‘Focus on what’s really important’: Berlin artists’ colony finds creative solution to shutdown

In her sun-soaked Berlin living room, Ingrid Ihnen-Haas belted out Edith Piaf songs into a microphone -- part of a collective effort to help entertain a country confined to their homes by the coronavirus pandemic.

'Focus on what's really important': Berlin artists' colony finds creative solution to shutdown
A nearby Wilmersdorf playground, which was officially closed on March 20th due to the shutdown. Photo: DPA

“Especially for elderly people who have to stay at home, the concept of 'concerts in your living room' is brilliant,” said Ihnen-Haas, 71.

With concert halls, restaurants and most shops shut, public life in Germany has ground to a halt as the population is urged to stay home to help contain the spread of the virus.

Ihnen-Haas and fellow residents of an “artists' colony” in southwest Berlin have joined voices to record albums, audiobooks or readings to share online.

The former social worker who sings regularly in small venues across the capital has now turned her living room into a recording studio.

READ ALSO: The show must go on: How cultural life has moved online in Germany

Outside in a common area, comedian Cornelia Schönwald is sitting on a bench, reading aloud from a short story by Erich Kästner, a classic of German children's literature.

Her reading, accompanied by the chirping of sparrows, is being filmed by Christian Sekula, one of the leaders of the association that manages cultural life in the colony.

He will later edit the recording and put it up on the website of the association, which usually stages plays and other cultural activities.

“Right now I don't have any bookings,” said Schönwald, whose calendar quickly emptied as Berlin's cultural life came to a standstill over the past few weeks.

But far from lamenting her fate, she's convinced there are benefits to this time when everyone is being forced to take their foot off the pedal.

It's “enriching because it allows us to focus on what's really important,” she said.

“Perhaps, as artists, we have a different relationship with the highs and lows of existence. We are more used to them,” she added, referring to the precarious nature of work as an artist.

'Social crisis'

The artists' colony in Wilmersdorf was founded in 1927 when two artists' associations bought three buildings and turned them into affordable accommodation for the city's musicians, actors and writers.

An aerial shot of the artists' colony in 1995. Photo: DPA

Back then, the arts were thriving in Berlin, with theatres and nightclubs buzzing with scenes like those from the musical “Cabaret.”

The cluster of 80 homes comprises inner courtyards where bright yellow daffodils add a splash of colour to the 1920s architecture.

Nobel Prize winning German author Günther Grass lived not far from here, as did philosopher Hannah Arendt, before she was expelled by the Nazis.

The homes are still reserved for artists and intellectuals, active or retired, with a modest income.

For jobbing actors and musicians or for painters who have seen their exhibitions postponed or cancelled, the COVID-19 crisis is an existential one.

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“Those who work only two or three days a week have no financial reserves. A social crisis is brewing,” Sekula said.

Despite their own worries, the residents of the complex will continue to support each other and provide the small services that make up the fabric of community life.

“The last guy who moved in went out to get me some drinks,” said Gerda Schulz, an 82-year-old retired flamenco dancer who is currently only going out once a day for an early-morning walk.

Meanwhile, Ihnen-Haas continues to belt out songs from her living room, blue glasses and dishevelled hair completing her look.

There may be no live performances, no club nights and no can-can girls in Berlin today. But in Wilmersdorf, at least, life is still a cabaret.

By Yannick Pasquet

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‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.


Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music