Where are we now?

With this song, David Bowie express his concern about the changes in the world and, specifically in Berlin. The song starts at the Potsdamer Platz, that didn't exist like it is today (with its big and modern buildings), before the Wall fell. As you can learn in one of the tours "Songs of Berlin", David Bowie lived in West Berlin in the 70s. He has experiences the Berlin before and have seen the Berlin after and the mix of culture, counter-culture, communism, capitalism and its evolution in the history.

Everything happens for a reason (or many reasons). Berlin is a very attractive city because of its history and its cultural movement. It is also polemic nowadays, as Berlin is changing and losing a bit of its identity (according to the opinion of many).

Some examples of this change are:

- The closing of the Kunsthaus Tacheles in 2012, very near to Miniloft, when the financial group Nordbank decided to make money out of it and paid the artist huge amounts of money to leave it. Tacheles was originally an old department store, turned Nazi prison and after the Wall fell, this international artist commune, that started the art house with the ideals of the Berlin Subculture and ended by selling Tshirts for 15 euro with the slogan "Culture is not for sale". Nowadays, you can only see its facade.

- Thedisappearance of the iconic paintings, "Brothers Upside and Down" and "Chains"after a suspicious fire, and subsequent license application for the construction of housing. Land speculation makes its appearance on the site. Given the intention of the promoter to increase the price of apartments facing the wall.

The two adjoining paintings Blu Italian and French JR, created in 2007 as part of street art festival and Planet Prozess, that became icons of Kreuzberg and the international urban art. Thus, Blu requested to block both paintings under black paint.

But how all this counter-culture and squatting happened in Berlin?

After World War I, the city, like the rest of the country, suffered the consequences of defeat, and became the playground of the winners during the Roaring Twenties.
They emerged theaters and cabarets, movie studios, an emerging gay culture was claimed on the social scene.
By that time, Berlin was knows as the capital of pleasure and it was the origin of the "slogan" of Berlin "sex, drugs and charleston". Also, a perfect place for bohemians.

It also became more and more international with the arrival of Jews of Eastern Europe, and White Russians who had fled the revolution in their country. Back in the sixties the Turks came to West Berlin, and Vietnamese to the East. After World War II, as everyone knows, Berlin is divided.

West Berlin became a showcase that West German authorities, of course also the allies shamelessly took advantage of the communist regime of the GDR (tax benefits, exemption from military service, housing...)

Berlin became a place with a very interesting offer and low rents for students, artists, visionaries and the squatters began, all about in Kreuzberg, that was also the frontier with two parts: Kreuzberg 61, the biggest, and the smallest but more well known SO 36, surrounded by three of its four sides by the Wall, and an alternative own culture to West Berlin.

Squatters movements were not born in Kreuzberg, but here they had their greatest impact from 1979. A protest movement against the demolition of old buildings, still in good condition, to build new blocks and the gap that originated leaving homeless many Berliners, was radicalized causing serious confrontations with the police and the start of the occupation of thousands of homes remained empty.

The heyday of the movement came in the 80s and soon, the West German authorities subjected them to regulation, so the "occupants" have actually an agreement with the city council. It is called "instandbesetzen": Enter empty houses, restore and reach an agreement with the owner.

With the fall of the Wall in 1989, there is a legal loophole with the empty houses of East Berlin. There is then another wave of squatters to occupy more than 25000 empty flats in Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain.

The parties started in the squatters, and also in abandoned factories and warehouses. It was the origin of clubs like Tresor and Berlin became the epicenter of electronic music.

Under this culture, 1300 meters of the Berlin Wall were saved by some artists, who used it to express their ideas and feelings about the Wall. This is the origin of the "East Side Gallery", which gave fame to Berlin for its street art, together with the decorated squats.

What can we see now from this counter-culture?

You can see a lot of examples, from decorated houses, different urban tribes (a lot of punks), street art, art galleries, techno clubs and alternative bars. But also, mixed with a lot of tourist and new Berliners. The scene is changing but, like it is said about the Mafia in Sicily, you don't really see it, but you feel it.

We suggest you to go to one of the Alternative Tours in Berlin, specially the Street Art Culture Tour.

Here we leave some more information about the squats, the street art and some related events:

May Day: It is not possible to talk about Kreuzberg and squats without mentioning the festivity of the First of May, when Kreuzberg gets crazy with all the left-wing demonstrations and parties in every corner. Click here to see the program. Map of street art:On this website you can find three different street art tours through Mitte, Friedrichain and Kreuzberg. Map of the squats:All the information about the squats in Berlin in this Map since 1970 Calendar of Squat events:Dinners, brunches, movies, concerts... There is a complete calendar with cultural events related to the left wing politic ideology.
The meals are daily served for free or for a tip, they are called VolxKuche/VolxKüche (VoKu/VoKü), people's kitchen or kitchen for all, and they are normally vegetarian or vegan.

Photo: Alternative Berlin Tours

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