Tucked away in the Jewish quarter of Mitte, Berlin, a near-derelict building now lays idle; covered in graffiti, posters pasted to the doors and wooden boards leant up against broken windows. To the unobservant, it could be another abandoned building awaiting demolition, to be re-erected as another starbucks or a shiny block of flats. Step beyond the doors and it becomes apparent that it is anything but. Now known as Tacheles [a yiddish term for straight talking or to bring to a close], this building has a bigger story to tell than it may first seem.
Tacheles started its life as Friedrichstrasse Passage, a department store in the early 1900’s. Since then it has been front row and centre stage to some of the world's biggest events of the last 100 years. Housing Nazi administrators for a short time during World War Two, it withstood considerable bombing. The building also fell victim to the demolishment of the Berlin Wall in ‘89. It’s had a bit of a rough ride over the years. Considered a ruin and with plans being made to demolish the veteran building, the avant-garde group Künstlerinitative Tacheles [Artist Initiative] illegally made it their home in 1990. Determined to protect the historic structure, they refused to leave despite heightening pressure from authorities and developers who wanted to redevelop the area, destroying this relic of the Berlin artistic community. Künstlerinitative Tacheles held fast for 21 years.
Having adopted their new home, these artists created a community for themselves, boasting their own nightclub, cinema, art studios, performance spaces, restaurants and a cafe, all united under one name and purpose. Tacheles became a breeding ground for independent art, culture and freedom of expression. It soon became a popular tourist attraction as many became fascinated (myself included) by the defiance and commitment of such a diehard group of artists. To me, it seemed only fitting that it should be in Berlin that a place like this should thrive. History sculpted the city, social and political turmoil taught it it’s lessons and made it one of the most accepting and contemporary cities the world has to offer; Tacheles seemed to symbolise this.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit Tacheles for myself before its closure. I experienced firsthand the walls and staircases lined with overlapping works of art, from the very simple to the incredibly complex, an indication of the hundreds of thousands of people who had passed through the building, both as visitors and as residents before my arrival. The makeshift huts and stalls muddled together with bits of rope and blankets out of which they sold their jewellery and art displayed the dedication that these people had for their way of life and community as well as the art that they were capable of making.
Of course, it wasn't always plain sailing. External pressures and internal divides threatened the collective of artists on more than one occasion over the years. As the lease of the building reached its end, opinions on the future of Tacheles created a clear divide between “upstairs” [the die-hard artists who had made the building their home for so many years] and “downstairs” [the collective of artists, restaurants, bars and cafes that had opened up on the premises.]
Sadly, gentrification eventual won, as it so often does. The people of Tacheles started to leave in the April of 2011. Around 80 “downstairs” artists being convinced with the help of a hefty €1 million pay off, money which would end up going towards the creation of further artistic programmes. The rest soon followed suit in 2012 following pressure from the landlord. However, the people of Metallwerkstatt, the metal workshops, remain determined to not be moved to this day, refusing to be bribed out of their well earned home.
Tacheles’ message of the importance of art and the struggle against the diluting forces of consumerism and capitalism still resonate to this day. Despite the pressure of the government and businesses that tried to drive them off their plot, the artists of Tacheles made themselves a part of Berlin’s culture and community. Here at CMMNTY, we take inspiration from this story, creating a haven for independent artists to collaborate and produce well made, honest and artistically stunning products.