For the past three years, the Schinkelpavillon’s series “Disappearing Berlin” has been initiating art events in spectacular Berlin architecture that is threatened with demolition, that is to be renovated or converted. The Postbank high-rise on the Hallesches Ufer, the wave pool on Speewaldplatz, Café Keese, the multi-storey car park behind the center of Kreuzberg, the mouse bunker, the Bierpinsel in Steglitz, a good 20 locations in all, have already been the setting for performances and music in particular. The last event in the series, which is always fully booked, took place last Sunday: the choreographer Florentina Holzinger presented a performance for “eight bodies, five harps and a car” in the parking lot of the Gallus printers in the city on the Spree. A conversation with the artistic director Marie-Therese Bruglacher and with project manager Anja Lindner about disappearance, gentrification and Berlin.
They often emphasize that “Disappearing Belin” is not about nostalgia. What was the impulse to start the series? In Berlin there are a lot of iconic buildings, especially from the Eastern architecture, which were simply demolished in the noughties and tens, often without public discussion. The series is designed to make urban change experienceable and understandable in a different way, not through media reports, not through ready-made images.
With performances and music we create a new approach to places that you may know well, maybe only from hearsay, about which you have read stories. In Berlin, the cultural occupation of such places has a long tradition, think of Raumlabor and the temporary artistic use in the Palace of the Republic. We want to build on this and stimulate the discussion about the city as an architectural and social structure.
“Disappearing Berlin” was active in churches, swimming pools, on roofs and in supermarkets. How are the places chosen? It’s about the uniqueness that each of these places has for Berlin. Disappearance is not necessarily the focus here. We walk or cycle through the city a lot, like going into backyards, looking around every corner. This is a passion that we all share in the team. There are places where it was clear from the start that we wanted to do something there, like the Bierpinsel in Steglitz.
Our network draws our attention to other things. We didn’t even know the roof of the Bonjour Tristesse, a residential building at the Schlesisches Tor, we only got there by chance. But there are also a lot of things that never worked out.
Which ones, for example? The LSD erotic market on Potsdamer Strasse. The people there see LSD as a safe space. They didn’t want art audiences to come in and see everything. Some places will definitely be demolished, like the Gallus printing works, in whose parking lot we are organizing a performance by Florentina Holzinger at the weekend. Others are working places like LSD, Green Mango Bar or even Xara Beach. These are very exciting – for both sides, because a different interaction between artists and the people on site is possible. Many other buildings, as beautiful and iconic as they are, are too commercial. We just can’t finance that.
Should threatened places be saved by “Disappearing Berlin”, should the disappearance be stopped? We are concerned with the current situation. We ourselves do not claim to prevent demolition or conversion. We want to draw attention to change processes. A lot happens unnoticed. We want to be a vehicle for discussions and ask questions about the opening and preservation of Berlin places for art. In the best case, this creates sustainable structures. Then other players come into play who can push through and implement changes.
You could be accused of contributing to gentrification with “Disappearing Berlin”. For us, the interface between culture, investors and real estate developers is exciting. Certainly we are involved in gentrification, like everyone who works in the arts and culture sector. We do not develop any sustainable structures through our program, we rather appropriate the structures on site because we want to comment on them.
“Disappearing Berlin” is not about bringing a finished art production to an unusual location, but about developing new works specific to the location. For example, an investor like Signa Real Estate and their approach in Berlin confronts us with the question of how we can interact critically here without allowing ourselves to be exploited as cultural workers in the interests of developers and investors.
As a Karstadt developer, Signa Real Estate is responsible for the three large construction sites at Alexanderplatz, Ku’damm and Hermannplatz. A huge new building is being built on Hermannplatz, what could you achieve there? The Karstadt on Hermannplatz is an incredibly exciting example that is incredibly worthy of discussion. In our opinion, it would be wrong to ignore such urban planning projects. We ask what forms of interaction are possible without being put in front of the cart?
We’ve been talking to Signa for a year, but haven’t found a concept that works yet. If we in the cultural sector didn’t deal with it, everything would just go on like this, the political and economic interests are too big. There should be ways to comment on that.
Sometimes things change, as shown by your involvement in the Bierpinsel, a two-day festival that took place there during Art Week 2021. The Bierpinsel was closed for over 15 years. Nobody had access. We worked on it for two years before we could become active there. The owner didn’t seem interested in us at first, but then got really excited about the culture in the building. Now he wants to work to ensure that there is a cultural interim use for two years longer. The original plan was to convert the building into an office tower immediately starting in the fall. The only area open to the public would have been a coworking space. Even the Berlin bathing establishments had no cultural use of their swimming pools on their radar. But they now want to organize further events with us and make the swimming pools usable for culture.
Is that a project that works specifically in Berlin? Berlin consisted of many individual cities before it became Greater Berlin. And due to its special history, it has many architectural and cultural breaks. That makes the city extremely open to a project like “Disappearing Berlin”.
If you did that in London or New York, it would be dripping with nostalgia because the processes there are over. Capitalism, gentrification, tourism are well advanced. There’s always something nostalgic about commenting on them or looking back to times when there were still plenty of opportunities. Disappearing Berlin isn’t completely free of that either, but we don’t want to be a nostalgic project.
A city where we could imagine something similar is Paris. Paris has changed completely in the past two or three years. Many artists’ initiatives and new social projects have emerged, and that in a city whose structures were already solid. Changes are therefore also possible retrospectively.
How would you say Berlin is about to disappear? The city is still in a phase where all is not lost. The exciting question is what will happen in the next five to ten years. It has something to do with the number of places where there are still design options. We think a lot is still possible in Berlin. And there are still a lot of people here who want to change something.
Berlin has a long tradition of cultural and collaborative working methods that emerged in the post-reunification period. If we can bring together the interests of these many groups, we will also be able to open and preserve endangered places in Berlin for culture and the public in the long term