Berlin – A hasty look through the fence at the Warsaw Bridge can be deceiving. The fence, with mostly the last scraps of posters on it, stands on the wall on the west side of RAW and is probably meant to keep drunks from falling. Looking from here, the RAW “party zone” shows its unpleasant side.
It’s still early, 21:00 on the Wednesday night before Christmas, and mostly dressed English, Spanish, and German-speaking groups are still dragging their clouds of beer and perfume from the S-Bahn towards RAW. They don’t care about the excited guy banging his beer bottle on the floor behind the outhouse. Soon there will be more night crowds around the corner, redheaded gangs of men screaming, fueled by coke, for which locals blame low-cost airlines. They come from everywhere: from London, Prague or the Warsaw Bridge.
So be it, some may think, and even – so much the better? – because in two years the area of the former “Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk” will cease to exist anyway. Not like it is now.
Two weeks ago, the owner, the Kurth Group company, presented new development plans. They predict that over 50,000 Positive term for gentrification if you prefer.
It is said that the most dominant feature is the 100-meter high office tower. The Urban Spree beer garden and Suicide Circus club, Haubenaucher bar and Astra concert hall will be replaced with a tower and a market hall. Construction is expected to start in 2024. Opposite, on the other side of the Warszawski Bridge, the 140-meter-high Amazon Tower will probably be already completed.
Idea: RAW tower finances any surviving culture. Some places may stop. As city councilor Florian Schmidt (The Greens) said in an interview with Radioeins, concert venues and pubs such as Cassiopeia, the summer garden and the messy Zum hobby bar should be under a “protective umbrella” for 30 years against operating costs. Everyone rents brick buildings in the “socio-cultural L”, which are historical monuments and come from the earlier times of the place from which it is named. The Kurtha Group’s plans are aimed at “modernizing” the entire area.
It is worth going down the metal stairs from the Warszawski Bridge to the recesses in the area. Ambient music resounds with Urban Spree, and the concert ends in Cassiopea. The party is about to start, the bouncer admonishes a few boys – “Leave the beer bottles before entering!” – follow obediently, in the summer garden by the covered skatepark guests are buzzing, people are clinging to the tiny handles on the back wall of the Kegel climbing tower. Circus Zack is still trying, through the window in the roof truss you can see someone doing rope acrobatics. Perhaps this is what the Lonely Planet travel guide, known for its “insiders”, has in mind, describing the area as one of the last “subculture mixtures” in Berlin.
Behind the plans is the city councilor Florian Schmidt
City councilor Florian Schmidt, otherwise known for his persistent struggles in the rent policy, is pleased with the plans for the quarter. There should be even more “free space”, said Schmidt, more room for “walks” or “events”. He said, “It will be a very lively place.”
The question is: can you plan where you live? Or maybe it’s time for an obituary for the subcultural Friedrichshain, which the city magazine “Tip” has already predicted, will end due to new plans for the RAW website?
Since reunification, what makes the RAW site so lively today has grown amidst industrial wastelands that no one was interested in in the late 1990s. Little was planned. As in many places then in the center of Berlin.
“It was everywhere here,” says Kreuzberg-based graffiti artist Toni Jakob, 36, pointing to the crumbling hall walls on the eastern side of RAW. Jakob is a quiet guy who only talks a lot when asked to do so. The roof he points to has holes and grass grows in the center above the blue car.
Toni Jakob left his first graffiti on the RAW site. It must have been in 2004, he recalls, he was only 18 and had finished school. He spent countless afternoons here with a friend. “We tried spray can caps, tried to write our names, we just painted them on the walls,” says Jakob. Nobody cared if they climbed into the ruins, nobody asked for money or an artistic effect.
On Wednesday afternoon, hours before the pre-Christmas night mood, Toni Jakob strolls with Caro Eickhoff between shadows cast on the floor by old brick walls and newer wooden DIY houses with gastronomic offerings. Eickhoff, 43, is a city guide and blogger around the city. They are both part of the Reclaim Your City collective, a network of art and city initiatives that has been in existence since 2003. In April, they published a volume of photos and text “BITTE LEBN”, the title refers to the mural at the Schlesisches Tor.
From the turn of the millennium to the present day, the book documents Berlin squats, the graffiti scene, raves, neglected and appropriated places: the epitome of subculture.
She grew up in places that no longer exist today. The banks of the River Spree, the glass factory at Ostbahnhof, an old villa on the premises of today’s Mercedes-Benz headquarters. “It was clear that at some point it would also affect RAW,” says Jakob. Nobody wants rubbish and fallow land. However, in the so-called revaluation that Berlin allows in the middle of its center – and which often brings big companies, Zalando, Mercedes, Amazon and Co. – Jakob is not afraid of a regulation that will ultimately be based on the ability to pay based on the needs of residents.
citizen participation? RAW area is private
Thanks to participation, local politicians know what the needs of the population are. But RAW is privately owned – and while there were BVV discussion rounds and meetings, it is ultimately the investor who decides.
As Caro Eickhoff looks at the RAW site plans, she flinches, she says. This brings back memories of the 2008 “Spreeufer für alle” referendum in which 87 percent of the population of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg voted to keep the spaces open along the Spreeufer. “It felt like we were rocking something,” says Eickhoff. In hindsight, from their point of view, it was only an apparent share. Because it was built anyway, in the middle of the old strip of the Wall. And now RAW.
Which has long since become commercial between the remaining wastelands, which has become a tourist magnet thanks to its clubs, where the burger costs less than 15 euros. Where there are night raids from time to time, and where residents have to struggle through damaged carpets after long nights. But where there is still something of this imagination of free space, in which the rent does not determine who can try how and where.
The Urban-Spree beer garden is a good example of this parallel between commercial and alternative spaces. The possibility of having a beer in the evening there costs five euros, but unknown artists can exhibit their works in the gallery halls. Free entrance.
The rooms disappear – and they don’t come back anymore
In response to the Berliner Zeitung’s inquiry whether the residents should continue to participate in the design of the area, the County Office replied succinctly: Yes. But there is no schedule yet. Caro Eickhoff calls previous RAW formats more “participation on paper”, concrete proposals from initiatives have not been implemented. It wanted free space, green areas, and less waste. “Guaranteed not for offices,” says the city guide. “It’s not bad that the city is changing,” he says. “But more and more places, places to live, are disappearing. They are gone and neither will we get them back.
Even now, you can only paint the walls of the building if you ask for permission, says Eickhoff. Owner Lauritz Kurth told the magazine a “clue” that it would remain so, but in the future “religious, political and adult images and messages” would have to be avoided. However, for artists like Toni Jakob, spraying with permission or under supervision is not an option. Your art is political.
The Berlin subculture will give its own answers to such rules. Some of it will be for sure: what happens to her matters. Today, ravers and sprayers are more often found in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Oranienburg or Erkner. Where are the places no corporation is (yet) interested in.