Symbol of Berlin's subculture under threat

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city's subculture has developed within the vast halls of the Tacheles squat. Today, the legendary venue is threatened with closure, but the artists working there refuse to leave without a fight.


Correspondant in Berlin

Behind the crumbling and pockmarked façade of the Tacheles, Berlin's most famous squat, the party is over. On January 5th the artists, who have occupied the enormous space for the past 19 years, were issued eviction orders. But they have decided to stay put.


Artists from all over the world flocked to Berlin when the Wall fell in 1989, with one group taking over Tacheles. The venue quickly came to symbolise Berlin's underground culture, surviving both the influx of tourists and the commercialisation of the arts scene.


Originally built in 1906 as a department store, Tacheles enjoys a prime location in the central city district of Mitte. Partly bombed during the Second World War, and left as a ruin by the communist East German authorities, the building enjoyed a renaissance during the 1990s when the artists moved in. They transformed the 30,000 m2 ruin into an art gallery, decorated the courtyards with sculptures and paintings and set up a cinema, a theatre and a bar. Since then, hundreds of artists have used the building's 31 ateliers. But with this latest eviction order, the iconic venue's days are numbered.

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Ten years ago the association which administers Tacheles signed a contract with the artists, allowing them to stay on until December 31st. The owners, a group of investors who declined to be interviewed, have now decided to sell the building to the highest bidder. As this is one of the last free spaces in one of Berlin's most fashionable areas, there certainly won't be a shortage of offers.


But the artists are not giving up so easily. They have launched a petition calling for state subsidies and intend to make a bid themselves to buy the space. "We have the necessary means to do so," confirmed the press spokesperson for Tacheles, Linda Cerna. The artists have invested more than 300,000 euros in the property, she says, which should be considered as an initial down-payment. On the market it is estimated that Tacheles should fetch around 75 million euros.


In the meantime, Spanish artist Txus Parras, one of the first squatters to occupy Tacheles, is convinced the artists will win. "They can't throw us out. And even if they try, demonstrations and protests will put pay to that. We were the first to occupy this space. And by creating Tacheles, we have contributed to Berlin's new identity," he said. Parras' ideal would be to go back to the good old days, when artists lived together and art wasn't seen as a business. With this aim in mind, he has set up an association to take Tacheles back to its origins.


Tacheles may no longer be the rebellious squatters' paradise it once was. But now a listed building, the site attracts some 300,000 visitors every year. Many come to see one of the last remnants of the wild days after the fall of the Wall, when land was up for grabs and the party never ended -- A memory which will be wiped out by the property's impending auction.

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