A visit to the Batcave

He's no dark knight, but Batman is among us. Chances are you've actually seen the elaborately designed storefront on Hermannstraße alluringly named Batman Elektronik. It belongs to Muharrem Batman, an electronic artist/proprietor extraordinaire.

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Photo by Veronica Jonsson

Yes, Batman is his real name. Muharrem Batman. “It’s a city in Turkey. It’s also a river and an old unit of measurement,” explains the 48-year-old proprietor of Batman Elektronik for what is obviously not the first time. The Turkish surname is nonetheless fitting for the man who’s a Neukölln cult hero twice over, as the owner of an electronics mecca for those he affectionately dubs “hardcore types” and as an artist who brought his mad-scientist creations to the neighbourhood long before it was cool.

Pedestrians gawk at his window display of glittering heads, bodies and clothing meticulously constructed of old circuit boards, wiring and other digital detritus. Inside, long-obsolete computers share space with 1960s hi-fi equipment and “devices” of unknown provenance and function. Batman chats with customers while his wife mans the register and their five-month-old puppy romps among the chaotic jumble of boxes behind the counter.

The son of Istanbul clockmakers, Batman moved to Berlin with his mother and four older sisters at age nine. Drawn to electronics but “bad at math”, he worked for industrial firms until the end of the 1990s, when he struck out on his own. As a flea market merchant, his speciality was computers, but it was an antique typewriter that connected him with American artist Sheryl Oring in 1999.

He agreed to assist her with her installation Writer’s Block, constructing iron cages to house some 600 typewriters on Bebelplatz. “From there, I got into the art scene.” Subsequent collaborators include ex-Tacheles metalworker Steve Studinski, creator of the scrap-metal gorilla that stands guard outside the store.

Upon opening his own store in a former boutique in 2002, he enlisted his sister Ayse, a florist, to help out with the window display. Despite her initial distaste for what her brother calls “Elektroschrottkunst”, she became his “hands”, putting together the fine details according to Batman’s designs. Until two years ago, when Batman found his Robin: Judith, a 24-year-old student who makes electrical jewellery. Their most recent masterpiece is “Digitaldemenz”, a circuit-adorned head with a mass of blinking LEDs for brains.

In 2012, Neukölln’s fast-rising rents had Batman considering a change of locale. “But everyone said, ‘You have to stay! Without you here, there’s nothing!’” It’s true. Despite gentrification on the surrounding streets, that particular stretch of Hermannstraße is a glut of kebab shops and discount stores. The district government offered him a deal on a storefront right across the street. If he had the time and money, Batman would design a giant timepiece for the opening entrance of the new location, something along the lines of the Astronomical Clock in Prague in homage to his clockmaker parents and Czech wife. “Every hour, it’d have those dancing figures come out – except they’d be robots! And alien angels…” Clearly, Batman is the electronics hero Neukölln deserves.