Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Berlin's arthouse cleared

Published 11.9.2012
A Berlin art house that drew countless artists and tourists to its ramshackle charm has closed down after 22 years. Artists, supporters and tourists all over the world have been upset by the news, many saying it signals the end of Berlin’s alternative, bohemian appeal.
Berlin's KunsthausTacheles (art house Tacheles) had a long and varied history, it was built in the 1900s as a department store and was later used by the Nazis for meetings and holding political prisoners. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was taken over by a collective of artists who had kept it as an independent non-profit art house until it was evicted last week.
Tacheles was a five-storey tourist magnet in the Mitte district, the walls inside and out were adorned with graffiti and street art. Sculptures and bedraggled furniture were dotted around the space, and a man-made beach all added to its uniqueness.
While the legality of the artist collective occupying the building had always been shaky, in 2008 the collectives' lease on the building expired, as its last owner went bankrupt, causing the property to go under the forced administration of HSH Nordbank.
Since 2011 there has been serious eviction threats, which came to fruition in early September after squatters gave up the fight, after going to court, petitioning, protesting and trying to raise funds to buy the building themselves.
Wellington artist Dylan Bakker has been living in Berlin for the past three years, and was heavily involved in Tacheles, using it to create, exhibit and sell his work.
A screen printer and musician, he found one of the prominent traits unique to Tacheles was its openness to artists and tourists alike.
''Tacheles was an open, free space where the doors were never closed and anyone could come through. This promoted free art and collaboration from an international group of outsider artists.''
Tacheles allowed artists to produce work free of the commercial pressure that they may have found in other galleries. The worldwide fame of the Tacheles brought a broad audience, and artists could sell directly to the public.
Bakker called the eviction a sign of the times, saying it reflects Berlin succumbing to the pressures of gentrification.
''Unfortunately the city sees in black and white, in dollar signs and capitalism, and it is natural that a place like Tacheles, which exists in between the lines, was under threat.''
Photographer Petrov Anher was also dedicated to campaigns to save it from closing, as he considered it one of the last remaining living symbols of the cultural identity of Berlin.
He believed the closure would leave a dent in what makes Berlin attractive for visitors and artists, and that Tacheles had helped put Berlin on the international art map.
While the Tacheles undoubtedly held significant culture and tourism pull, attracting people looking for the edgy, creative side of Berlin, its closure has sparked strong emotions from its fans, like New Zealander Sophie Hughes who visited late last year, and was moved by Tacheles' artistic and social importance.
''It was living and breathing - unlike a monument or a museum it has the ability to cross boundaries and continue to unite people and causes.''
As a tourist, she found it attractive because it gave her an understanding of these alternative ways of life, by directly interacting with the artists, which she says ''makes it so much more of an experience.''
''I think the space encompassed and represented the creative essence of Berlin, which in my opinion is a huge draw card for visiting in the first place, so in that respect it is a huge shame (it closed).’’
Likewise, New Zealand dancer Josephine Searles has visited Tacheles three times since February last year.
''When I first saw it, I hadn't even known of its existence, however I enjoyed it so much and thought it so iconic to Berlin that I brought friends to see it on subsequent trips.. it was unlike anywhere I had been before, and I had a lot of admiration for the concept and principles behind it.''
While the sprawling five-floor building can no longer host people like Hughes and Searles, the artists say they will keep creating their work in any spaces they can find in Berlin because, as Tacheles spokesperson Linda Cerna says, “Tacheles is more than a building, it is the strong belief in the freedom of art, the belief that without free and open spaces for art, there is no art.”