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Tacheles: The saga continues

LATEST NEWS! On Apr 16 there will be a demonstration by Tacheles e.V. in front of Tacheles at 15:00 called Die Mauer Muss Weg against a new wall erected in Berlin, this one only in Mitte.

Image for Tacheles: The saga continues
Photo by Alexander McBride

Update (Apr 15, 2011): Tacheles e.V., now the only group left out of the original two in the Tacheles building (Gruppe Tacheles being the other), will stage a demonstration in front of Tacheles at 15:00 tomorrow entitled Die Mauer Muss Weg, against the water shut off in sections of Tacheles and the subsequent construction on April 10 of a wall by HSH Nordbank under the archway.

The message is a direct address to Klaus Wowereit and follows the open letter published online by Martin Reiter, the head of Tacheles e.V., arguing against real estate speculation, the inflated raising of rents in community spaces and the underhanded pressure tactics employed by HSH Nordbank and other investors in an attempt to squeeze the artists out of Tacheles once and for all. The demonstration will include readings by Reiter, Linda Cerna and Hüseyin Arda, and performances by Alexandr Rodin, Mitrich and iXeS studiotheater, amongst others. Klaus Wowereit and Renate Künast have been invited by the group to speak; it will be a surprise to many if they do.

Tacheles e.V. is the oldest faction in the building, having held space there for 21 years, and after Gruppe Tacheles accepted their €1 million anonymous offer to leave last week, Tacheles e.V. has become the only group of artists at the precarious art-house with a voice. And perhaps with a bit of political influence, though exactly how strong remains to be seen.

Update (Apr 8, 2011): There has been another twist in the constantly evolving story of Tacheles. Just a day after Gruppe Tacheles, a faction of outside artists’ studios and ground floor businesses within the Tacheles compound, vowed to fight on and remain at the troubled arthouse, on April 5 an internal decision was made to accept the anonymous offer of €1 million – apparently back on the table – and vacate. About 80 artists have left from the outside artists’ camp in back of the building, and businesses Cafe Zapata and Studio 54 have been closed. To the casual visitor, this means the look and feel of Tacheles has already been radically changed.

According to Tim Africa, who resigned as the spokesman for Gruppe Tacheles amidst news of the accepted offer, this was a gut-wrenching decision to make. The decision was made by the heads of the five internal companies that comprise Gruppe Tacheles, and not everyone in the Gruppe supports it. As Africa tells it, they were between a rock and a hard place. HSH Nordbank told them they had to pay more than a half a million euros they didn’t have, or they would be sued. Appealing to the Senate for help, Gruppe Tacheles was advised to take the money and leave -an interesting reaction from a government who has publicly pledged to be on the side of preserving the institution. It became too difficult for Gruppe Tacheles to continue due to infighting, lack of financial support and governmental backing. “The fact that we couldn’t work together as a whole was a factor. The government wasn’t supporting something that was divided internally. We just couldn’t stay here, people were calling us fascists. It was unbearable.”

What’s to become of Tacheles for the moment remains uncertain. Tacheles e.V., the group of artists’ studios inside the Tacheles building, is continuing on with a schedule of performances and exhibitions. The Emma Goldman Hotel and the metal workers are staying. The €1 million will not be divided equally amongst the members of Gruppe Tacheles; it will go to those who have been there the longest, the heads of the internal five companies and their assistants, money to sustain them until Gruppe Tacheles can form something else, somewhere else. Whichever sides they are on, all of the internal factions of Tacheles seem to agree that this has been an exhausting, tense and sad week. Says Africa, “I cried more tears in four days than in 20 years before. I gave everything to save this place and it wasn’t enough. I’m sorry. Tacheles is a legend, a free space. It has to be kept for future generations. Now, it won’t be.”

Update (Apr 4, 2011): Another chapter in the Tacheles story saw its anticipated public auction (un)dramatically cancelled just an hour before it was scheduled to begin and there seems to be no definitive answer as to why. What is known? On April 4, excavators started dismantling some of the artists’ studios behind Tacheles, destroying some of the famed artwork in the process. The deconstruction was ordered to a halt when the auction was cancelled, but damage had already been done to the art-squat-cum-tourist-trap.

Within the varying factions of the Tacheles bunch, there are always seems to be 20 different versions of the truth, and today’s events prove no exception.

On April 3, Tim Africa of Gruppe Tacheles said they accepted an anonymous offer sent through a lawyer to evacuate the premises for €1 million and began packing their bags. The money never materialized the following day, prompting speculation as to who was actually behind the mysterious offer.

Gruppe Tacheles’ former conviction to remain at Tacheles has since been renewed. “We can’t leave. Our hearts are here,” Africa told us. Africa also told us that for the moment, Café Zapata and Studio 54 aren’t going anywhere either.

Martin Reiter of the “real” Tacheles e.V. feels that sinister machinations were at play, citing a “dirty backroom deal” as the cause of the auction cancellation. Details of the supposed deal include HSH Nordbank and a third party, Karl-Heinz Müller, the managing director of urban fashion trade show Bread & Butter.

As to whether the public auction will be rescheduled, if the in-fighting within Oranienburger Straβe’s favourite contested hotspot ever clears, maybe they could get a clearer vision of the future. But for now, Tacheles has officially not been sold, what that means? No one seems to be able to say.

Art-squat, tourist trap, architectural monument: on April 4 Tacheles gets auctioned off to the highest bidder, leaving the building’s hotly contested future wide open.

Behind the Kunsthaus Tacheles, Hüseyin Arda’s mammoth metal-work sculptures guard the Johannishof, a labyrinth of containers and makeshift marquees, with doors fashioned from driftwood and corrugated plastic. Out of them, artists and craftsmen sell their works.

By 2008, the Johannishof was meant to be a hotel development, but the Fundus Investment Group, which bought the 27,500 sq. metre property from the city in 1998, declared bankruptcy in 2007. Since then, a gallery shantytown has sprung up, a labyrinth of its own that rivals the endless stairs and doors, 30 artists studios, and the theatre and cinema comprising the five floors of the Kunsthaus itself.

The Kunsthaus Tacheles e.V. artist collective that runs the building had paid Fundus a peppercorn rent of 50 cents per sq. metre per month. The property’s principle owner is now HSH Nordbank, which wants to see some money. The entire site goes on auction on April 4.

Last month, Tacheles celebrated its 21st birthday. On March 2, Cafe Zapata and Studio54 on the ground floor were scheduled for eviction. There were five attempted clearances last year alone, avoided by legal fencing. At the last moment, both were saved from eviction by a legal technicality in the filing of the eviction claim. It is said that further attempts at eviction will continue.

As change looms, Tacheles is having to come to terms with its own diversity. Every artist, drifter, volunteer and worker has his own idea of Tacheles: utopia, gallery, ship of fools, monument, artists’ haven.

The main division is between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. ‘Upstairs’ the artists form the coterie around organizer Martin Reiter, chairman of Tacheles e.V., the association that was formed in 1994 but went bankrupt in 2010. ‘Downstairs’ around 20 businesses like High End Kino 54 and Café Zapata, together with the Johannishof artists not represented by the e.V., have formed Gruppe Tacheles. Its spokesman, Spex journalist and musician Tim Africa, has established a strong online presence for the group, calling publicly for unity and baiting the e.V. with calls for it to abandon its “anal empire”.

Reiter’s e.V. does not acknowledge Gruppe Tacheles’ existence. Its volunteers lobby city authorities and invite them to exhibitions. Artist exchanges in Italy and Belarus with support from those authorities win outreach points in Berlin, and joint projects with Emerson and Abnormals galleries establish links to the commercial sector. The e.V.’s theatre is used by the Volksbühne.

Both factions want the state to repossess the property. The e.V. wants to strengthen its government ties and clear out the businesses it believes attract tourist pub-crawlers who piss in the stairwells, and are parasites on the “real” Tacheles. Securing the Kunsthaus would leave some 25,000 sq. metres of vacant land, whichCerna suggests could be developed in public-private partnerships, providing funds for artistic activities. Tacheles would be brought up to health and safety code, and become Berlin’s “missing Kunsthalle”. Martin Reiter told EXBERLINER he would also create more artist studios. Recently mayor Klaus Wowereit’s office said it wants Tacheles, a protected building, to remain a centre for art and promised to negotiate with whoever wins the April auction.

Dutch artist Tim Roeloffs, Wowereit-nominated Berlin Ambassador for Art, is Tacheles’ most successful export. He dismisses its conflicts as germane to all societies. In 21 years Tacheles has outlasted many governments, he says. “In 1992, Berlin was a playground for people who wanted to do something. Those days are gone. But Berlin is still living from that Aufbruchstimmung [spirit of awakening].” He continued, “People who want to do something come here. Berlin should be careful. There are all these books you can buy on Berlin street art. But that street art has gone. It’s been painted over.”