Hartwig Klappert’s Island Studio Sits In The Heart Of Berlin


With Architectural Digest, we visited photographer Hartwig Klappert in his 600-square-meter studio that was formerly a factory. Built on a tiny island at Nonnendamm, Klappert’s studio is in the midst of Berlin—but still entirely secluded. The city, Klappert explains, built a bridge to the island just for him and the other artists residing in the building. It is so secluded that even though he has been working there for over 30 years, the mail often doesn’t find its way to his letterbox.

Upon entering the studio, it is difficult not to be struck by the vastness of the space and its unique furnishings—adorned as it is with furniture that Klappert has made himself and the work of his artist friends. The black and white tiled bathroom, he tells us, might feel a little familiar—the German movie ‘Keinohrhasen’ was shot there.

Klappert spent over five years renovating the space to make it what it is today. He used predominantly vintage materials to preserve the unique character of the building—which led to inevitable difficulties. When he wanted to buy five large factory windows from a vendor, he was required to meet the minimum order quantity of 85 pieces. These purpose-built windows are visible in most of the doors as well as the sunroom.

It seems that Klappert is quite the collector; stacked amongst the shelves of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases he crafted himself are games, props, and sketchbooks. On the floor in front of the windows lies a shallow water basin which, although currently empty, will gradually be engulfed by greenery. From the vintage stereo that stands beside the basin, the music of Spanish composer Cristóbal de Morales gently fills the room.

Klappert was born in Siegen and studied graphic design at UdK in Berlin. Afterward, he worked as an art director at the agency where he also met his wife. To compensate for the error-prone work of the staff photographer at the time, Klappert undertook the responsibilities of staff photographer in addition to his existing responsibilities as art director.

He was lucky to find 4,500 DM hidden in his first apartment and spent it on his first Hasselblad. A little later he won a photo competition with a prize of 5,000 DM, and bought additional lenses. From that point, he tells us, “I did nothing but taking pictures”. After leaving his job at the agency behind, he worked as a freelancer together with his wife, who was responsible for the styling of projects.

The walls are adorned with large prints, photographs of the landscape that he captured close to his home in Brandenburg. These silent, snowy landscapes and forests, show no human trace; reduced in their form, color and light they have an almost painterly quality.

Klappert describes the secret of his success as being a mixture of talent, luck, and connections. He has always been a very open character, happy to converse with strangers and those deemed as being “above” him. Back in the day, he was his class representative at a school where the principal was most feared. “It was the worst if you had to go to the principal,” he explains. “Once I went to go see ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ at the cinema and saw him sitting in the audience. The next day I went to the secretary and asked if I could see the principal. She almost had a stroke. I went in and said ‘Hey, you saw the movie last night, right? I didn’t get it, can we talk about it?’ So we sat down and started chatting (laughs). From then on we met on a regular basis to talk about the latest movies. I was never afraid of people.”

You can see more images of our visit at Architectural Digest‘s website.

Photography by Ana Santl, Interview and text by Caroline Kurze


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