Demonstration of squatters against the gentrification in Berlin. Photo: Berthold Stadler / dapd.
Berlin is facing a crisis of culture. The very thing which makes it unique is the fact it contains so much genuine, subversive culture, from art communities taking over old buildings to club nights in abandoned warehouses. Words like ‘cool’ and ‘alternative’ just don’t work as descriptions, these being in themselves an odd form of branding, somehow turning a naturally-occurring way of doing things into a commercial, arrogant, self-aggrandising ‘trend’. Instead, Berlin, rather than being a financial capital or luxurious getaway, feels like a city in a state of flux, where the history is palpable but change is in the air.
Recently a story caught my eye involving an artist community in Berlin who occupy a building known as the Kunsthaus Tacheles. Tacheles embodies this forward-thinking culture. The former Jewish department store, then Nazi prison, then schools and offices in the GDR and now symbol of a forward-thinking, creative Berlin, is under threat from an evil which strikes fear into tight-knit small communities in all parts of the modern world – gentrification. In this particular case, the occupants of the artists’ commune are under threat from investors, including the current owner of the site HSH Nordbank, who are allegedly behind a successful attempt to bribe some of the current occupants into leaving, with a big fat €1 million cheque.
Some determined artists are clinging on though, hoping that the Berlin senate will step in to buy the complex, after expressing support for the artists’ cause. This seems unlikely though, after a statement suggesting it was not the state’s remit to get involved in private business affairs.
Tacheles is just one of many potential locations for redevelopment in Berlin. Due to a turbulent history, there are plenty of abandoned buildings occupied by artists. Does this mean that this is another step on the path towards total gentrification of Berlin? Indeed, it would take a long time, but slowly, surely, Berlin is becoming more and more professional, whipped-into-shape and glossy – losing its spontaneity and giving into the mundane bureaucracy which has caught other cities such as Frankfurt, and in part, Hamburg. Don’t mistake this for suggesting they are losing their energy and vibrancy – but still the pure raw character has been choked out by rules, regulations, commercialism and consumerism.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, Germany needs to protect its unique assets in its culture. Tacheles is just one example, keeping Berlin attractive, contemporary and special, without the highly-polished but lifeless commercial centres which such investment in change seems to bring. Preserving Berlin’s identity something money can’t buy.