My second night in Berlin I met a couple of lovely Polish girls, one of whom had been to Berlin before and wanted to revisit an art squat the name of which she could not recall and the location of which she was a little uncertain. We didn’t actually find Tacheles, but in the dark walked past it and ended up at a great little Thai restaurant.
The next day I decided to join an ‘Alternative Berlin’ free walking tour that took in a bunch of street art, art squats and alternative Berlin culture, and we visited Kunsthaus Tacheles [Art House Tacheles] as part of the walking tour. We only had about 45 minutes there, which is by no means enough, and so I decided that I’d come back another day. In the brief time that I was there on the tour I saw a whole lot of awesome graffiti and met a bunch of crazy artists, so returning wasn’t going to be a problem.
I went back the next day and spent most of the day just wandering around, chatting with some of the artists there, having a few drinks and playing with the big fat fluffy cat that lives there. It’s an amazing place that seems to really encapsulate the soul of Berlin and it’s tremendously sad that it is being closed down – the building has been sold off despite ongoing protests. It will be a massive loss to Berlin’s art scene and I wonder if the government realises this; however, given that the artists had cut a deal years ago to pay €1 rent per year, I don’t think they really care when the building and land is worth tens of millions of dollars.
The building housing Tacheles, in what was East Berlin, was originally a department store that had lain abandoned for decades prior to a collective of artists beginning to occupy it in 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall. I wish that I’d been in Berlin about three years earlier, when Tacheles was still fully operational: it used to include ateliers, cafes, exhibition and performance spaces, a cinema and more.
As the building went on the market the services inside Tacheles shut down, and as the final eviction date draws nearer more and more people are leaving. A wall was built blocking the entry to the sculpture garden behind the building, and the artists responded by building a bridge over the wall; this was torn down by riot police the day before my first visit. So I got to see Tacheles in the true twilight era, when the life of the squat is coming to a close despite the efforts of thousands of people – artists, locals, tourists and so on – to prevent its closure. Even in its dying days, the squat was beautiful and inspiring with a number of artist studios still operating and little stalls outside their studios to sell their work.
If you’re interested in seeing more photos of Tacheles, I’ve uploaded most of them to Facebook!