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French Berlin

The Urban Spree founders: “If it’s good, we’ll come!”

The founders of Urban Spree Véronique and Pascal Feucher on Berlin's creativity "sponge"

Photo: Gianluca Quaranta

“We just want to share art with everyone!” say Véronique and Pascal Feucher, the founders of Urban Spree. Since 2012, the 1,700 square-metre trackside site has evolved into a hub for urban culture nestled between clubs and food stands on the RAW-Gelände at Warschauer Straße.

With proud glints in their eyes, they talk excitedly about upcoming projects and the artists they support, pointing to paint-splattered walls and enormous, half-finished paintings left by their current street artist in residence, Berlin-based Howtokillagraffiti, who uses spray paint, oils and charcoal to create trippy paintings full of human bodies, colours and psychedelic shapes.

Véronique and Pascal were both born and grew up in Paris. They met there as well, back when Pascal worked in banking and finance, and Véronique was a human resources consultant at a large corporate company. “It was very different!” Véronique says, laughing. So what made the couple leave safe, well-paying jobs and the city that their two children called home for the German Hauptstadt? “The financial crisis hit. And it hit hard,” grimaces Pascal. “It would have guaranteed us ten years of boredom.”

Berlin is like a sponge that soaks up and works with all creativity it holds, unlike Paris, which is more like a grand, untouchable museum.

Having lost his job, Pascal weighed his options. By the age of 40 he was fed up of doing financing projects for other people and was eager to finance and control “something personal and hands-on”. Pascal loved the idea of Berlin’s creative, crazy reputation, so he decided to pack his bags and make the move. Véronique and their two children followed a few months later. “It was like telling the kids ‘We’re leaving at nine tomorrow morning!’” Pascal says.

He soon stumbled upon the unoccupied rail yard on the RAW-Gelände, an area which had been reserved for cultural projects by Berlin’s city planners. The couple remember it being in awful shape after it lay abandoned for years except for the odd illegal rave. Until then, all people wanted to do was use the space to build clubs. “I was the only one with a budget to start with and who wanted to take the risk,” he says proudly, talking about the money he had saved up from his previous job. The couple slowly began to realise that they had made the right choice.

“People were very open-minded here, and curious. Very curious,” Véronique smiles. “They were like, ‘If it’s good we’ll come. If it’s not good, we won’t. Just do your thing!’” This laid-back, can-do attitude was in stark contrast to the atmosphere in Paris were one’s doomed for failure before their projects even get off the ground. “Berlin is like a sponge that soaks up and works with all creativity it holds, unlike Paris, which is more like a grand, untouchable museum,” Pascal adds.

For Véronique and Pascal, Urban Spree is a small financially self-sustaining “ecosystem” for fostering alternative art and culture projects. At the heart of it all is their art gallery. Pascal explains that most of the revenue they make comes from the beer garden, with smaller amounts coming from the concert hall where they host club nights with fantastic line-ups.

They also sell art. All of it funds the gallery, which they call the “DNA” of Urban Spree. The couple makes the site’s atelier spaces available to a variety of hand- picked artists, most of them rooted in street and graffiti art, with the focus not on the sales, but on free creative expression untinged by financial worries. Creators such as Hendrik Czakainski, who uses wood, cardboard and paper to show interrelations between the city and the environment, and Roman Klonek, who uses traditional woodblock printing methods to create funky, one-of-a-kind pieces, have used the atelier and showed their work at Urban Spree. All of the artists who exhibit at their gallery are invited to paint murals on the huge wall of the complex facing the bustling Warschauer Straße. Over 50 different artists from all over have painted and re-painted it in the past ten years. Berlin-based street artists Broken Fingaz and Jim Avignon are among them, Avignon’s vibrant pop-art currently still occupying the huge wall canvas.

From day one, Urban Spree has evolved as organically as Véronique and Pascal’s go-with-the- flow attitude. Its development and progress are based mostly on spontaneous encounters, from the Australian Anthony Lister (also famous for his troubles with the law, be it for drug posses- sion or for allegedly tattooing a woman without her consent); to the German artist EGS whose graffiti still covers some of the gallery’s walls; to Italian heavy metal musicians on a pizza-making mission.

Their pop-up Slices of Doom is set to re-open in the Urban Spree garden in summer when the couple is looking forward to sharing more art and music (and beer) with Berliners. “We will go into this summer with a happy, open mind,” Pascal says. “It’s full speed ahead for all things music and art. We’re just really excited!”