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Save Berlin: Is Holzmarkt doomed?

Will the newly ruling Greens put an end to 12 years of creative utopia by the Spree?

Image for Save Berlin: Is Holzmarkt doomed?

Photo by Lydia Goolia

Will the newly ruling Greens put an end to 12 years of creative utopia by the Spree?

As most of Europe drifts towards right-wing populism, Germans are congratulating themselves for rallying behind the eco-conscious Green Party. Berliners were ahead of the curve, voting the Greens into city hall back in 2016. But the ugly demise of Eckwerk, a Kreuzberg building project filled with too many “good guys”, proves an excess of high-mindedness can spell disaster.

Bar25: The last saloon

In July 2007, Quentin Tarantino came to Berlin to celebrate the European premiere of his new film. The director and his posse partied till dawn in a Western-style saloon parked on the balmy banks of the Spree, a backdrop that perfectly fit his latest ode to 1970s B-movies, Death Proof.

Founded in 2004, Bar25 was already an icon of post-Wall Berlin decadence. The mini-village of stages, snack bars and saunas housed in shacks around a blazing fire pit was part amusement park, part Burning Man. Like many bars and clubs near Ostbahnhof, it sat on land slated for development as new office towers and luxury housing. While its nightlife neighbours were picked off one by one, Bar25 proved remarkably resistant to death. Almost every year, the club held a giant goodbye party, then miraculously negotiated another 12-month lease on life.

Holzmarkt: Utopia resurrected?

In 2010, the prime plot was finally sold off to developers, sparking Bar25’s ultimate five-day farewell bacchanal. The music fell silent and the land was cleared. Then, in another lucky save, the sale fell through. The club’s founders Juval Dieziger and Christoph Klenzendorf announced a crusade to buy the property themselves and yank their sacred soil back from greedy capitalist hands. They found a sympathetic, deep-pocketed partner in the Abendrot Foundation, a Swiss pension fund dedicated to ethical investing. The team’s €10 million bid nabbed both the Spree-side plot and an adjacent piece of land on the other side of the raised S-Bahn tracks. Abendrot signed a leasehold agreement with the Bar25 duo, effectively giving them control of the land.

By then, the banks of the Spree River had become an ideological battleground. Activists under the banner Spreeufer für alle – the Banks of the Spree for everyone – protested the corporate development’s exclusivity and profit motive. In that spirit, Dieziger and Klenzendorf established Holzmarkt25, a “creative village” that blends restaurants and party venues with co-working spaces and a daycare centre. Guiding the venture is a non-profit collective called the Genossenschaft für urbane Kreativität – cooperative for urban creativity – whose members each invested €25,000. Among them is German film director Tom Tykwer who’d partied with Tarantino that July night in 2007. The writing team for his TV series Babylon Berlin sits in this buzzing hive of synergies and coolness (photo).

Eckwerk: Wrong side of the tracks

In 2013, the co-op announced plans to expand their utopian empire with a complex of buildings on a 6000sqm parking lot on the other side of the S-Bahn. Renowned Berlin architects Kleihues + Kleihues and Graft developed the ground-breaking scheme: five timber-framed towers linked by walkways reaching up 12 stories to merge creative work with communal living.

Image for Save Berlin: Is Holzmarkt doomed?

Photo by Lydia Goolia

One person almost certainly not at Tarantino’s 2007 party was Florian Schmidt. When the Green Party swept into Berlin’s city hall in 2016, he became Building Councillor of Kreuzberg- Friedrichshain – and the Holzmarkt team’s nemesis. Schmidt’s office has refused to give the design its go-ahead. The official sticking point is noise – apartments next to the 24-hour roar of the S-Bahn are verboten. Eckwerk’s function was modified from student housing to short-term live/workspace for “creative global nomads”. Schmidt told Berlin’s Tageszeitung that sounded like a ploy to turn the project into a high-profit business, more cash grab than charity. Financial partner Gewobag sided with Schmidt. The government-run housing corporation had kick-started the project in 2014 by buying 10 percent of Eckwerk’s shares. Insisting the site be used for student dorms, they bought the remaining 90 percent, effectively pushing the Holzmarkt team out of the project. Even the Abendrot Foundation blamed the co-op for the delay and took away their control of the Eckwerk property.

Last November, the Holzmarkt team showed they’re ready to resolve the conflict: they simultaneously announced a 90-day mediation period and filed a 19-million-euro lawsuit against Berlin’s government. Eckwerk’s design costs and delays have pushed the co-op deep into debt, threatening to kill their whole venture. In the end, the mediation panel failed to find a compromise. Is Holzmarkt doomed? Has Bar25’s endless-summer dream finally reached the last of its nine lives? Expect a final decision by autumn.