Farewell to Tacheles

The tragic news that the Kunsthaus Tacheles has just been evacuated, following a long and tortuous legal process, has just reached me. There are far better-qualified commentators to write about the legal and artistic implications of this decision, but for me, it’s terrible news. Tacheles is the imaginary centre of my youthful bohemianism.

I first found Tacheles in the freezing winter of 1994, as a DAAD student hungry for new experiences, radical art and the ‘real’ Berlin. Tacheles was huge, scary and mindblowing. As a nice bourgeois Dubliner, I had learned that art belonged in the National Gallery and in expensive picture books, but here it was noisy (metal beating!), illegal (squatting!), incomprehensible (were those marks art, graffiti or only random dirt?), interactive (you could just wander in!) and alive. Excursions to the bars in Tacheles seemed impossibly glamorous that winter, and then seemed almost like home. I furnished my first ever flat with discarded GDR products from the fleamarket that used to stand outside it, that spring of 1996. I attended my first ever live-music screening of a silent movie, where a pianist improvised a soundtrack to D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance for four hours solid, for the benefit of an audience of five people lying on the floor. In the summer of 1996, I would hide in the sculptures in the garden outside, drinking beer, kissing and laughing at the shocked busloads of Bavarian tourists avidly taking photographs of the bohemians.

Tacheles has always been a touchstone of what Berlin meant to me. In the summer of 2001, I saw The Million Dollar Hotel there, the crumbling rooftop cinema the perfect place to see a melancholy German-Irish film about a crumbling squatted building. In the winter of 2004, I saw a new singer called Joanna Newsom in the bar below. In the spring of 2005, I took a group of students visiting from my own alma mater there, and was alarmed and amused by how intimidating the now-familiar graffiti, filthy furniture, random video art and endless corridors seemed to them. This summer, for the first time, I actually bought some art there, slightly silly prints by Tim Roeloffs. By July 2012, it was clear that Tacheles was somewhat a parody of itself, selling hippy tat to tourists on the ground floor, full of commercially-palatable art like, well, Roeloffs’s. I’ve read elsewhere that the art scene has long since moved on. But still. Tacheles doesn’t just symbolise Berlin to me; it symbolises my youth, and given the building’s dismal history of state appropriation, I can’t see the evacuation as anything but an awful loss and a bad sign for the city.