“Berlin ist arm, aber sexy” – the unofficial motto that translates to “Berlin is poor, but sexy” sums up the German capital’s pull as a mecca for club-goers, beer-fiends and creatives. But its combination of glamour and grit attracts more than just this stereotype. Fast becoming Europe’s most multi-cultural city, Berlin’s vast spectrum caters for every taste, budget and age group, and its laid back mentality makes it a top city getaway. Bias as we may be, there’s no denying that Berliners are a pretty lucky bunch. However, there are a number of up-and-coming European cities that just might dethrone our vibrant German capital.
The biggest city in Scotland, and the “friendliest city in the world”, Glasgow, has evolved over the past few years to become a metropolis for art and culture. Boasting everything from performing arts companies like the Scottish Ballet, to 2013’s museum of the year – the Zaha Hadid-designed Riverside Museum, Glasgow offers a lot more to visitors than kilts, battered Mars bars and Buckfast. Famous for the Glasgow School of Art and alumni/Art Nouveau, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, handsome Victorian buildings dot the city, the sophisticated red-bricked infrastructure often adorned by large murals marrying the urban with the traditional. The versatile live-music scene is also thriving in the city, and the place post-rockers Mogwai and electronic producer Hudson Mohawke call home has recently been celebrated as an UNESCO City of Music.
Often hailed as the “New Berlin”, the concrete jungle of Leipzig is offering cheaper rents than the German capital, and the affordable living and studio spaces are resulting in an influx of young creatives hoping to avoid Berlin’s gentrification. The small city is brimming with opportunity in alternative art, social and music projects. Spaces like Westwerk, a former factory sandwiched between the bustling districts of Plagwitz and Lindenau, play host to these underground artists, giving them the opportunity to exhibit, set up markets and even host concerts and club nights. No city can be compared to Berlin without a competitive club scene, and the city that brought us J.S Bach definitely rivals the capitals reputation as Germany’s techno haven. Distillery is one of Leipzig’s oldest house and techno clubs, founded shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. With heavyweights Carl Craig and Richie Hawtin taking to the decks there, the club has built a reputation as being one of the best in the country.
The sprawling capital city of Poland has built itself up from the ruins left behind after WWII to a European cultural centre. Unlike many other Polish cities, Warsaw isn’t built on an old market square, meaning the there really is no centre, so the capital, which is made up of a combination of Gothic architecture and communist concrete, is spread across a vast area. Concealing creative venues in unsuspecting abandoned factories, train stations and hidden backstreets, the desire to preserve the city’s history by combining traditional with the contemporary makes Warsaw one of the most interesting rising cities. Hosting one of the world’s first public libraries, the gravesite of Warsaw’s famous composer, Chopin, Zaçheta National Gallery of Art (the largest contemporary gallery in Poland) and the Old Town, which is cited by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, Poland’s capital is fast surpassing Krakow as the creative centre of the country.
A wave of entrepreneurship has hit the picturesque city of Lisbon in recent years of post-economic downturn. As job opportunities plummeted after the massive hit Portugal took during the recession, creatives had no other option but to do their own thing and make use of the city’s abandoned space. With the popularisation of start-ups, young musicians, fashion designers and visual artists of Lisbon are also using their initiative by turning the derelict buildings around the city into shared studio spaces. Artists squatting in the former factory, Fabrica Braço de Prata, resulted in the space becoming legalised, and is now one of the hippest venues for music and art – where €1 beers are sold and Kuduro music is blared. Similarly, the creatives have turned the unused district of Santos into an artistic hub – in part thanks to the not-for-profit organisation, Rés do Chão – and the dockside suburb of Alcántara has also been transformed, its empty office spaces and warehouses again being used for creative purposes. This city of artists is home to a variety of galleries, with the newest addition Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) propelling the city even further into the art-world as a serious European contendor.
The city of Belfast has utilised the idea of “if walls could talk” since before the troubles in the 1970s. Using murals to artistically depict political views and events throughout history, the city’s streets are donned with large-scale portraits of Bobby Sands and loyalist Union Jacks, illustrations commemorating the Great Famine and the sinking of the Titanic, and most recently, have expanded to include local figureheads like footballer, George Best. The capital of Northern Ireland is awash with colour without having to even step foot inside a museum, but for those who would prefer to do so, Belfast offers a wide variety of contemporary art galleries, namely the MAC, Golden Thread Gallery and Belfast Exposed. A city of literature and playwrights, no visit to Belfast would be complete without exploring the Lyric, where Northern Ireland’s Liam Neeson, began his career, and the Old Museum Arts Centre, which hosts music and theatre workshops. It isn’t all history in this city though, whose rich industrial heritage provides amazing locations for the underground music scene, picked up on by the esteemed global music broadcasters, BOILER ROOM, who frequent Belfast often for their online streaming sessions.
Spain is well known for its contribution to painting, having produced the likes of Goya and Dalí, whose work hangs on the walls of country’s capital’s veteran galleries. While the Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza celebrate Madrid’s late-greats, newborn art spaces like Mad is Mad and Mondo Galeria are promoting the contemporaries. Madrid is a strong draw for any young person wishing to move there. Not only does it have cheap rent and more bars per capita than any other European country (1 for every 192) people, the city is simply brimming with untapped potential. The city also offers some extra support to artists with internationally renowned Spanish International Contemporary Art Fair, which has a special focus on young artists, usually showcasing their work in over 20 different spaces. Known for having some of the world’s best street art, an alternative walking tour through the neighbourhoods such as Malasaña and Lavapiés is another great way to get to know the emerging Spanish artists swapping paintbrushes for spray-cans and releasing their inner Picasso. To top it all, most of the trendy hoods are also located in the city centre.