All in the Name of Art – News Critique on the Berlin protests April 2011

Gabriella White reporting from Tacheles, Berlin-Mitte

Berlin, one of the world’s capitals famous for its culture, art, alternative scene and diverse freedom ever since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 is making history again.

When I visit Berlin my senses are filled with sheer bohemia. Artists bustling around, smoke-filled studios, open doors, narrow, yet tall corridors which echo throughout, even when you whisper… An intense look occupies an artist’s face, yet he seems so intently focused on a seemingly alien concept that passers-by fail to understand what on Earth is going on in his mind. It’s almost as if he is living in a different world. There is a sense of anger and hostility here. Graffiti surrounds me, on the buildings, in the buildings, around the buildings: they’d even paint the sky if they could. Abandoned buses from the 80s are engulfed in spray paint satisfying a full spectrum of colour, the vibrant tones of which are radically uplifting in a somewhat imposed-upon and suppressed urban jungle.  This part of the city smells of radicalism yet has a coldness about it that is almost intimidating. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Apparently if you like San Francisco, you’ll like Berlin. That’s the theory anyway. One thing I do know is that you can cut the revolutionary tension in Berlin’s smoky air with a knife, a palette-knife at that.

With messages such as ‘Hier endet der demokratische Sektor’ (democracy ends here), and “in art we trust”, artists of Berlin’s Tacheles complex are protesting against the clearance and closure of this much-loved and established art-house,  which is a meeting-point for artists and their creations, galleries and sales. It is also a major icon of the city and large tourist trap. Upon entering the main building, which comprises of various floors, I am overwhelmed by the flood of talent before me, walls upon walls covered in every modern art work imaginable; layers upon layers of every concept conceivable. It is clear to see that every artist’s dream is brought into fruition right here.

Saturday 16th April 2011 witnessed the largest protest the site has seen in a while, the key message of which was “Die Mauer muss weg. Berlin ist nicht zu verkaufen.” (the wall must go. Berlin is not for sale”. The disputed site represents over 80 occupants and is widely considered the best part of Berlin’s Mitte district, Berlin’s sector on the Eastern side of the former wall. Tacheles recently received a €1 million payment for all of its members to evacuate. What is strange, however, is that no-one knows exactly who the investor is who intends to close and re-occupy the site so soon, but it has certainly stirred a reaction amongst its bold occupants.

Hundreds upon hundreds of protestors marched the streets of Berlin last weekend causing the Tacheles Verein, Tacheles’ Association to call upon the Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit, to help find a solution to this difficult problem. Martin Reiter, leader of the Tacheles Verein said “Berlin is worth more than the investors are prepared to pay”. The popular site’s true worth is in fact €35 million and has a unique bohemian backyard which I explore. As I sit there in the hippy-court-yard around the back of the main building, I soak up the atmosphere as der Jugend sips on their cocktails in the sand: it is a re-created beach area where abandoned buses from the 80s have been creatively transformed into works of art. It holds a sub-culture of its own, where dreadlocks and ripped-jean-wearing artists go about their business to the theme of booming Caribbean music.

The history behind the building tells of its occupancy shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall: it was formerly a Jewish department store. Upon receipt of the mentioned €1 million, the current proprietor built a 2.5-metre wall inside the art house to ensure the building was secure in preparation for the demonstrations to follow; security personnel were also immediately hired. Reiter then ordered Wowereit to ‘’smash the wall with a hammer’. Sound familiar?

You can see why there is such uproar: hasn’t Berlin been through enough without having its creative soul ripped away in its post-segregation-era? As demonstrations continue this week, the Tacheles website encourages supporters to download an “I support Tacheles”-banner available to print out from the homepage. “Take pictures with it”, they say. You can see supporters displaying their banners in the Tacheles gallery at

In the grand scheme of history, Berlin’s true democratic freedom has not been long underway and I am convinced that their feisty campaign to save the essence of their liberated spirits is a force to be reckoned with.

© Gabriella White – The Culture Cave 2011. All rights reserved

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  1. 09 January 12 at 11:15pm



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