On Feeling Inadequate at the Berggruen Museum Berlin

“What if I have absolutely no idea what’s being said?”

“Is it possible to Google fast enough to appear somewhat intelligent?”

“How will I made it through a three hour tour without the guide thinking I’m a dolt?”

All of these thoughts bounced around my head after reading about our upcoming tour of the Berggruen Museum in Berlin with Context Travel. We would be looking at Modernist Art, Picasso and his work in relation to the World Wars. I’d suddenly forgotten all of my past world history lessons and art history had never been my strong suit.

Why The Fear?

“Context is a network of scholars and experts from various disciplines who organize and lead in-depth “walking seminars” of cities around the world. Most of the participants on our walks are intellectually curious travelers who want to be guided through the world’s museums, monuments, and historic cities by an expert who’s taught, written, or lectured on that material.”

Intellectually Curious Traveler? I liked the sound of those words, but was sure I’d be found out as a phony as soon as the question and answer session began. What did I know about Picasso and Berlin? I’d be so far out of my league our tour was sure to be one of the best stories our guide would have to tell his other guide friends as soon as he was free of my company. Even the company’s Instagram hashtag is #DeepTravel – I wouldn’t fit in at all!

“Context is a network of Ph.D-level scholars and other experts living in cultural capitals around the world who are passionate teachers and guide visitors on an experiential journey of these amazing cities.”

So with more than minor trepidation, I mentally prepared for our tour of the Berrgruen Museum. As part of the National Gallery of Berlin, this intimate museum often gets overlooked.

Giacometti in Berggruen

Giacometti in Berggruen

Home to over 150 works by Pablo Picasso, as well as those of Matisse, Klee, and Giacometti; it was the actual background of the museum founder that I found most fascinating.

Who Was Heinz Berrgruen?

Heinz Berrgruen immigrated to the United States in 1936 and worked as an art critic for The San Francisco Chronicle and as Assistant Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. During this time, he was involved in a brief love affair with Frida Kahlo while putting together an exhibition of Diego Rivera.

Life of Berrgruen

Life of Berrgruen

In 1940, he bought his first watercolor for $100. It was by Paul Klee. After WW2, Berrgruen moved to Paris and opened a small bookshop on the Ile Saint-Louis that specialized in illustrated books and lithographs. During this time he became acquainted socially with Pablo Picasso. His reputation grew and he became Picasso’s exclusive dealer in Paris.

Picassos in Berrguen's Paris Home

Picassos in Berrguen’s Paris Home

 Meeting Our Guide

We appeared at the appointed spot and within seconds of meeting our guide Jason, my fears began to evaporate. Yes, he was a curator and in charge of a non-profit art program in Berlin and he was also an artist himself. His knowledge of art history was staggering, but his warmth and enthusiasm had me hanging on every word.



I left with a much deeper appreciation of Picasso than I ever thought possible and those history lessons so long ago came back surprisingly quickly with a little mental prodding. This was interesting. I was learning so much and wasn’t even aware of it. This was fun!

Letter From Miro

Letter From Miro

Pablo Picasso came alive through the collection of works by Heinz Berggruen and the words of Jason. We followed Picasso’s life from his 20’s until one of the final works at the age of 92.

Seated Nude With Raised Arms

Seated Nude With Raised Arms 1972

Through his experimentation in Cubism, collage, synthetic Cubism and realism in the abstract – it was a joy to watch the unfolding of Picasso’s gift for deconstructing and deforming the world around him. From the horrors of the World Wars to his time spent in other countries and the women he knew intimately, we could see how strong these influences were within his art.

African Mask Themes

African Mask Themes

The Yellow Sweater

The Yellow Sweater

 My Favorite?

Still Life On A Piano

Still Life On A Piano

In those heady days of Parisian life, there was one thing everyone understood and that was the power of absinthe! Picasso brought many layers of his art to the surface in this painting. It is one you could stare at for hours and still see something new each time. As photos without flash were allowed in this museum (something I’m always very thankful for), I plan to stare at it a while longer just to see how deep I can go.

Victor Hugo Was A Painter?

I had no idea! As a wonderful ending to our tour, we wandered just across the street to the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg Gallery to see a bit more of John Klee’s work and have a coffee at their delightful cafe. Jason pointed out two of Hugo’s works on display that we would have easily missed.


Victor Hugo – Untitled 1850

Victor Hugo - Feudal Ruins

Victor Hugo – Feudal Ruins

Maybe his artwork is not quite as impressive as that of Pablo Picasso, but if he ever felt inadequate about it, his literary works more than made up for it. I guess everyone doubts themselves at one time or another in life. 🙂

Context Travel provided our museum tour at no charge, however all feelings of inadequacies are my own. It was a wonderful, insightful tour and I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting Berlin. I’m afraid they have spoiled me for most ordinary tours after this one.

If you’d like to read about any of their other tours in cities all over the world, please see Context Travel and pick your city. Have NO worries about being thought of as unintelligent – the ONLY requirement for a wonderful time is to be a “Culturally Curious Traveler“!





About the author

Lisa is a traveler, photographer and pharmacist. She and her partner Cheryl MacDonald enjoy sharing inspiration and good health with fellow travelers!


Leave a comment
  • I will own up now, I have not heard of Heinz Berrgruen. I have however heard of Picasso, and prefer his earlier drawings, know Klee and Hugo, though I didn’t know he was a painter so I am learning something here. Context Travel sounds interesting and we are certainly curious travellers.

  • How fascinating to find out tidbits of surprising new information about famous people you are interested in. The exclusive Paris dealer for Picasso, Victor Hugo a painter, … Thanks for sharing.

  • We were fortunate to enjoy two tours with Context Travel in Barcelona, and meet their representatives at a conference thereafter. They do things first rate! I love how their guides can zoom you out from an item of interest, provide the background through interesting anecdotes and easy facts, and then zoom back in so that you have a greater appreciation. If only all our teachers were so capable! This little museum looks like a real gem, if only to get the Picasso stories. The fact that there were works by Klee, Matisse, Giacometti, and Hugo to see must’ve felt like the full jar of cherries on the sundae!

  • This is my first time hearing of Context Travel, and I will definitely be looking them up. I admired a lot of Picasso’s work when I was in Madrid a few years ago, and his works have been on display in Seoul from time to time. I would love to actually walk through an exhibit with someone who can relate his artwork to his life. That would be fascinating.

  • In 2004, we took our then teenage sons to Rome and I signed us up for two 4 hour tours with Scala Reale, Context Travels predecessor. Once we arrived, I wasn’t worried about my inadequacies as an in depth tour participant, but I was wondering how the boys would do. I need not have worried. Our first tour was of the Vatican Museum with a New Zealander who was studying for a doctorate in divinity in Rome and our second was of the Roman Forum with an Italian woman who had PhD’s in Art History and Archaeology. The tours were great and our sons who usually could not resist poking each other and then squabbling about who “started it”, actually behaved beautifully and seemed interested. I hope to try Context Travel some day.

    • What a great experience – glad the boys enjoyed it too! We were very pleased by our tour guide as he brought the art and the period in time to life! We look forward to our next tour with Context Travel.

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