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Jacob Sweetman: This old Haus

This week we are not discussing football, or the darts, or ski jumping. This week I would like to pay tribute to a building that, despite its contradictions and annoyances, is as clear a symbol of Berlin, in my opinion, as any. Tacheles.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: This old Haus
Photo by De-okin (Wikimedia CC)

STOP PRESSES 14.38. At around 2pm on Saturday afternoon, the illegally welded shut doors of Kunsthaus Tacheles were beaten open. Although this is by no means the end of the story, the fact that the artists were allowed once again to work in the old place is a significant and unexpected victory.

STOP PRESSES 18:41: Anonymous security and police locked the doors to Tacheles today at lunchtime. The artists are not permitted entry to retrieve belongings and lifetimes’ worth of their own work. There is a court decision the morning of Mar 23, but I urge everyone to come Tacheles at 12:00 for a demo. We demonstrate to save Tacheles. 

This week is the first time in almost two years that this blog is not about sport – it is about something more tangible and, literally, concrete. It is, for good or ill, about a building that stands for everything that the city around it does, and it reflects the battles raging for that city, within and without.

For almost five years I have been lucky enough to be associated with that beautifully ugly, constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed building in the heart of formerly interesting Mitte – Kunsthaus Tacheles.

For what it’s worth, its piss soaked stairwells have provided me and hundreds of others with an opportunity to be an artist in Berlin. It has welcomed wanderers and thrown artists out the other side. Its blind romanticism has caused inspiration and frustration in equal measure, and the people who simply will not let it die have provided an icon for belligerence, bullheadedness and a refusal to let the bastards grind them down.

A rumour that I have heard endlessly since moving to Berlin is the old one about the demise of Tacheles. It has reverberated around like the ghosts people say clank around the backstage of the beautiful theatre, or like the shrill voices of the tourists in the seemingly unending stairwells have for years. It is at one with the awful sound of a group of dreadlocked Spanish school kids butchering “No Woman, No Cry”, or a tedious circular argument about Dadaist intentions. The rumour is the popular refrain, entitled “You know they’re closing the old Tacheles down”.

Maybe my reticence about writing earlier about the place is because I never believed they would shut the doors, but more likely is that I was simply too lazy and self-consumed, as well as dealing with the important things in life such as writing about innumerable games of football.

The old rumour is closer to coming to fruition than ever. In a saga that has involved politics, art, and our use of public spaces, the remains of the art-house are increasingly shrunken as anonymous security guards fence off spaces and lock down floors and studios.

Hundreds of people collected there last week because it seemed certain that people were finally coming to build a fence around the place, but it was the equivalent of going to a wake, only to turn around to notice the beloved deceased dancing the Hoochie Coo with Grandma by the casket in the corner. In its darkest moments it was great to see the joining together of so many disparate people, each with different interests and ideas.

That the fence builders didn’t come could have been because of the mix inside, people dancing, people breakfasting, people milling around like nothing had ever changed. It is perhaps as likely that they were not coming at all – a game is being played between the owners, HSH Nordbank, an intransigent city, and the artists inside – a group thrown together by circumstance, who cover as broad a spectrum of society as the city itself, and are determined that Berlin needs to have a Tacheles.

This is my personal opinion. Mitte needs to have a Tacheles. Oranienburgerstraße needs to have a Tacheles. The house brings thousands more to the area than the mid-priced cocktail bars, expensive hookers and cheap restaurants that spring up along the street like so many weeds in a broken pavement. It is home to drunks and tourists, misanthropes and wanderers. Everyone is welcome – or at least that is how it has always seemed to me. It is a living museum of art, both good and bad, which is exactly how it should be.

It juts out like a rotten, fag-stained tooth in an otherwise gleaming set of chops, but that is exactly why it remains vital. It is Berlin’s recent history writ large.

In the rooms there that are too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, still exist the memories of its times as a pioneering shopping centre, aching of glamour and possibilities. It is as futuristic as the gadgets shown when it was used by AEG as a show-house. Within its walls I have seen both beautiful and terrible paintings, stunning performances and great bands. I have argued with a Macedonian about the demise of the England football manager, and I have tried to explain the concept of listening to test match cricket on the radio to a German. The exchange of ideas from across the whole world takes place on a daily basis within. It is up to you how you use them.

The fight for Tacheles goes on, and I urge anyone interested in preserving the city from the grubby hands of investors to visit the website here and to start sending out the solidarity emails.

I believe that preserving Tacheles is as important for Berlin and its people as saving Türkiyemspor is, as the rebuilding of the Alte Försterei was, or as the innumerable other stories that I blather on about so regularly are. The time is right. As the word Tacheles itself says, we must speak out clearly.

And then we can talk about sport again.