Oranienburger Str. 54-56a
10117 Berlin, Germany
“Tacheles” is an old Jewish word meaning to disclose, to reveal or to speak clearly. The slang meaning of the word was bringing to an end. The Art-Centre Tacheles is situated in a ruin in Berlin Mitte. Located in former East Berlin, the area was a Jewish quarter in the past and has now become a meeting point for people interested in arts and culture and for those who think they are. The building itself was the entrance of the Friedrichstadt-Passage, a huge shopping mall built in 1907. Within a relatively short time, the department store went bankrupt, and in 1928 the house was taken over by AEG, that founded the Haus der Technik, a display and marketing space for their products. In Word War II parts of the building were used by the Nazi Party for administration and organization departments, and in the 5th floor French prisoners of war were detained. Between 1943 and 1945 during the allied air raids the building was hit by bombs several times and got partly damaged, but not completely destroyed. After 1948, one side of the building was still used for many different purposes, but the other side was slowly torn down, step-by-step, as the East Berlin government had no funds to restore it properly and for the distant future they had other plans for this area. So meanwhile, the house became just a storage for building material. The very last structure still standing was planned to be demolished in April 1990. In Febuary 1990 the building was discovered and taken over by a group of young artists from all over the world and in the meantime it has been declared a historical architectural monument, regarding its special steel construction. After the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, a subculture which had its main focus on autonomy, spontaneity and improvisation arose in the former East Berlin areas Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain. Artists and individualists from all over the world used the plurality of available free spaces to put alternative lifestyles to the test. Due to the individualistic character of the building and the mass of creative activities taking place, the Tacheles soon became famous. Right from the start, Tacheles was a centre of development and realization of individual ways of thinking, of the creative contamination of art and living as well as the testing of artistically and urban ideas. Many international artists staged performances or concerts here, exhibited paintings, sculptures and installations. This essential thought still exists today and the program was even extended further by staging and organizing performances, theatre, various workshops, poetry and special events.
During its existence, Tacheles in its function as an international arts centre has greatly influenced and formed the surrounding area in a positive as well as in a negative sense. By now the once creative surrounding area has mutated to a napless trend quarter. Tacheles also attained recognition from the Berlin government and receives a varying amount of subsidy every year in order to help finance a part of its many projects. Other money is raised through commercial enterprises such as the cinema and the bar. Because of its special architecture and the “ruin appearance” of the rearside and due to its 13 years of activities in the international arts field, “Kunsthaus Tacheles” became quite a celebrity on a national and international scale and is also listed in many travel guides of Berlin. In the course of changes since the wall came down, Tacheles has been confronted with the difficult challenge of remaining true to its roots and ideals without becoming too sentimental about the old squatter times.
Tacheles certainly has an interesting history and varied past. Now the building is run by a group responsible for the curation, or at least booking, of the spaces (I believe three exhibition areas) and studio assignment. Artists can apply to hold a studio for six months with an optional six month extension. Artists are apparently encouraged to leave after the year so that the dynamic continually changes.
The building itself is very rough and does not appear to have sufficient, if any climate controls. Graffiti covers the walls, many layers thick. Studios and exhibition spaces exist from the third floor and up. Some are more welcoming than others. Some have clearly marked areas and others seem to just be in the hall or a tucked away corner. The nicest space, in my opinion, is the top floor. Natural light from above fills the area.
The spaces do not always play host to art. Their website indicates that they hold concerts and parties as well. The art and artists that occupy the building are of various levels of accomplishment. Some is quite amazing, others needs serious rethinking, while most is rough around the edges, just like the space.
From those who we talked with, the bar owners and artists are a bit at odds. The artists feel that the bar owners should further support the studio spaces, but with the rent for the entire building soon to be open for negotiation, the buildings owners are likely to request more and the bar will undoubtedly become more protectionist. Serious changes could be in the immediate future.
Special note: ignore those who are obviously “impaired” and the pot salesman, unless that is your sort of thing.
Having now visted Tacheles on two occations I have two opinions based on two totally different experiences. Entering this building which houses artists studios, bars and even a movie theatre for the first time I felt like we (the cartographers) were written off immediately as typical Americans (pop-loving tourists). Our server basically ignored us, and I even had this feeling that she was talking about us to her collegue. It was very uncomfortable. However, when we went back to further investigate our server engaed us, spoke to us in English without a hint of discontent, and even asked what music we would like to hear as we rested. It was great to hear the sounds of ‘Tool’ in stark contrast to the typical American Pop music so rampant in the cafes. He was even generous enough to do an internet search, seeking out future destinations for us and open enough to reveal of bit of his story, playing a few tracks of his original musical works.
The search for a friendly space that accepts us and allows us to integrate seemlessly has been difficult thus far and at best, inconsistent. Is it the space that holds these people, or is it the people who will lead us to this space that we seek?
Questions-yet to be answered.
After a third visit to Tacheles, I get the feeling that it is in serious jeopardy. It has become a tourist destination, and unfortunately not because of the art which is now secondary to the space itself. Tacheles has become too valuable as a tourist destination and will only hold on to what will increasingly become “art” to keep the bars packed.