The Kunsthaus Tacheles is a former department store which now houses a self-organized collective of artists on Oranienburger Straße in Berlin-Mitte.

Origin of the NameEdit

The word "Tacheles" (Yiddish word for "plain, honest, straightforward talk") is based on censorship problems in the GDR. As a result of limited freedom of speech, musicians, directors and artists were not permitted to openly express themselves, and they were forced to conceal the true message of the work. The use of Yiddish is probably a result of the building's location in the old Jewish quarter (now the Scheunenviertel).



The building was constructed over the course of 15 months in 1907 and 1908 under the watch of the imperial building office (kaiserlicher Baurat) Franz Ahrens. One year later it was opened as the Friedrichstraßenpassage, which housed several small businesses. At the time, the building complex stretched from Friedrichstraße to Oranienburger Straße. The passage had entrances from both sides and served to connect the two main thoroughfares. The Friedrichstraßenpassage was the second largest of its kind in the city and the only remaining piece of large passage architecture in Europe. The construction expenses totaled approximately 7 million German marks.

The five-story building was made of reinforced concrete with a colossal ribbed dome. The façade was built to be dependent upon this concrete frame. There were several small businesses on both sides of the large covered passage. The building is typically treated as an example of early Modern architecture but exhibits aspects of both Classic and Gothic styles. The complex also housed its own pneumatic tube system for sending mail and materials within the building.

A group of individual shareholders hoped to establish a market advantage by capitalizing on a common location. The concept meant that stores would not be strictly separated from one another, but would instead be allowed to overlap. This was enabled by the existence of a central point-of-sale terminal, where all customers would pay for their goods. But a mere 6 months after its opening the passage had to file for bankruptcy in August 1908. The complex was then rented by Wolf Wertheim, who in 1909 opened a new department store, which operated until 1914. The building was auctioned off shortly before World War I.

It is unclear how the building was used between 1914 and 1924. In 1924, among other additions to the building, a deep cellar was built. This cellar still exists today and is also known as the Tresorraum. The height of the ceiling in the passage was lowered to that of the stores, which changed the appearance of the building completely.

Haus der TechnikEdit

After 1928 the building was used as a show room by the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (General Electric Company). It was renamed Haus der Technik by the proprietor, the Berliner Commerz- und Privatbank. The AEG used the space to display products and advise customers. The former AEG show room, located at Luisenstraße 35, had been destroyed by a fire on September 15, 1927. The new space covered over 113,000 sq ft (10,500 sq. meters) and used 20 large display cases. One of the first German television transmissions took place here during the 1930s.

Use by the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party)Edit

In the early 1930s, the building was increasingly used by Nazi party members. In the mid-30s, the German Workers Front established offices for Gau Kurmark and became owners of the building in 1941. At the same time it became the central office for the SS.

In 1943 the skylights were closed and the corresponding ridge turrets removed, so that French war prisoners could be held in the attic. During the Battle of Berlin the second cellar was flooded by the Nazis and remains underwater to day. The building was heavily damaged during World War II, though a large portion of the building survived intact.

Use in the GDREdit

In 1948 the building was taken over by the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB) and deteriorated over the course of the next several years. Various retailers and craft businesses temporarily moved into the ruins, especially on the Friedrichstraße side. The German Travel Agency used the repaired passage section and several floors above ground. Among others, there was an artists' school, a technical school for foreign trade and economics, and office spaces for RTF (Rundfunk- und Fernmelde-Technik), a company dealing with radio and transmission technology. The cellar was used by the National People's Army.

The movie theater Camera was located in the Friedrichstraße gateway area, but was forced to leave in 1958 due to the worsening condition of the building. The presentation hall was dismantled, but was later reopened under the name OTL (Oranienburger Tor Lichtspiele). During the reconstruction work the facade was partially changed and a lobby area was built to house cash registers and checkout aisles. The roof was also rebuilt. This created the current entryway. The movie theater is still used today as a theater area, and after further reconstruction in 1972, it was renamed Camera.


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Though having suffered only moderate damage during the second World War, the building was slated to be demolished as a result of two engineering opinions from 1969 and 1977; it had not once been renovated, despite relatively continuous and intensive use. A new street was planned on the site and would have created a shortcut between Oranienburger Straße and Friedrichstraße.

The demolition began in 1980. The dome was torn down and the movie theater closed. The remaining portions of the building were scheduled to be demolished in April 1990.

Artists' Initiative TachelesEdit

On February 13th, 1990, two months before the planned detonation, the group Künstlerinitative Tacheles occupied the building. The group tried to prevent the demolition through discussions with the building management in Berlin-Mitte, which was legally responsible for the complex, by registering the building as an historic place. The planned demolition was not delayed however, until the group managed to get the Berlin Round Table to issue a last-minute injunction.

The artists' initiative had a new engineering survey done to evaluate the building's structural integrity. The study found that the building was in surprisingly good shape, and it was named an historic landmark shortly thereafter. Its status was officially recognized after a second survey done in February 1992.

The building is painted in bright colors and a large courtyard behind the building holds several sculptures erected using rubble, debris, vehicles and other objects. There was an appreciable amount of disagreement among the East German and West German artists due to their conflicting views and concepts for the space. In the meantime, however, Tacheles has become a central part of the art, activist, exhibition and communication scenes in Berlin, and is officially registered as Tacheles, e. V.. In 1996 and 1997, politicians, sociologists, architects, and artists discussed the preservation and future use of the complex at Metropolis Berlin, Hochgeschwindigkeitsarchitektur (Metropolis Berlin, High Speed Architecture).


Present UseEdit

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The Kunsthaus Tacheles is an art center and nightclub that was opened in East Berlin after the Berlin Wall came down in the spring of 1990. Tacheles is a large (9000 square meter) building on Oranienburger Straße in the district known as Mitte. The exterior of the building was damaged from shelling in World War II, and much of the damage was never repaired. Huge, colorful graffiti-style murals are painted on the exterior walls, and modern art sculptures are featured inside.

Tacheles was originally occupied by a number of international artists, performers and musicians before becoming an art centre with a cafe, cinema, performance space, workshops and exhibition space. In the beginning it was run by well-known curator Jochen Sandig who expanded the building considerably. In its early days, Tacheles provided both housing and work space for its artist residents. In 1991, the associated housing burnt down, and there was considerable suspicion that the fire was started deliberately in order to pave the way for a new art centre. Among the early exhibitors were artist Mark Divo, sculptors the Mutoid Waste Company, musicians Spiral Tribe, theatre group DNTT, performance artist Lennie Lee, dancer/ choreographer Sasha Waltz, Ramm Theater, and many others.

Tacheles provided inspiration for a scene in the German film Good Bye Lenin!, according to commentary by director Wolfgang Becker on the US DVD release.

The lease with the property owner ends in 2008 and the future of the art house is uncertain.

External linksEdit


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