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  • Berlin art diaries: Why is it this hard to sublet a studio?


Berlin art diaries: Why is it this hard to sublet a studio?

BLOG! Anna Nezhnaya only wanted to rent out part of her painting studio, so why did she have so much trouble? From scammers to wannabe DJs, she tells us about the some of the characters she met.

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Why is it so hard to sublet a studio space? Our art blogger Anna Nezhnaya (right) wants to know. (Photo by Anastasia Lobanova.)

Between unfinished canvases, unpaid bills and contemplating the transience of being, it’s hard for artists to stay focused. One might think it would be easy to rent out a studio space in Berlin, a city where everybody seems to be constantly looking for space. Friends of mine have already been forced into the most absurd and uncomfortable situations by simply wanting to find a place to live or work. One was asked to perform a sexual act in order to out-rival the other applicants for a tiny, overpriced room in Neukölln.

I didn’t think it would a problem to sublet part of my artist studio.

My scholarship, which had covered the rent for my spacious studio inside a factory building, had just ended. I urgently needed a roommate to share the studio three days a week. My friends had already acquired ateliers or rented spaces together, so I had to look for a partner on the open market.

Messages flooded in as soon as I advertised my search. Most were polite, with photos of friendly, bright faces attached.

I was in the middle of a drawing when the first candidate rang the doorbell. He stormed in as soon as I opened the door, staggering slightly. He seemed overly excited, running through the space, stepping on my drawing.

“Perfect, perfect, perfect,” he beamed. “I’m gonna hold DJ lessons here…” He gestured wildly, flinging around his long arms. “You don’t mind if I cover the walls with foam, do you?”

“Weren’t you looking for a studio to host art classes?” I asked, delicately trying to remove my drawing from under his shoe.  

He pulled his sunglasses down. Something seemed wrong with his pupils.

“Electronic music is art,” he said.

“How many people are going to attend these courses?” I asked. “Ten to 15 people at a time,” he replied. I imagined 15 wild ravers navigating between my canvases and began to sweat.

The following applicant tried to bargain the rent down to 30 percent of my original request. He got mad after I told him that this wasn’t possible, shouting that my unwillingness to support artists was cruel. I didn’t bother reminding him that I was an artist myself – I was simply happy when he finally left my studio. The last girl that day was teaching me about the apparent energy-problem in the space and the impossibility for her to be creative in such a contaminated environment.

Discouraged, I unfastened canvases from my three-meter stretchers, preparing to send the paintings to an exhibition in Ecuador, as a young man knocked at my door. He introduced himself as a graduate of an eminent professor of the Munich Academy of Arts, and politely began to help me with the big stretchers.

He seemed to be a nice guy.

We discussed Russian literature. After he quoted Heidegger, he made a suggestion: “If it suits you, I’ll rent your studio right now,” he said. “My Munich collectors are ready to pay the first month.” This  made me incredibly happy, because I was flying to Moscow in a few days. “Agreed,” I replied, not wanting to be complicated. “I’ll give you my account number and we’ll sign the contract later.” It was a fatal mistake. I knew that no one in Germany did it like that. But the guy was so courteous.

In Moscow, I waited over two weeks for the money to arrive. I began to get nervous. I called several times, but the guy always had a sophisticated excuse for why he hadn’t sent the money yet. Upon my return to Berlin, I immediately phoned.

“No worries, I left the money on the table in the studio,” he said. “You can come and pick it up. But I do not advise you to do so…” – a long, dramatic pause – “because yesterday the doctors sent me home to quarantine on suspicion of the coronavirus. So maybe you shouldn’t come into the studio. The virus could be spread everywhere.” I literally ran to the studio to find him in perfect health, having a little drink with some friends. In a fury, I tried to get the group out. I finally had to call my Russian buddies to back me up.

This chain of events might have been a projection of my inner unwillingness to actually share my studio with someone. At the same time, I knew the rent was way too expensive for me alone. 

Suddenly, the phone rang. “Anna, I have always loved your painting with the black-white interior,” a collector I hadn’t spoken with for some time said. “Is that available to sell?“

“The painting is still here,”I replied with a silent inner prayer. “Come and pick it up and we can have a drink after. I really need it now.” Thanks to this deal, I was able to cover the outstanding rent. But I packed up my stuff and, with some farewell tears, left the big studio. 

As I walked the streets with canvases rolled under my arm, I promised myself that, one day, hopefully soon, I will be able to afford such an amazing atelier again.