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Saving Berlin's tatty temple to art

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Saving Berlin's tatty temple to art
Tacheles before it was renovated in 1997. Photo: DPA
17:55 CET+01:00
Berlin's legendary artist collective Tacheles has long had a tenuous relationship with the building's owners. Gert-Andreas Oberfell explains why the group is hoping to raise €3.5 million to secure its future in the heart of the German capital.

A tatty temple to art housed in abandoned ruin of a department store in eastern Berlin, the former squat Tacheles quickly became a symbol of the city's thriving art scene that rose following the fall of the Wall. As reunified Berlin changed around it, the inhabitants have remained a creative constant on the now touristy Oranienburger Strasse. Tired of dealing with the building's owners, the association Tacheles e.V. is now making a push to buy the property it has filled with life for the past two decades years.

Kunsthaus Tacheles has established itself as a self-administered, public cultural centre since shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's a place not only included in every guidebook as a must-see, but one which has also become an established workshop and event space. It is well-known way beyond the borders of Berlin and has undoubtedly contributed to the city's image as a creative and tolerant place.

Whether it is the morbid charm and unfinished nature which attracts so many creative spirits remains open to question. Sadly though, the further development of the building is continually blocked by the opaque question of ownership.

The owner, Johannishof Entwicklungs GmbH (a subsidiary of Fundus AG) is in receivership. And although the consortium of creditors, centred around HSH Nordbank, originally told the media it was prepared to extend the rental contract to Tacheles, this was withdrawn shortly before the New Year. The current contract expired on December 31, 2008 and a compulsory auction is currently being prepared. For Tacheles e.V., this situation, where the legalities and future are so unclear, is unbearable.

Potential financial independence from public grants was to be achieved once extensive renovations were completed in 2002 with rental and leasing agreements. But at about the same time, a main source of income – Cafe Zapata – stopped its payment of rent and operating costs to Tacheles e.V. In the subsequent years these people concerned tried three times, using bogus membership meetings, to take over the building, all of which failed. It would not be so far-fetched to imagine that the attempted takeovers were designed to rid themselves of the rising debts (now standing at nearly €300,000).

That under such conditions, public financial support remains elusive, would seem reasonable – after all, there would be the danger that public money would indirectly cover the deficit from the lack of rent payments. But the building is being punished twice – from the lack of public funding and the missing rent.

Although Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit has recently spoken out in favour of preserving the artistic collective, his culture officials are singing a different tune, saying no artistic impulse is currently coming from Tacheles. Apart from the fact that the board from Tacheles e.V. is also not always satisfied with what is on offer (that is always the risk taken in supporting the next generation), Tacheles artist Tim Roloeffs was chosen to be Berlin's cultural ambassador in 2008.

The charitable association Tacheles e.V. has, for more than seven years now, run a consistently innovative and alternative cultural programme, without any public assistance. It allocates 30 artists' ateliers at cost price to domestic and foreign artists, pays its taxes and, between 2000 and 2002, secured €300,000 of investment for building work from federal grants, donations and outside sources – not counting the endless hours of work the association itself put in.

It requires a very high level of courage and motivation to remain true to the aims of Tacheles despite countless run-ins with drug dealers and the far-right scene. On top of such difficulties, unpaid rent makes it nearly impossible to support the artists and run a continuous culture programme. But where is there a comparable cultural space in Berlin that is run on a charitable basis and without public funding?

Tacheles has been declared a myth, one which used to stage great cultural events but one many now claim is destroying itself. The press often suggests the association is insolvent, even though it's the building's owners who are insolvent. The association has nothing to do with this – unless it means we might at some point have a different landlord.

However, the continuation of Kunsthaus Tacheles is questionable without imminent clarification of the group's lease and the building's ownership situation. For that, we need €3.5 million.

Gert-Andreas Oberfell is a member of the Tacheles e.V. supervisory board.

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