one needs to make Berlin attractive now in order to make people come to the city. Berlin has been a major attractor to artists, researchers, musicians, designers and authors since reunification – only recently maybe surpassed by cities such as Barcelona, then Istanbul, and maybe now by Novi Sad or even Reykjavik?

In the 2020s, Berlin provides an all too obvious and often rather opaque jungle of venues and festivals, funding programmes and cultural institutions of all sorts. Today all sorts of art forms are exhibited in the DAADgalerie, such as film, music, literature, the arts, and even interdisciplinary forms of artistic practice. The role of sound art within the „Artists-In-Berlin-program“ grew more and more, fostered by the earlier persons responsible for music and sound, Ingrid Beirer (until 2012) and Julia Gerlach (2012-2018). Since 2019 Dahlia Borsche is responsible, who curated earlier for example the discoursive program of the famous CTM festival in Berlin.

Recently, the gallery has moved into a new venue and it occupies now two floors: a more classical exhibition space on the ground floor – and a more open second floor that allows artists to conduct longer performances, workshops, also seminars and talks. This second space allows the gallery to host contemporary formats of artistic, processual and research work that do not really fit into the confinements of a traditional gallery space.

With the change of this venue but also in the course of the last thirty years, the program expanded the broad diversity of the awrded fellows – and of the audience attending concerts and visiting the gallery. Recent fellows include for instance the US composer Ashley Fure, performer and composer Tara Transitory from Thailand, Norwegian vocalist Stine Janvin and Turkish artist and musician Cevdet Erek. And in the summer of 2022 – with great support and escorting activities by SNYK and NEUSTART – one can see and hear the works of Ragnhild May.


Therefore, the “Artists-In-Berlin-program“ offers a lot of options for Danish and Nordic performers and composers. Aside from simply playing or exhibiting works in an adequate venue, these fellowships allow artists who already had their first major exhibitions or concerts to move ahead and to expand their aesthetic approaches, to further develop current work concepts and, indeed, to profit from the huge and highly diverse artistic scene in the city of Berlin.

The fellowship in the year 2010 and the career of Simon Steen-Andersen is truly a prime example for this trajectory. A swarm of artistic creatures has been energized and carried further by this impressive program in the last three decades. And as it looks today, the vectors and vessels for future swarms that this program offers are not slowing down.

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Mere info og ansøgning til Berliner Künstlerprogram: https://www.berliner-kuenstlerprogramm.de/en/application/

Har du spørgsmål om det berlinske musikmiljø eller søger du generel rådgivning om muligheder for dansk/tysk musikudveksling, er du velkommen til at skrive til neustart@snyk.dk.

Foto: Billede af værket “Holy 204” (Yara Mekawei, DAADgalerie)