Trundling around the main art galleries in any city can get a little stale after the third visit and so it was I decided to search out some less conventional artistic locations. I'd recently overheard a couple of friends discussing the art centre-cum-nightclub called Kunst Haus Tacheles and so had decided to have a gander, as they say.
Located on Oranienburger Strasse in the Mitte district of Berlin, it covers a giant area of land, which looks derelict at first glance. Yet this is not the Chernobyl-style, uninhabited waste ground that one could easily be forgiven for assuming. It is instead a hub of the Berlin arts scene. Gigantic graffiti murals coat the walls of part of the main complex; some are quite beautiful, others tacky. It is nevertheless loud, not in sound, but in visual vibrancy, which cries out as one approaches.
The central building was originally built in 1907 as a huge shopping mall; later it was to be used as a marketing space, a Nazi administration office, a detention centre for French POWs, and a storage warehouse for general building materials. It also suffered some bomb damage during the Second World War. In 1990 it was saved from being demolished and was taken over by a group of young artists from around the world and was later to be declared a historical architectural monument.
It now has a worldwide reputation and is mentioned in many Berlin travel guides. It’s even given a small subsidy from the government. Artists from a wide variety of nations and cultures show their creativity here. Nationalities include German, American, British, French, Japanese, Turkish, Russian, and even Iraqi.
So there I was, arriving at the entrance one April afternoon. On the ground floor, various doors were wide open with welcoming signs gesturing for passers-by to enter. I wandered around two of the street-level galleries taking in the quite wonderful metal-work sculptures and, in places, erotic paintings.
It was there that I came upon the likely great-grandson of Baron Von Richthofen, the Red Baron famous for his flying prowess in WWI dogfights. The grandson was sitting in the furthest corner behind a computer screen. He never looked up to greet my presence or question who was around. He wore a green flying cap with flying goggles upon his head; his unshaven face looked hazy, perhaps with ground-in dirt. His eyes, glued to his monitor, were unblinking. I thought for a moment he was a waxwork of the finest quality, but then his black mongrel dog stirred behind him and he muttered some command - or obscenity.