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Art icon Tacheles shrinks after €1-million payout

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Photo: DPA
17:29 CEST+02:00
The hip artists' squat Tacheles is slimming down. The Berlin icon will be a quieter and more modest affair after half the occupants announced on Tuesday they had accepted €1 million to leave.

The bars, restaurants and outdoor artists’ studios that hundreds of thousands of visitors have become used to seeing in recent years have already closed. Gruppe Tacheles, representing about 80 occupants of the disputed site, say they have accepted a €1 million payment to leave. They have handed over their keys and left the premises.

A further 80 loosely grouped artists – who are separate from Gruppe Tacheles and indeed have an antagonistic relationship with them – are staying.

“We’re going on with our programme as usual,” said Tacheles spokeswoman Linda Cerna. “We have a great premier tomorrow (Wednesday) with the Rosie Kay Dance Company from Britain and an exhibition opening on Friday.”

However, it will be a quite different-looking Tacheles to the sprawling, bustling complex – complete with indoor and outdoor bars, restaurants, a cinema and a large, outdoor marquee housing artists’ workshops – that it has become in recent years. Those are all being removed after the Gruppe Tacheles agreed to leave.

The graffiti-smothered squat has for years been the subject of a byzantine saga pitting developers and a major bank against the artists and different artist factions against one another. Occupied soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former Jewish department store in Berlin’s Mitte district became the capital’s best-known bohemian hang-out and a major tourist attraction. The city of Berlin strongly supports the project, though it has stopped short of offering to buy the site and maintain it as a cultural venue.

Eventually, as the forces of gentrification changed the area, the artists in Tacheles have come under increasing pressure to get out. The effective owner of the site, HSH Nordbank, has been trying to evict the artists and sell the property. A planned auction for the site on Monday was postponed at the last minute.

Complicating matters is the fact that nobody can or will say where the €1 million payment has come from. HSH Nordbank spokeswoman Gesine Dähn said the bank was not behind the payment and did not know who – if anyone – had made it. Gruppe Tacheles spokesman Tim Africa said the money had come anonymously via Berlin lawyers Schultz und Seldeneck.

Africa defended the group’s decision to take the money in return for leaving the premises despite just a week ago vowing to fight on.

“The time is over and we’re really way past deadline. That was the overwhelming feeling in the group,” he said.

They had accepted the payout because they could no longer continue the legal fight to stay, he said. The money would be used for “a new cultural project” once various costs including legal expenses had been settled. However, he refused to say which individuals were actually receiving the payout and added that the group’s leading members, including co-founder Ludwig Eben, operator of the now-closed Zapata Café, would not comment on their decision.

Tacheles spokeswoman Cerna said the remaining artists were not surprised that Gruppe Tacheles had accepted the payout.

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“I don’t think any of the artists are sad they’re leaving,” she said.

Tony Sykes, who manages the Dutch artist Tim Roeloffs – perhaps Tacheles’ most prominent son – said the remaining artists planned to stay and keep Tacheles going as a cultural icon.

“We are going to carry on. Tim Roeloffs is going to carry on and we wouldn’t sell off 20 years of cult-status legacy,” he said.

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