Thursday, December 01, 2005

Guide: Berlin - Kunsthaus Tacheles

(Photo: Kunsthaus Tacheles from behind)
Berlin Places: Kunsthaus Tacheles

The crumbling structure of the Kunsthaus Tacheles on the Oranienburger Strasse in Mitte seems in stark contrast to the new and renovated buildings that surround it on one of the major tourist streets in Berlin Mitte. Famous for those who like their arts and music alternative and experimental, it was squatted by an international band of young artists a few months after the Berlin Wall came down and has since become one of Berlin's cultural icons.


The history of the building is a fascinating one. The 'Tacheles' (which comes from an old Jewish word to mean 'disclose') is housed in what was the entrance way to the Friedrichstadt Passage, a turn of the century department store that was built in 1907. By 1928 the store was bankrupt, and the building sold to AEG, who gave it the name 'House of Technology', and used it as an exhibition space for all the wonders that they were creating to make people's lives easier.

After the Second World War the parts of the building that were beyond repair were torn down, and the rest was left to rot, used as a storage space throughout the East German era whilst the government decided what they wanted to do with the area. Added to the fact that the money just simply wasn't available for renovation, by the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the building had deteriorated to a state of near-collapse.

Then came the artists. Living and working in the ruins of the famous old department store, they got on with things whilst the turmoil over who owned what property in the former East swirled around them (the early 1990s was marked by a massive policy to attempt to give back property that had been confiscated first by the Nazis and then appropriated by the East German state).

Eventually the artists and their by now thriving cultural centre got recognition from the Berlin government, and recieved subsidies to help make the building structurally sound as well as finance some of the arts projects that take place there. Added to this there is a cinema and a bar, money raised from which are used to help keep the Kunsthaus Tacheles alive.


Inside the Tacheles you can find a lot of things that might be of interest. There are a number of galleries with various exhibitions taking place, as well as artists studios, some of which are open to visitors who can check out what is being made and created on site.

On the top floor is the 'Blue Salon', also an exhibition space, but one that has been designed to be suitable for performances and parties, and you can often see and hear things going on from the courtyard behind, with huge images being projected onto the bare wall opposite.

On the ground floor there is a metal workshop, where you can buy big metal sculptures (if you want) or just have a look round, as well as the Cafe Zapata, a bar with a metal fire-breathing dragon, as well as the venue for live music and club nights from local and international acts of all shades of sound. Added to this the Tacheles building also includes a two-screen cinema, the High End 54, that shows everything from the arthouse independent movies you would expect, as well as American and British movies in the original language, often of the more left-field variety (think Tim Burton or Jim Jarmusch).

There is often a beer garden out the back in summer, and a number of weird and wonderful sculptures and living quarters (maybe) out there the whole year around. To this Brit, the whole Tacheles complex feels a bit like a slice of Glastonbury in the middle of the big city, and it is probably only Berlin, with its unique history, where something like this could have grown up on what is probably one of the most expensive and sought-after plots of real-estate in the German capital.

A prime example of what makes Berlin so special, and why we live here...

More Info: The Kunsthaus Tacheles is at Oranienburger Strasse 54-56, 10117 Berlin-Mitte. Nearest Transport: U6 to Oranienburger Tor, or S1 or S2 to Oranienburger Strasse. Trams M1, M6 and M12 also stop near by. Friedrichstrasse station is about a five minute walk way.

Tacheles on the map: Berlin Stadtplan


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