Redefining cool: Tacheles, Berlin

We all know it. Berlin is cool. A city teeming with history, so much so that you practically stumble over it in certain streets. It is everywhere – the monuments, the memorials, the grafitti, the architecture of the old East and West, the remnants of the Wall. There are galleries and museums left, right and centre. A thriving business sector. A vibrant fashion and music scene. Nightclubs that stay packed until after the office opens. Hell, they even have green beer. Like I said, everyone knows Berlin is cool.

And yet, there is something about the inherent coolness that is so… Berlin. It is eclectic, it is offbeat, it is quirky, it is so compelling, captivating, and the fact is that there seems to be no word or expression that quite does justice to the atmposphere of cool that permeates throughout the city. Where else does a very middle-class girl find graffiti cool and interesting, not only in its more artistic forms, but when it paints the streets of the poorer suburbs? Where else being so rough and offbeat chic, not scary? I am a fan.

The first glance at the guidebook might direct us immediately to the East Side Gallery to see Berlin’s finest examples of professional street art. This 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall acted as a canvas for street artists from around the world after the reunification of Germany in 1990, and is currently the largest open air gallery in the world. I loved the Gallery, don’t get me wrong. The art there was wonderful, the history so visible and touching, and aside from the biting cold (it was December and about -16 degrees celcius with windchill from the icy river) I really could not fault the place. However, it is not the East Side Gallery that I felt really captured the spirit of the new bohemian cool of the German capital. It is Tacheles.

I was sent to Tacheles on the orders of a friend who goes to Edinburgh College of Art. If I am honest I should admit that when I first saw its entrance-way, I almost chickened out. In the middle of what seemed to be an otherwise respectable and relatively normal street, complete with restaurants, cafes, shops, apartments and bratwurst stands, stands an oddly crumbly-looking, red-brick building with various coloured pictures cascading down its sides. Above the entrance isa huge banner reading ‘Welcome to Poland’, adorned with a huge vision of what can only be described as disturbia. I do not know how else to describe a huge black and white photo of a rather demonic-looking, naked old woman. Mirrors and broken frames are stacked inside the entrance archway, and I remember looking at my friend, Kirsty, as if to say: “Jess is an art kid. She’s allowed to like weird stuff. I’ll bale if you will.”

Thankfully, both of us are too stubborn to give up on anything – least of all let ourselves be intimidated by a place. So, ignoring our substantial lack of inner art kid, we tentatively crossed the threshold of Tacheles. Inside, we found a snow-covered courtyard full of strange sculptures forged out of what appeared to be scrap metal (slightly rusted), icicle-coated patio furniture, abandoned buses and trucks (circa 1960-something) and giant graffiti-coated billboards. Now, I realise that this may sound like nothing special. But it is the ‘cool thing’ coming back. Never have a seen a place that sums up the bohemian spirit of a city in so abstract a place. For all I expected not to ‘get it’ and leave Tacheles securely in the realm of the cool art kids with back-combed hair and spidery limbs, something about the place really struck me as — well, cool. Eclectic, bohemian, offbeat, this place is just plain amazing. I am not ashamed to admit that I went back three times. There was something about the vibe of the place that I cannot recommend highly enough. It seems to capture the essence of bohemian Berlin, and whilst the city’s history is by no means forgotten there, Tacheles seems to live more in the moment. Not in the past, not in the future, but in the infinitely, sublimely cool present.

Sehr cool. Darf ich bald zuruck gehen bitte?

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