There are a few places in the world I have visited which no longer exist and, if they do exist still, it’s not in the same way as when I discovered them. One such place is Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) in Berlin, Germany. I had heard about Tacheles, the great art squat of Berlin, and in January 2011 it was top on my list of “must visit” locations. When we landed in Berlin it was minus six and the following morning we woke up to a fresh covering of snow. I dragged my boys out of their cosy hotel beds and, after a breakfast of cold meat and rye bread, we put our boots on and headed out. There was no problem getting about, even in the snow. The pavements, roads and train tracks were cleared with German efficiency!
We headed to the Mitte District where I was hoping Tacheles would be easy to find (nothing seemed easy to find in Berlin, it remains a city of mystery). The building had been built as a department store originally, it also served as a Nazi prison for a short time before being partially demolished. It was not a difficult place to find and as I stood on the pavement opposite I couldn’t wait to go inside.
I was glad we had climbed to the top of the building before going round the back to the sculpture park because upon looking back I saw that half the building was missing! Tacheles is a vast building built over 900 square meters, with five floors and a framework of reinforced concrete. The staircase inside is pretty awesome, every surface has been covered with graffiti, making it hard to know sometimes if one was going up or down the stairs.
It was after the Berlin Wall had come down that artists took over the building, and it was these artists who named it Tacheles (which is Yiddish for “straight talking”). In its early days it contained studios, workshops, a cinema and a nightclub as well as the sculpture garden outside. In the mid 1990s a developer called the Fundus Group bought the site from the Berlin government and gave the artists a ten year lease in 1998 at a nominal rent of 50 cents.
The artists became squatters in 2009 when their (extended) contract expired. Finally the house closed on the 4th of September 2012 although Tacheles Metallwerkstatt (sculpture park) remained open until March 2013. I liked the sculpture park more than the building, it had a fantastic underground arty vibe, which was probably accentuated by one of the squatters playing techno music at 11am in the snow. I thought at the time how much I would like to visit again, but as that is no longer possible I am incredibly glad I went whilst I had the chance!