A Traveler’s Guide To Berlin Squats

In Berlin people tend to refer to the wall as THE WALL. I think the people of Berlin add the extra emphasis to highlight the importance of the division it represented when it stood across the middle of the city. The thing about Berlin is the fact that people seem to have felt a need to coalesce since THE WALL was torn down in 1989. It’s like a need to compensate for the divisions of the past. This is good because it leads Berliners toward a social freedom that drives them to exchange ideas at a more rapid pace than most other places in Europe. You can see the vibrancy of counterculture on the streets of the city. This is because this city is full of squats. Most of the squats are either in Mitte, Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain. There are a few in the outlying areas of the city but if you want some serious squat action, stay near the East side of the centre. This is largely because there are a lot of empty buildings that were vacated or fell into disrepair during the early 90s and subsequently taken over and turned into squats.

The attitudes of the authorities towards the squats of the city is pretty relaxed. There are buildings that have been occupied for years. So long, in fact, that they have become hubs that drive the various creative scenes of Berlin. The act of squatting in Berlin is very different to how we view squatters in the UK. It’s not a case of a few people taking over a Mayfair mansion, drawing a few peace signs on the windows and getting evicted by the police a couple of months later. When you squat in Berlin, you tend to stay. Probably the most famous squat in Berlin is Tacheles. This is basically a massive building with a face on the side of it, just at the edge of the Jewish quarter (tacheles is Yiddish for straight talking). Tacheles has been an active squat since 1990 and was founded just a few months after the fall of the wall. It mainly serves as the HQ for an arts commune that is comprised of painters, sculptors and installation artists. The inside of the building is an explosion of graffiti. Seriously, there’s barely a square inch of wall, floor or ceiling that isn’t covered in spray paint. It’s one of the most interesting and diverse places I’ve been to in a long time. If you’re wondering what it looks like, you’re in luck! Here are some pictures of it.

This is what you see when approaching Tacheles from the Mitte end of Friedrichstraße. That’s the big face I mentioned earlier.

The graffiti in Tacheles is insane. All the walls are covered in it. Pretty much every stairwell looks like this and if you look closely you can find areas that were sprayed back in the early 90s when the squat was first founded.

The squat has it’s own theatre and  puts on performances from from time to time. There was supposed to be  performance on the day I arrived but the theatre was closed when I got there. Something tells me some pretty weird stuff has gone on in that theatre.

It was pretty dark by the time I got out. You could spend days in the labyrinth of corridors and rooms running around the five stories of Tacheles. The top floor is amazing. A guy has been living there and using it as a studio for years. His paintings are huge and nearly reach floor to ceiling. It looks like the entire contents of his brain had exploded across the whole space, but he wouldn’t let me take any photos of that.

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