It’s a cold, clear Tuesday and the winter sun is shining as we get to the editorial offices of art magazine BLAU to interview its editor-in-chief Cornelius Tittel. The Wilhelmine building on the corner of Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm thoroughfare and Uhlandstraße is redolent with history; even by the architectural standards of Germany’s capital, the entrance and the stairwell are of monumental proportions and the stucco ceiling is imposing. It feels like stepping into something of a time machine.
Indeed, the space in which BLAU is produced are, in a way, part of the magazine’s overall concept. It’s certainly far from the newsrooms in which most journalists have their desks, so we congratulate Tittel, aged 43, on this impressive workspace as we shake hands. Going down the hall, he shows us three salon-style rooms on the right, each furnished with finely-upholstered pieces from a range of different eras and various contemporary artworks – some from Tittel’s own collection. The fact that actual work is done here only really becomes clear when we enter another room full of wooden tables croweded with computers.
These rooms have publishing pedigree: from 1969 to 1978, they were the private living space of the now-legendary Axel Springer himself, founder of the media company which publishes, among many other titles, BLAU. Formerly head of the arts and features section of the WELT daily newspaper, Tittel has been producing Blau magazine with his team in this historical space since March 2015. First appearing in German only, the publication now has a BLAU INTERNATIONAL version in English, whch Tittel has been working on since it launched this year.
Tell us, what do you have to do to get to work in surroundings as impressive as these…?
You’ve got to be bold! When, around five years ago, Matthias Döpfner, Chairman of the Board at Springer, asked me if I wanted to launch a new art magazine, I said that I would need an inspirational, aesthetically-pleasing space in which to work – and just went ahead and suggested using the Springer apartment as our editorial offices.
What did the space look like at the beginning?
Like any other large but somewhat run-down flat. There were mouldy patches in the carpet and coffee stains on the wall (it looked like an espresso machine had exploded somewhere…). I thought it was a rather unfitting end for Axel Springer’s own personal apartment. For years, the only thing in here was an emergency back-up server; if there had been an incident at head offices – a terrorist attack, for instance – then the journalists would have been able to continue working here.
How was it transformed into how it looks now?
First, I spent a lot of time talking to designer Irini Kromayer. I’m an interior-design fanatic, read a lot of magazines in the area, and so had some ideas about what might look good; but I wanted to have a sparring partner, and Irina had just done the interior design work at Berlin’s Grill Royal restaurant. She’s actually a film-set designer, though, and had, by coincidence, just finished working on a film about Axel Springer; so she’d done a lot of research into his style when I asked her to help me here. I didn’t know that until later, though, and we also got other people involved – both of us know some artists who were kind enough to help us.
What kind of help did they offer?
The ceiling in the room with the fireplace is by Jirí Georg Dokoupil, for instance. It’s made of canvasses on which the artist let huge bubbles of carpaint burst.
Why did you have to cover the original ceiling?
We came up with the idea of putting an additional artificial ceiling in because the original is listed, but we wanted something different in the room. On the whole, though, we’ve tried to keep as many original design features as possible, including restored furniture from when the flat was used by Springer. At the same time, we wanted the apartment to have new things in it, too, and make a contemporary impression – and a ceiling with harp-playing cherubins just wasn’t right for what we wanted to do. I mean, it was the grand bourgeoisie of the Wilhelmine Empire trying to make out like they were aristocrats with country palaces… Awful kitsch from circa 1885!
What about these large circular rugs in some of the rooms?
They’re by American interior designer Ricky Clifton. He came to see us a few days before we launched the magazine and asked where our rugs were. I told him the truth: that we had run out of money. And he said: “Give me 500 Euros and I’ll sort it out.” So he went off to a low-price furniture shop in Kreuzberg and came back with three rolls of carpet, which he then laid out in each room and cut into cloud shapes with a Stanley knife; then he got out a can of spraypaint and added the borders. All of a sudden, they looked like they were originals by French 1930s designer Jean Royère – and made very expensive impression, to boot.
The ceiling is decorated with an oversized work by Jiri Georg Dokoupil. His father, a famous inventor, seems to have passed on his ingenuity and perseverance to his son: the motif, reminiscent of a sea full of colourful jellyfish, was created by bursting soap bubbles enriched with car paint. A process of optimization that lasted for years.
How much of your own persionality went into the Springer appartment?
At home, I keep things a lot simpler: less colour, more white and grey; my place looks like a summerhouse that has been made ready for winter. It’s more relaxed, but – thanks to my three children – a lot messier. Not that the Spring rooms are too formal or stiff; right from the beginning, it was important to us to have them so that they could also be used to hold receptions or dinners.
Did you get any interior design advice on the apartment you and your family live in?
No. It’s more the result of a process of continuous reduction: I kept on getting rid of things until all that was left were things that I really like. A lot of my job is shortening, cutting, and removing things, after all: as editor-in-chief, I get rid of articles which don’t complement the overall mix, so I’m quite used to thinking about which stories we need and which are superfluous.
You discovered a love of art when you were 15 and so it isn’t just a professional interest for you; you also have your own collection. What is it about art that fascinates you?
To put it simply: when I look up at a picture that I like on my wall, it gives me a good feeling; artists’ works have energy – energy that jumps over to me. I also like the idea that great art will outlive me. When my three children are all in bed and I sit of an evening contemplating my paintings, I sometimes get the impression that they are communicating between one another. As a collector, you can’t help but tell a story: maybe two of the artists whose works you own were also good friends; or maybe they couldn’t stand the sight of each another; or there was reciprocal inspiration between them.
It sounds as if your pictures have replaced the television...
Yes, they really have.
For many people, good art is a question of their financial means. What do you think of prints?
Not much, if I’m honest. There are fantastic wood carvings by Georg Baselitz, an artist I deeply admire, that you can by for €500 or €600! They’re totally undervalued and absolutely great pieces. I just can’t understand why you would take that money, go to a prints shop, and then by a reproduction of a work by a famous artist which you then frame and hang up in your kitchen.
What about people who don’t have an eye for art? Can you understand them?
Yes, I get them – and I live with one of them, too: my wife is just not that interested in art. That’s fine, she has other interests – completely different ones. Let’s be frank: art is not high up on the list of absolute necessities; there is no obligation to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Compared to art, what role does furniture play in the home?
The two belong together and complement one another. If I were forced to emigrate, though, and could only take one or the other with me, I’d take the paintings.
And if you could only fit one painting in your suitcase…?
Then there’s one small black-and-white computer painting by Albert Oehlen which would even fit in my carry-on luggage!