On a Sunday afternoon in January, high-pitched shrieks and deep howls could be heard emanating from an elegant Art Deco building in Berlin’s Charlottenburg neighborhood. Their source was the third-floor office of Blau International, a large-format art magazine whose contributors include the French interiors photographer François Halard, the French fashion stylist Marie Chaix and the German astrologer Alexander von Schlieffen. Published twice a year in English by the German media group Axel Springer and overseen by founding editor in chief Cornelius Tittel, 46, the nine-year-old magazine has recently run such stories as an essay by the Austrian novelist Peter Handke about the 17th-century French artist Nicolas Poussin and one by Tittel himself on the psychedelic work of the young Parisian painter Pol Taburet.
“Now scream as loud as you can, with your whole being,” encouraged Tittel that Sunday, dressed in white and sitting cross-legged at the front of one of the five grand rooms that make up Blau’s headquarters. Almost 40 people, many of them also dressed in white, responded with a cacophony of wails. Someone’s pet Pomeranian began to bark. Making the scene more dramatic still was the room’s décor: two dozen animal skin paintings hung on the walls, which, reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s tinfoil-clad Factory, were covered almost entirely with the silvery Mylar blankets often used by recovering marathon runners. Behind Tittel was a six-foot-high omega-shaped altar made of melted white plastic and finished with two small gnome-like figurines.
Was this an editorial meeting? An art happening? It was in fact one of the semiprivate Kundalini yoga and meditation events that Tittel has been hosting for the past year in his magazine’s workplace, attracting some of the better-known figures in Berlin’s art scene — among them the gallerist Philomene Magers of Sprüth Magers and the collector and author Angelika Taschen. Tittel, said Taschen, “manages to combine the best of two complex worlds, art and Kundalini, both of which are connected to our higher selves.”
Beside being the venue for these sessions, which take place each Thursday and on occasional Sundays, and are open to Tittel’s friends and their friends, the Blau office distinguishes itself from other workplaces — even those of art magazines — in different ways, too. Once the private home of the media mogul Axel Springer — whose namesake publishing company has remained one of Germany’s most influential since his death in 1985 — the neglected turn-of-the-century space was turned over to Tittel and his small team in 2015. “When I was asked to take on the project that became Blau, I said I would do it if I could work in beautiful surroundings and not in the main corporate headquarters,” explained Tittel, who was previously the deputy editor of Springer’s Welt Group, the division of publications and businesses related to the daily newspaper Die Welt. (The company’s main campus is across the city in the Mitte neighborhood, on a street named after Springer.)
Tittel brought in his friend the Berlin-based interior designer Irina Kromayer, and on a relatively small budget they transformed the 2,800-square-foot apartment into a contemporary work space filled with midcentury furniture — some of it left over from Springer’s occupancy — and art by Tittel’s circle of collaborators. The entrance hall, which like all the rooms has honey-colored parquet floors and ornate moldings, is decorated with bold scribbles by the German abstract artist Peppi Bottrop. The ceiling of the grand salon, now used as a library and meeting room, is covered with canvas panels upon which the Czech-German artist Jiri Georg Dokoupil made paintings using colored soap bubbles. (“There was a faded fresco with flying angels there before and it was awful,” said Tittel.) Monumental Plexiglas chandeliers designed by the German American architecture firm Barkow Leibinger and resembling giant clusters of icicles hang in two rooms. And with the last remaining euros of the renovation funds, another friend of Tittel’s, the New York-based interior designer Ricky Clifton, bought a stack of cheap synthetic carpets, cut them into irregular shapes and spray-painted the edges of some in contrasting shades before distributing them throughout the space.
Last spring, Tittel converted the final room, Springer’s onetime bedroom, into a yoga studio, incorporating works by the Berlin-based artist Raphaela Vogel. “I had already purchased some of her animal skin paintings and then I saw a picture of a gate she’d made of white polyurethane, guarded by garden gnomes, and she agreed to lend it to me,” Tittel explained recently over the phone from Munich, where he was helping the German artist Georg Baselitz curate a retrospective of his prints.
Tittel’s transformation into a teacher of Kundalini — a form of yoga influenced by Tantric practices that emphasizes chanting and repetitive poses said to open the body’s chakras — began at the start of the pandemic. He was going through a breakup with his wife, and a friend, the hotelier and T contributing editor Philomena Schurer Merckoll, suggested he try a class. The experience resonated so deeply with Tittel that two weeks later he started a teacher training course with Panch Nishan, a Berlin-based American practitioner who now occasionally joins Tittel’s sessions. On this particular Sunday, she led the closing meditation, instructing those in the room to “open the lotus flower of your heart,” while Anne Thieltges, another yogi who often assists Tittel, sounded a large gong. At the end of the meditation, Nishan thanked Tittel for fostering this growing community — one that has also informed his work at the magazine. Since taking up yoga, Tittel said, he has experienced some “beautiful chance connections and unexpected opportunities.”
Springer was politically and socially conservative; in the late ’60s his newspaper Bild was protested by thousands of demonstrators following what critics saw as its hostile coverage of the West German student movement. But when asked to imagine what Springer would think of the yoga classes now being held in his former bedroom, Tittel responded that the publishing magnate had esoteric beliefs of his own: He often consulted an astrologer, and at the end of his life he spent time on the Greek island of Patmos to be close to the monastery of St. John the Divine. Tittel added that a few months after he installed Vogel’s works, the office nearly burned down when two of the animal skin paintings, which were covering a lamp, started to smoke. “Not long afterward, the gate sculpture cracked and fell over and I had to have Raphaela come to restore it,” he explained. “She said, ‘I think we’re shaking up some ghosts in here.’”