Photography by Georg Roske

There is a certain mayhem to .HBC, the eclectic, multi-story, hybrid art, cinema and dining space located in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. In keeping with Berlin’s fetish for recycling and the barely-renovated chic of its bars, this former East Berlin Hungarian Cultural Center remains office-esque. Hipsters in high heels cannot click-clack across the old carpet and lino floor, and the wood paneling on the walls makes a gin and tonic at the bar feel like an illicit swig under the conference table.

.HBC was designed to confuse. For its curator Nico, a hallucinogenic synaesthesia seems to be the ultimate aim. The immense 19,375 square foot space serves as his playground which, like a great estate with ever-undiscovered corners, sprawls on beyond the restaurant and bar into a labyrinthine network of backrooms, including the “Rose Room”—Nico’s outlet for illogical event ideas, such as heating the dance floor to 122ºF or filling the room with polystyrene for guests to swim through.

But this is not simply an arena for fun. It is not even simply a venue for high quality and innovative art, music and cuisine. This is a sense experience where anything is something, because everything is fused. If you succeed in navigating the website (where crucial information is displayed in a dizzying bombardment of pop-ups and dead-end links) you will find the restaurant’s sophisticated menu, which was recently positively reviewed by the New York Times. Although the atmosphere in the intimate restaurant borders on suave, it is not designed to be exclusive or dislocated from the arts space. Only swinging doors separate it from the main bar, which leads into a lounge area and from there into the concert hall-cum-cinema from where the murmur of the bar is still deliberately perceptible.

There is a fluidity to the space, which allows for a blurring of stimuli that is felt from every seat in the venue. From the striking designer chairs in the lounge your eye will fall on art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus’s neon light installation on the ceiling. The plan to make .HBC into a major music venue shows itself in a program of varied artists from the naïve purity of Missin Cat to Tom Thiel’s freaky experimental electronica that could later spill out into the bar area where you never know what will happen or how it will evolve.

The clientele, like the art, is broad and difficult to categorize and, although the bar is populated by an increasingly trendy crowd, .HBC also attracts the indefinably curious. Yet there is a certain grittiness throughout which acts as a filter, turning away those attracted to the high-culture and repelled by the unavoidably reclined posture of the place. In the restaurant, the romantically glowing lamps are on a mechanism that allows the waiters to make them gently sway, just to ensure that diners cannot leave entirely undisturbed. In fact, one of the mirrors on the back wall is artfully smashed, thanks to the over-zealousness of the architect himself when he demonstrated his little joke. It is therefore unsurprising that one of .HBC’s most memorable exhibitions was called “demolition” and asked visitors to participate in the destruction of the interior. .HBC shows how having confidence in the beauty and quality of content allows you to subtly corrupt it, like a posh sort of punk who giggles.

– Heidi Goldsmith

For more information on .HBC visit: www.hbc-berlin.de