Early last year, I stood in front of Kunsthaus Tacheles, the art center in Berlin which reminded me a lot of Christiania in Copenhagen, not only because of the artwork but primarily because of the informal nature of the residence, too.
Unlike Christinia, however, whose residents succeeded in getting enough funds to buy their property from the government, Tacheles surrendered in September 2012.
Kunsthaus Tacheles (Arthouse Tacheles) used to be a department store in the early 1900s, and had undergone several identity changes throughout the century, from being a showroom to becoming a prison during the second World War.
After the war, the building was set to be torn down, until an art activist group from East Germany took over the place when the Berlin Wall came down. They declared the site a cultural hub and named the place “Tacheles,” a Yiddish word which means “truth.”
Through the years, the government and previous owners supported the group, called Künstlerinitative Tacheles (Artists’ Initiative Tacheles), calling the site a historic landmark. Unfortunately, with the change of ownership came change of plans, and the 80 or so resident artists had to finally move out of Tacheles on the first week of September last year.
Early last year, a colleague I met on oDesk took me to Kunsthaus Tacheles. She knew a lot of the artists, and as we walked up the building, she told me about its history. At one point, she wanted to take my picture, asking me to pose by the graffiti-covered landing on the stairs.
Being Filipino, I automatically smiled for the camera. I was taken aback by her reaction to my smile; she said that there was nothing in the place to smile about. The artists there would soon be homeless, and for that alone, I should pay my respect. Properly chastised, I presented a somber face for the photo opp.
At the time we visited, the place which used to be alive with a number of people of varying artistic tendencies was mostly empty. Floor after floor, there was no one and nothing except the art on the walls, eerie images in psychedelic colors that seemed to be the stuff of nightmares.
Groups of people had wanted to save Tacheles. They saw it as a powerful symbol of the Berlin art scene. Others, however, saw the eviction of the artists as a move that had been long-delayed, saying that Tacheles is nothing more than an overrated tourist spot.
However they saw Tacheles, its closing certainly brought about the end of an era for a city that has been well-known for its alternative art scene.