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Jacob Sweetman: When your well runs dry

And that was it. Over quarter of a century of Kunsthaus Tacheles being the home, and the school, for generations of artists slipped away with barely a murmur. Now, as it is too late, I wish I had done more.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: When your well runs dry
Photo by Traumrune (Wikimedia Commons)

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

      – TS. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

And then there was nothing. Yesterday morning the police and private security hammered the final nails into the coffin of the majestically ramshackle, gloriously stinking, beautifully ugly last man standing of the formerly radical, squatted cultural hub that was Mitte. They shut the doors on a building that sums up the clash between the old and the new in Berlin, and in the end most of us simply allowed it to happen.

So, Kunsthaus Tacheles has finally slipped away. In time it will become a hotel or a shopping centre, but for years to come it will still be receiving thousands of tourists, bemusedly looking around, listening for the throbbing hum of a building that summed up why so many people came to Berlin in the first place (or at least it was for me).

They will wonder where the dealers have gone – that is the first thing they will notice – but then they will see just another bland building surrounded by cheap cocktail bars, crappy restaurants and a line on both sides of Oranienburgerstraße of tired looking, pneumatic hookers hoping that the stag do’s will still come around this end of town.

That throbbing hum will be replaced by the tick-tick-tick of Berlin becoming the same as every other city in the western world. Maybe you hated the place; maybe you thought the tourists needed encouragement to see more to the city than anti-McDonalds slogans and empty bottles of Pilsator. Maybe you were fighting against the Schloss, or the new airport or media-spree. Maybe, like much of the city, you just didn’t care – and that is also fine.

It didn’t end with a bang, more a shrug of the shoulders, a tired drooping of the head. It ended with a whimper.

This is mostly written out of guilt. I had been a part of the building for years, was lucky enough to see what was great about the old place, and not just the clichés that have, admittedly, put off a larger part of the city from supporting it. But I stand by my assertion that it was vital. It was a school for artists from around the world. It was unique, but like so many others, I took it for granted.

I wasn’t there yesterday when the doors were locked for the last time. Just those most dogged remained – a smattering of artists and supporters who deserve better from the city that should have seen it as a building of great importance, whether one liked the work within it or not. Like Muhammed Ali in Zaire, they had absorbed all of the blows that came their way. They had hugged the ropes, clinging on, but this time the rope-a-dope tactics didn’t work. There was never enough energy left to land a decisive counter punch.

The great Otis Redding sung a song a long time ago saying, “You don’t miss your water, ’til your well runs dry.” As always the genius who had so much soul that he needed an extra large arse to hold it all in was right. When the last parts of Berlin are sanitised beyond recognition nobody should complain if it is for the right reasons – but Tacheles wasn’t about preserving something old and run down for the sake of it. It was about the future, the future of artists in Berlin, and the future of creative spaces being destroyed at the whims of those trying to make money. I should have done more, and for that I am sorry. We will all miss Tacheles in the end – now that our well has finally run dry.