BERLIN/Temporary Spaces

Script of a lecture given by Heinrich Dubel (who was introduced on a banner as "Heinrich Dubbel / writer, journalist, artist, radio-DJ, clubscene" for the Capita Selecta MSC Architecture Lecture series on Cities – Urban cultures and creative practices at the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture on November 10th 2005.

A customized version of the lecture's slideshow of about 350 frames, running 3 seconds each at random select is shown here to the left. The compilation was drawn from Dubel's extensive archive as well as from Martin Eberle's book > Temporary Spaces with it's spectacular photography of Berlin clubs.

The lecture adressed three questions from the theoretical paper provided by professors Klaske Havik and Christoph Grafe: Could temporal events in the city be seen as catalysts for urban culture? To which extent does subculture initiate cultural production, which, in turn, provides a certain creative climate? How is artistic production rooted in local characteristics of its city of origin?

Praise and Critic of the City

Now … IN the city … at home … in Berlin … I have a reputation to idolize the city … and to glorify it.

I just love Berlin. In a very real sense I have made the city my own. To me it is more than a city. It is abundance. It feeds. It comforts. It smells good. It is mother and loved one. It is beautiful. It is more than a city.

At the same time Berlin is more than ONE city. It is many cities. No other city in the world embodies the history of the 20th century more than Berlin does … it's most beautiful as well as it's most barabaric moments.

In only a few decades such diverse systems as the Kaiserreich (Empirial German Reich), a fascist and a communist state and the civic democracy have left their marks on the cityscape.

In Berlin you find a distinctive diversity of architectural master-pieces next to utopian designs next to the most reactionary monuments next to ruins and wastelands.

Berlin has always been modern. It has neither roman churches nor gothic cathedrals. In the 17th century it was only a backwater town.

Perhaps it is out of this missing tradition that building in Berlin was always orientated towards the future, at least intentionally. One could say – paradoxically: Berlin has a tradition of modernity.

Schinkel was modern before modern times.

It was especially in Berlin where with Muthesius and Mies van der Rohe the modern of architecture began, resulting in an abundance in classic avantgarde architecture.

Willingness to destroy what is in the way can be viewed as signifying modernity. It was Berlin, where the barbaric side of modern came to blossom badly, when Hitler, who as postcard-painter preferred architectural themes, and his architect Speer where dreaming up Germania, their mythology-to-cum metropolitan wet dream, leaving not a germanic megadome and triumph gate … but instead 15-story bunkers and bizarre structures like the Großbelastungskörper (or Large Weight Charging Structure).

The nazi destruction of vast inner city areals started long before the allied bombings did theirs. The word Brandmauer signifies an architectural phaenomenon found in Berlin – the outer walls of single houses in city blocks which where never ment to be outer walls. They only became outer walls when the neighboring houses where bombed.

Others remain, displaying what semi-seriously could be dubbed as an attempt to actually construct a paradox: modern-folk-(or völkisch)-architecture, like the district surrounding the inner city Tempelhof Airport, which was build to house the large numbers of personal working at the airport.

A singularity is (or was) the Berlin wall and what it did to the city. The interruption to once vibrant lines of traffic. The rendering blind of windows and walkways. Monumental territorial architecture of deadly precision – at night visible from space (not really. Just another myth surrounding the city).

Added where monumental socialist apartement towers and stalinist avenues. The east-side's rebuilding of the Alexanderplatz with it's TV-Tower and Hotel Stadt Berlin was – on a similar significant level of postwar-modernism – in the west only countered by the Hansa-Viertel.

The cold war was fought by means of architecture. When West-Germany's then largest and most powerful publishing group – the Axel Springer publishing house – built it's gold-colored skyscraper not only close to but virtually attached to the wall, and was beaming it's messages of anti-socialist content and the promise of capitalism and freedom into the GDR's capital, the eastern magistrate erected a series of a dozen apartement-blocks each 20 stories high, a line-up along Leipziger Straße which effectively functioned to block out the view of the Axel-Springer-house from eastern districts like Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg.

Berlin in the 80s – both east and west – was notorious for ignorant and provincial approaches, although the west got it's Internationale Bauausstellung (and the International Congress Center) and the east the makeover for the 40-years of GDR celebrations.

What is the treasure the city's diversity was not always understood, at least not by the decision makers, although the Berlin people always had a close relationship with the city's architecture, and the local dialect knows many funny names for the city's more outstanding buildings.

With the re-union came new architecture to the wastelands … the most significant are the large numbers of new governmental buildings around the Reichstag, the Reichstag with it's shiny dome itself … the Potsdamer Platz … and the new giant multistory subterrainian Central Trainstation on the grounds of the former small but pittoresk Lehrter Bahnhof …

The construction sites to these mega projects became instant successes with tourists not only from the rest of Germany and from all over the world … but also the Berliners where re- or even pre-discovering their city, and for years they would travel in droves to specially erected visitor centers much like a weekend trip to the countryside, where they would gaze in awe at the deepest hole … or watch a couple of dozens construction cranes being directed to act like a ballet by the conductor and the music of a classic orchestra.

Today one of the many cities which are Berlin is "The new Berlin" … the multi-media-capital as themepark to the democratcy … as scenic background … as installation … as spectacle … as insce-nation of history and identity … an insce-nation much needed and appriciated as the extremely large numbers of visitors to spectacles as Christo's Reichstagsverhüllung or the opening of the Holocaust memorial may indicate.

Where other nations could chime in with exemplary and extraordinary architecture they did so with spectacular or at least cleverly designed news embassy-buildings … like the British, Australian and Swiss embassies … the Scandinavian embassies complex and also the new Dutch embassy.

Berlin marketed itself as the most modern, most vibrant, most promising in a new and future Europe. Berlin was important. It was important because of it's history and of it's future. And both … future and past … where or where to be manifest in architecture.

Quite naturally all this had an effect on the image the city was projecting into the world. It is no wonder that tourism is the single most growing business.

But not only tourists where descending onto Berlin.

Where everything – from ownership titles to the political system to the economic framework –changed rapidly on a grande scale, chances where good if not excellent for accomplishments of any kind. young musicians, artists, designers, architects and other people with ideas did sense the unique window of opportunity.

It should also be kept in mind that the first fifteen years of Berlin as the capitol of the new German republic did coincide with quantum leaps in media and computer technology. These things … you all know them … internet, cable- und satellite tv, mobile communication, etcetera … have forever changed the way we look at and talk about everything.

15 years ago nobody had a mobile phone or a personal computer. So when the wall came down and Berlin was young again, not only did the city provide extraordinary circumstances for the creative class, but the emerging new technology was about to change the very conditions prevailing in the production and practice of art, architecture, cinema, media and the culture industry in general.

The creative potential, the sheer mass of people with ideas, the exploding scene, the daring new enterprises developed pretty fast into a second but not less important marketing-factor the city officials where peddling at press-conferences and in high gloss pamphlets, while they didn't share a single thought on the fact, that they hadn't done anything to help a development like this. They where simply cashing in.

At least it was like this in the beginning.

It took some time for that new currency of ideas and idealists to gain value and significance and to infiltrate the cities economic and identity system deep enough to leave marks on Berlin's urban culture. But it did.

In this second part I want to talk about some specific Berlin examples how urban culture (or a sense for it) influenced cultural production … and vice versa.

The city. It's all about time and space.

The time was right. It was the 90s.

Like during the 50s in Paris or the late 70s in London and New York it was clear that big things where about to happen, and that whoever wanted a piece of the new horizon had to act now.

In the heavily dilapidated inner city district of Mitte plenty of space was extremely cheap if not totally free.

Excited and propelled by the possibilities of the new technologies and by the new cultural identity which those technologies brought along … just think about the achievements in electronic music and visuals … young creatives swarmed about Mitte, occupying any available space … small or large … filling it with new life.

What happened within those spaces was often highly ambivalent in terms of being properly authorized by the administration: Galleries were as often only pretending to be galleries when instead they were clubs (aktionsgalerie) where everybody was pre-occupied mostly with drinking, drugs, music and sex.

Everybody wanted to party, to transcend boundaries, to explore and expand. It was a time when everything seemed possible. People where gearing up for the new virtual reality, and around every corner a bioport or another human-to-machine-interface was lurking.

It was the time of mega-raves, the Love Parade would soon count more than a million visitors.

Exquisit clubs which gained international reputation with super-speed where layed out in listed architectorial monuments … like the E-Werk

When in the 1920s the City of Berlin re-organized her energy-companies and outfittet herself with the most modern technology at hand at that time … one Hans Heinrich Müller build about 60 or so transformer works, all in Nordic brick gothic style …

At E-Werk it was pure party-culture … The crew, which had intensive experience with temporary use of space (this was their 7th location or so) really made it big this time … during 1994 and 1997 they took over more and more areas of this extraordinary huge industrial complex … It was said that "if the Tresor was techno-music's temple … than E-Werk must have been it's cathedral ."

The E-Werk was also host to prototype events like Chromapark, which was the first really large-scale exhibition of the then new thing, the "art hailing from the club scene", which already had started to make it's way into the international art-market …

It became quite clear that not everybody was solely interested in the electronic nirvana …

To develop a sense for time and time passing it was (and is) necessary to understand the space in which time is to pass. This understanding was trained and tried, re-trained and re-tried.

… some saw the developments in the club scene as an opportunity to operate and entertain unique and original laboratatories, where the people (both the patrons and the visitors) were genuinely interested in dealing with problems of gentrification, urban development, use of space for art or leisure under non-commercial aspects, cultural production and networking and the effects their work might (or could have) on the urban environment both local and city wide …

One of those clubs was the Kunst & Technik (art and technique) – from spring 1997 to march 2000 … this venue was housed in the foundation of a building never actually constructed any further … before Kunst & Technik the building was utilized as a tool storage by the council's park departement … it was hidden on the Spree-bank opposite from Museum Island … hidden under trees and brushes and actually below street level … you would reach the entrance level over a futuristic steel-staircase … which unfortunately I don't have a foto of … it looked just great in between the crumbling walls and the ever-prosperous abundance of nature growing … there where actually trees growing on the building … Kunst & Technik was originally a workspace and office to a group of architects and academics … the "by-product club or bar" at one point gained it's own momentum … early on there wasn't even organized music or DJ-Sets … whoever brought their records was on … to avoid a too regular pattern concerning weekdays or certain dates … and also not to be mentioned in the tourist guides … it was open every sixth day …

It was demolished in 2001 … on the site now is an outdoor "beach-club", in the summer …

Another great venue was Galerie berlintokyo – May 1997 to May 1999 … a classic basement in a classic Berlin backyard … run by a registered society "from the promotion of young artists from Berlin and Tokyo" … with extremely minimalistic decor … it was one of the most famous venues during the 90s … the exhibitions there were highly rated in places as far as New York … any event regularly turned into a crazy parrty … the press dubbed it "Europe's most modern cellar" …

The berlintokyo-society still exists today … and sometimes they organize club-in-club events in other venues … then the crowds line-up for blocks … as it happened at West-Berlin's club-dino Big Eden, a place that was founded in the 60s by "playboy" Rolf Eden …

Maria am Ostbahnhof – this was once the GDR's central postal package branch. Here the state security (Stasi) went through packages from the West … plenty of films and TV-commercials were shot here. After the Maria closed down in 2001 it has moved just around the corner to the bank of the River Spree, but still close to the Ostbahnhof … hence it is still named Maria am Ostbahnhof although the public insists on referring to it as Maria am Ufer (on the riverbank) now …

Then there where the nomad clubs …

WMF / Johannisstraße – the name is down to the clubs first location in 1990 which was at the former headquarters of Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik … hence WMF … (it is well known for their cutlery) … from 1997 to 2000 the WMF version 4 resided in the former guest house of the Ministerial Council of the GDR … spacious hallways and passages were fitted with the furniture and decor from the GDR-parliament Palast der Republik …

This WMF 4 constituted the first real lounge … not only due to the plentiful number of high quality couches … regular events, dicussion groups and presentations of current topics took place … that differed substantially from the drinking, dancing and more general entertainment going on in the actual club …

WMF / Ziegelstraße – with this fifth location … 2000/2001 … the WMF once and for all turned into the "best Club in Europe" as the press repeatetly dubbed it …

The makers of the WMF put an excellent use to the very large spaces they had at hand … all of the mainfloors walls were back projection screens plus you could watch the output of the current VJ culture on split screen monitors, from any corner of the venue …

The now sixth location of WMF is located in a (once again) listed architecural monument … the famous Café Moskau … on the stalinist style Karl-Marx-Allee … (Sputnik mounted)

Cookies – the story of Cookies and it's metamorphosis can only be compared to the WMF phenomenon … Both have been incessantly nomadic clubs that started in a basement, travelling from location to location, gathering importance and size on the way … their audiences travelled and grew with them …

Since December of 2000 the sixth Cookies was located in the main hall of a former Bank, which was a hotel before that. It is now defunct and being re-developed for general commercial purpose.

Club Transmediale – on the 7th floor of the socialist tower block Haus des Lehrers (House of the Teacher) which is also a listed monument … especially at night you had a breathtaking view of Alexanderplatz

… the Club Transmediale is meant to extent the Transmediale festival activities into the night and club context … music, sound installations, interactivity and particularly video projections and presentations … The Transmediale Festival and Club Transmediale are operating up to this day and enjoy a reputation as an innovative and up-to-date enterprise … beaming out to the world the achievements of such modest places like the > SNIPER, which changed the appearance of audio-visual presentation in the club context forever.

The Haus des Lehrers was also generally used by artists, architects and musicians, the company was letting the office-spaces for extremely low rents … when the house finally was sold to a private owner, most of the offices just moved across the intersection at Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee to the Haus des Reisens (House of Travel) …

Before the make-over-brigades moved in however, Haus des Lehrers was the site for a great and … as I like to put it … truly urbanist enterprise …This project was called Blinkenlights … named after how the early computer-nerds dubbed the blinking meter-lights on the first computers … Blinkenlights ran from September 12th 2001 until February 23rd 2002 … basically Blinkenlights was the largest interactive computer-display that ever existed to that day … the upper 8 floors of the Haus des Lehrers were fitted with 144 powerful lamps … 18 in each floor … each individually controlled by computer … thus creating a monochrome matrix of 8 x 18 Pixels …

It was installed by the Chaos Computer Club of Germany commemorating it's 20th birthday … the initial program running on the screen was Pong … the old videogame … people could dial in via mobilephone and then play Pong standing in front of the tower on Alexanderplatz, using the mobilephone as a remote interface …

The Blinkenlight founders also wrote a program called Blinkenpaint with which everybody could generate text-messages and animations, which were then uploaded into a storage-file, from which the matrix was fed … the program running in ever growing loops as more and more animations were uploaded …

Blinkenlight project was later developed and up-graded into gray-scale-mode … (they simply apllied a dim function to the set-up) which allowed for more sophisticated programming of film-sequences and animation … This Blinkenlight 2 ran in 2003 … on the facades of two towers of the Bibliotheque National in Paris, on the Bank of the River Seine …

It took the new owners of the Alexanderplatz building about four years to realize what an amazingly effective and truly modern marketing-tool the Bliinkenlight-project had been (beside being an excellent work of technological art), but finally they came to terms with it … and so it happened, that in mid-October … about a month ago … the original Blinkenlight was re-installed …


Out of those clubs and the networks they where forming, from projects realized by many but also from outstanding individuals … impulses where send to shape the future.

The venues, works and events of the 90s cumulated to form a veritable avantgardistic super-structure and to enable the cotemporaries to participate in a space-time-experience which is reverberating through to the present … which is now.

Where before petitioners where merely depended on decisions which very often bordered on acts of grace more then on thoughtful administrative decision, there was now an air of meaning and importance to those active in the scene. Now the administration had to listen to new ideas … plus: young administrative personal who where familiar with the developments weer moving up the political ranks, helping their seniors to cope with what was going on.

Not before long the responsible municipal interior administration called on activists from the scene to form an intergrated office to deal with the ever growing demand in new spaces. The decision-makers had now realized what the vibrant underground-culture and it's creative output actually meant to the city, and as the capital moved in in form of superstores and megabrands to take over many of the original places and to exploit the attractivity of the neighborhood, the wish was formulated to do something to keep the fertile creative scene alive, to outfit them with new spaces, temporarely again if necessary … or permanent if possible.

Other districts of the east … like Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain … which always where a little behind the Mitte developments, now took their role as docile pupils, investing money, space and personal into installing so called Quartiersmanagement (or quarters-management) agencies to attract the creative class and thus boost the renommé of their respective neighborhoods. Often this enterprise was undertaken by activists and hanger-ons of the earlier scenes, a fact that sometimes lead to discrepancies, when what was supposed to be a communal effort was used as means for making money. But overall the Quartiersmanagement idea was a successful one … and so much so that some of the old West-Berlin districts like Wedding and Moabit used these now tested procedures to re-vitalise their presumably unattractive communities.

One very important thing … which is often not properly estimated … and which helped to further developements is the boost in self consciousness and self esteem succesful venues and events generated; People where realizing that after all the city is theirs, and it is up to them how the city works and looks, and that they can influence this to a certain … and not necessarely a minor … degree.

This not only was expressed throug a multitude of products which where generated on the fringe and successfully launched and marketed towards the center (or the mainstream) …

It was like the cityscape was under new survey. New and hip compilations on certain landmarks where published, like a book on the TV Tower, which celebrated the impressive building like none of the more dry tomes did which where known before that.

The city itself, it's materialistic appearance, and not even that which was most commonly recognized as beautiful, became a theme, noteable in the publication of cardboard-construction kits for socialist Plattenbauten and landmarks like the ICC or the TV-Tower. Those cut-out scale-models where accompanied by trading and playing card games which featured and glorified buildings as well as structures like citylights, stuff which five years before was considered ugly but now signified for a new and finally true urbanist feeling of the city.

There is even an unofficial Berlin Tourist info, which not only markets funny, extravagant and off the mainstream Berlinalia at major trade fairs, but has also taken too actually provide access to the creative class of Berlin … to who ever has an interest. Among those who have an interest are global corporations as well as special interest groups like … (say) … the Association of Japanese Club Owners.

The city is about space and time. Knowing this … and acknowledging it … means to realise the importance of certain structures and landmarks … when supposedly the remaining time of a space is limited … like it is now the case with the Palast der Republik … the former GDR-parliament …

The public is devided into those who want to demolish the whole thing and re-build the Stadtschloss (or city castle) of the last German emperor … (the empires capital was Berlin, but the emperor was living in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin) … the city castle which was blown up after the war by the communists who didn't want to spend money on the restauration of an imperialist symbol …

on the other hand a strong movement has formed which propagates the conservation of the Palast der Republik … as a central venue for cultural experiment-, present- and re-presentation.

This operation is called Volkspalast (or people's palace) … and has hosted and produced two dozens of highly sophisticated programs, exhibitions, theatrical plays and mix-forms of those, not all of them but many dealing with the city as such and as the nation's capitol, once more putting the quest for identity and how to cope or deal with it in front of the now genuinely conscious spectators, who flocked by in numbers beyond the wildest expactations.

Haus Schwarzenberg. Taking a stance on preserving at least the visibility of decay if not the decay itself … like keeping open a window into the past … not out of nostalgic reasons but as a reminder that anything is of limited existence …

(Dubel tells the Haus Schwarzenberg story, which as press secretary of the enterprise he knows by heart.)

purgatio conclusum

Plenty of the personal active in the 90s were able to transform their experiences into careers, in various fields like producers, promoters and managers of arts or musical or other entertainment.

Others moved on to publishing, computer-businesses both creative and administrative … if there is such a clear distinction at all …

Many just simply stayed in the field, operating galleries, clubs, bars and more and more restaurants … (there could be a special lecture about how the underground club movement gave rise to an underground restaurant scene and how that scene developed to the day).

Many went on to become architects and city planners. To all of those the experiences they made during the wild years in the early and the somewhat lesser wild late 90s where extremely valuable …

Some of them even came full circle … when they were able to realize what visions they had as promising young architects located in the tiniest basement … to realize those visions sometimes just around the corner and only ten years later … like the guy I know who build this low energy house, where the future tenants could actually co-design the later interieur lay-out of their appartements … the architects and the future tenants where so into what was going on at that time, that they actually started having parties in the carcass or outside finish … even in the wintertime …
the same architect was later awarded with the interieur re-design of the most famous and then de-funct E-Werk … which was re-build into a commercial center for design and communication …

The experience in club-building itself, in the development of interactive environments and the like, as well as a pool of ideas which seems never to dry up has proven to be of export-value itself.

It is today that Berlin based architects and designers export their know-how of sensual experience and the unlimited nature of creative possibilities to places such as London and Liverpool, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Tokyo and Shanghai, to build new clubs and venues, restaurants and parlors.

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