WTF Happened in Rigaer Strasse?

Berlin's Thought Police in action

You might have seen the footage on the news in the last few weeks of flack-jacketed cops milling around outside of one of Friedrichshain's playfully patchworked 'squats' (which aren't actually squats, anymore, although they once were). You might have read a snippet of text or two, telling you about an attack on a passer-by in the street, and a raid on a house.  The chances are very good, though, that you didn't get the whole story of what actually happened in Rigaer Strasse.  I know I didn't.  So in this post, I'm going to share what I've learned about it so far. 

According to the press, on January 13th, a police officer was attacked in  in Rigaer Strasse in North FriedrichshainDer Spiegel wrote that the injured officer in question "was overthrown, beaten and kicked to the ground" by four people who were "suspected" left wingers. "According to police, the 52-year-old officer was wearing no protective clothing and was injured by the attack." Der Spiegel wrote"The four attackers then fled into the house in Rigaer Strasse."  

Later that same day, 550 police officers stormed the house.  There, they claimed to have found "missiles and so-called "crow's feet", which can be used to damage car tires.”  The "missiles" turned out to be nothing more than paving stones which were being used for construction.  

It later transpired that the police didn't even have a search warrant when they entered the house, and that they had no reason to assume the attackers were still on site.  So why the OTT raid, then?  No answers are forthcoming, yet.  But one gets the impression that the police and their bosses  seem to have assumed that no one would even think of asking that question. Turns out that they were wrong. Yesterday, a meeting by the Committee on Internal Affairs was tasked with investigating the heavy handed response to the attack in Rigaer Strasse.  Interior Minister Henkel, who claimed full responsibility for ordering the raid, only said that he "prefers to use a few more officials now rather than later losing control."  Translated, this means that he favours busting people who haven't actually committed any crimes.  

But the events of January 13th aren't where the story actually begins. Rigaer Strasse 94, a left-wing collective based in the area, wrote on their website in November that residents were "being made to show their ID cards and were being searched, while others were dragged into vans and let out somewhere different. People were not accused of anything concrete, but their style of dress was cited as a reason for a dismissal from the zones around the street."  Here, "styles of dress" seems to mean that the victims looked a bit punk and left-wing.  If you thought Kater Blau's fashion police were bad, well, in Rigaer Strasse the police have moved the dresscode from the club door to people's front doorsteps.  Only in this case, it's getting out of the building that's a problem, not getting in.   

The residents of Rigaer Strasse have been subject to police harassment since October 2015, when Interior Minister Henkel stated that the residents of Rigaer Street were "terrorists" and vowed that he would crack down on them, following a rash of attacks against police in the area the previous year.  In 2015, police were attacked 9 times in Rigaer Strasse.  In most of these attacks, objects were thrown at them from the roofs.  It's worth noting that the attacks mostly happen during events like "The Long Night of Rigaer Strasse", a street festival that sees the squats open their doors to the general public, so it's questionable how responsible the permanent residents of Rigaer Strasse are for the attacks Henkel is referring to.  Also, most attacks like this happen in the summer which is tourist season in Friedrichshain (yes, even in the left-wing scene), so the chances of the same assailants still being in the area in the winter are slim.  But maybe the real point of attacking the area in winter is more cold-blooded and strategic, than legal: the population is smaller now, and it's easier to wrest control away from the left wing scene.  But why?  More on that below.  

But first, let's get back to the raid on January 13th.  Sending 550 police officers into a house without a warrant when there weren't even any suspects in it was already pretty over the top, but Henkel went even further still, by sending in members of Berlin's Special Task Force (SEK), too.

According to Wikipedia, the main missions of SEK units are to "to deal with barricaded suspects. Hostage sieges, kidnappings and raids.They don't say that the SEK is normally used to raid left-wing, vegan cooperatives full of unarmed non-suspects but I suspect that's not standard procedureDoes Mr. Henkel know that?  

Apparently, "The basic gear for every SEK officer is a standard sidearm and a submachine gun. SEK's other weaponry includes rifles, sniper rifles, and even machine guns." 

So that's definitely going over the top, then.   

As an interesting aside, Wikipedia states that “the SEK units partially consist of officers who were members of East Germany's GSG 9 counterpart, a unit called Diensteinheit IX."  I assume that means that quite a few members of the unit were trained to operate within a totalitarian socialist context instead of this totalitarian capitalist one.  Boy, does that explain a lot.

Proud to be the 'terror' of the neighbourhood: a 'squat' house in Rigaer Strasse
Totalitarian or not, the police response to Rigaer Strasse suggests that the City's intention here was not to take out a defined threat, but to eradicate even the tendency to defy authority, in Rigaer Strasse.  Perhaps they find it easier to do that with armed police than by addressing the sorts of problems that make people become defiant in the first place.  

One of those problems is the stress that gentrification is putting upon the neighbourhood around Rigaer Strasse.  The area north of Frankfurter Allee is truly a neighbourhood, one of the last bastions of long-term renters living in a borough that's been almost entirely given over to holiday-makers, living in overpriced sublets close to the club hubs of Revaler Strasse and Simon Dach Strasse.  

In the right wing media, the defiance of neighbourhoods like Rigaer Strasse is usually portrayed as some sort of adolescent rebellion.  But take a walk around north and south Friedrichshain in the summer and you'll see that what the north is aiming for isn't some sort of unattainable utopia, after all - it's just the bare minimum state of permanence that's needed to stay on in a neighbourhood from one year to the next.  But as the surrounding properties get bought up by image-conscious developpers, residents are facing pressure to move on and make way for wave after wave of short-term residents.

One begins to suspect that the City's decision to harass the residents of Rigaer Strasse has more to do with its cozy relationship to the kinds of property investors who would love to fill North Friedrichshain with shorter-term tenants, providing them with constant opportunities to raise their rents.  (Note: in Berlin, a landlord can only raise the rent after a tenant moves out).

Berlin's city government has a long history of courting such property investors by unethical means.  In the 1990s the city of Berlin was even bankrupted by its CDU government because it went so overboard in its attempts to please local real estate developpers.  At the time, Berlin was a majority shareholder in the BGB bank and local officials handed out 600 million Euros credit to friends working in the real estate sector.  They illegally waived any credit checks because they were overconfident that they would get all that money back with interest, once wealthy people started flooding into Berlin and renting out the newly refurbished flats at inflated prices.  Their gamble didn't pay off though and BGB went bankrupt due to its mismanagement.   

At the time, Berlin was a sort of Wild West ghost town, filled with empty houses.  I imagine that the city councillors felt like they'd won the Lottery, coming into a city full of attractive empty properties, and it made them a bit careless: a gold-rush mentality.   But what the City failed to consider was just how it was going to let out all those newly refurbished flats to wealthy emigres when the unemployment rate in Berlin is so high and there is a glaring lack of stable industry to attract wealth 
The CDU has never answered that questionInstead, it seems content to go on making rash, unsustainable choices - basically, gambling on the hope that they will get a miraculous payout from the rental market using a combination of muscle, money and corruption.   But as long as they fail to address the city's underlying problems, this amounts to wishful thinking.    

Part of the problem now is that the City is desperate to pay off the huge debt that it helped to create in the 1990s with its mismanagement - and the SPD was implicated in that mismanagement as well, so it shares that desperation with the CDUSo whenever the prospect of easy cash presents itself, the City throws all caution to the wind, and the people of Berlin usually end up paying the price; the City passed off much of its bad debt to Berliners in the form of higher taxation and cuts to social services and now it wants to take their homes as well But seriously... who's fault is it that the debt is there in the first place?  

The City's government behaves less like a government than a gambling addict who keeps putting more money into a losing slot machine, the property market, in the hopes of saving face.  A big win is the only thing that might make its stupidity seem suddenly clever, againIn the meantime it doesn't seem to care who it displaces, raids, arrests or slanders as it pursues this losing strategy... even if it means calling in the SEK.   

Judging by the positive tone of comments made about Rigaer Strasse in Berlin's cultural media, most people seem to enjoy spending time in the "terrorist" 'hood" (or gefahrengebiet, as it's known in German) Maybe Rigaer Strasse is still a popular area because it's still vibrant and cheap, and full of exciting venues and peopleMaybe Berliners like it because, when they're there, they don't get that sense of an encroaching gentrification creeping along behind them, preparing to put up territorial fences behind them when they leave. 

Clearly the bigger problem is that Berlin isn't the sort of city where the government can just sit back and collect the profits... which is often all that it seems prepared to doAs a city, it is too young and historically complex, and too beset by unique economic and social problems, for the standard model of "gentrification" to work.  What it needs is an administration that's prepared to take a proactive approach and build a stable community, complete with jobs, social services and free resources that bring people together.  The left wing scene is trying very hard to provide those last two options with its limited resources because the government doesn't leave them much choice.  It simply isn't doing enough to pick up the slack.

So maybe, instead of evicting the residents of Rigaer Strasse, the city of Berlin would be better off taking suggestions from them instead.

If you agree, then be sure to check out the solidarity demo on Feburary 6th.  It starts at 16:00 at Rummelplatz, the wagon village on Guertelstrasse (nearest station Ostkreuz).


Preview: Am Boden's Balaclava Ballroom

Fidelity Kastrow plays Friday @ Mensch Meier
I've written here a few times about Mensch Meier, the multi-purpose party space that's near to Landsberger Allee, but they've been putting on such a wide variety of events in the past year that it's getting pretty damn hard to sum the place up in just a few lines.

If you're curious what the Mensch Meier phenomenon is all about, this weekend may be a good time to get down there and get a feel for exactly what kind of place it is.

This Friday, Nachtasyl's party 'Am Boden' will serve up several Mensch Meier specialties at once (several, but not all).  It will have decadence, a dark theatrical flair, a generous helping of left-wing ethics plus lots of banging, subversive tunes.  Experimental / dark / rough techno, disco and dubtechno are all on the menu.  

The Princess of Death. Friday @ Mensch Meier

The organizers say they have "been organizing raves in abandoned basements and houses" since 2013 and fittingly, their party motto is "using the unused". And when you see acts like The Princess of Death appear onstage dressed like they've dredged a darkroom gutter for discarded party accessories, playing music that sounds like it's been ripped up and stuck back together again using attitude in place of glue, you might just understand what they mean.

Nachtasyl says that this party will be driven by two main principles which, in their own words, are:

#1: We want to make an intensive and thoughtful party that makes you dance to rough and dark Techno sounds as well as making you enjoy atmospheric and experimental Beat- and Disco-sets. We want to design a space that gives you the chance to escape.

#2: We want to make a good party for the sake of a good party. We don't want to make money. We are donating 50% of our profit to "You can't break a Movement", a Rote Hilfe e.V. project that pays legal fees for regugees and refugee
activists. The other 50% will be saved up to lower our personal risks and cover expenses for the next edition of the party.

To put it another way, this isn't so much a benefit party as it as a ball for the balaclava-wearing set.

Check out Am Boden this Friday January 22nd at Storkower Strasse 121. Doors open 11:00 p.m. Entrance costs 10.00 Euros. Enjoy!


NYE in Berlin: Sweet Twenty-Sixteen

So: you're new in Berlin, or just visiting for New Year's Eve?  Welcome... and good luck!

Foto by: fuckyeahanarchopunk.tumblr.com

New Year's Eve in Berlin can be an overrated and overpriced experience, but only if you read too much into it. As in most cities, there are lesser-known parties which turn out to be amazing while many of the massively overhyped parties fall short of the value suggested by their price tag.  In this post, I aim to help you decide which is which.

But, before I get around to talking about the actual parties, here are a few general tips on doing New Year's Eve in Berlin.  

Don't Get Bombed

In this city, the end of the year party always goes off with a bang... just maybe not in the way you were hoping for.  If having fireworks aimed at your face by a laughing Chav who's swinging a bottle of peppermint schnapps in his free hand sounds like fun, you'll venture out into the streets between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. on December 31st.  Otherwise, you'll stay inside.  Trust me on this... 

Few outsiders can grasp how extreme the Berlin yearning to re-enact the firestorm of World Wars gone by using 1.00 Euro fireworks can be, until they see it for themselves. Fewer still can understand it.  Budding psychoanalysts: feel free to speculate on their subconscious motivations in the box below.

So the first rule of New Year's in Berlin is to get yourself to a bar, house party or a club well before midnight... and then stay there.

Speak With a Silver Tongue

Once you're safely stowed far from Berlin's restless natives in one of the city's many bars (which are almost all brilliant, as well as fireproof) you'll need to know a bit of New Year's Eve terminology.  In Germany, New Year's Eve is called Silvester, and people here say 'Guten Rutsch'  instead of 'Happy New Year' at midnight.  Suffice to say that it's more common to hear 'Guten Rutsch' from well-coiffed people in smart black coats, exchanging sophisticated kisses indoors, than out in the streets, where primal, Platoon-style shrieking and sneak-preview scenes from the Apocalypse prevail.

Happy New... Fear?

Once the coast is clear and you've kissed your loved ones goodbye (for the last time?) it's time to move on to the main event: the night club.  As you venture out onto the shrapnel-covered streets of Berlin, the first question on your lips will probably be: 'where should I go now?' (followed closely by, 'is anything still intact?').  Sadly, there are far too many New Year's parties on offer for me to give a definite answer to the first question.  Parties will run the gamut from being overpriced and over-hyped, to being underrated and loadsa fun.  Which party falls into what category depends entirely on where the masses choose to go to after midnight, and that's as unpredictable as a roman candle thrown from a passing car.  So, instead, I've listed the main events here, listing each party's highlights and lowlights so that you can decide for yourself. 
Arena Club: Its main space is tasteful, brick, warehouse-chic that wouldn't be out of place in London's Brick Lane.  It also has a huge & sparse second dancefloor with a more ravey feeling.

Vibe: International and serious. Tasteful techno nerds abound.  And I use the word 'techno' in it's proper sense of upbeat, four to the floor, and pumping. 

DJ highlight: Chris Liebing

Cost: 37.50 +

Official Party Listing

Ritter Butzke: Sprawling, multi-room tourist playground that has more or less taken over from Bar 25 as the Berlin-style night spot.

Vibe: The Like-A-Local website comes to mind.  This club attracts many visitors who want to do 'authentic' Berlin nightlife.  Not always the friendliest spot if you're not in a large group, though.

DJ Highlight: Digitalism.  

Cost: 35.00 +

Official Party Listing

Ritter Butzke
Kater Blau: A darker and more streetwise reincarnation of Kater Holzig, Kater Blau comprises a series of carnival-themed rooms imbued with a sense of vague menace; in the daylight, this usually turns out to be nothing more than smeared eyeliner.

Vibe: In here, the people are either straight but stoned, or crooked and K'd up... but friendly and up for anything. 

DJ Highlights: They all seem to have about 150 followers on Resident Advisor, so probably no really big names.

Cost: Not listed.  May be an (unwelcome) surprise!

Official Party Listing

Griessmuehle: Wrecked old mill on a Neukoelln canal with plenty of rooms.

Vibe: Gritty, fun and a touch psychedelic.  It's generally friendly but there have been some issues with the doormen imposing dress codes, so be warned: you may need to wear black (!)

DJ Highlight: Alienata, Legoworld

Cost: 22.00+

Official Party Listing
Urban Spree

About Blank: Dark, packed multi-room space with an ever-evolving backyard.

Vibe: Left-wing and queer scenes alternately dominate this space.  Its left-wing parties tend towards prohibitive politics, and the queer parties towards uninhibited antics.  (Guess which ones are more fun?)

DJ Highlights: There are plenty of DJs listed, yet none are headliners... but then, what did you expect from such a democratic scene?

Cost: 20.00-25.00 +

Official Party Listing

Urban Spree: Large, yet intimately-run gallery-cum-party space swathed in edgy streetart.

Vibe: This venue seems to attract the type of people who like to have at least 10 non-rave related activities orbiting around the dancefloor before they're satisfied.  Expect pop-up hairshops, bandstands and all that jazz.  The crowd usually manages to fall just outside the hipster end of the spectrum, despite liking many of the same sorts of things.  Excellent for artsy networking.

DJ Highlights: Who's even going there for the DJ's??

Cost: 15.00 +

Official Party Listing

Mensch Meier: Well, Spiral Tribe played there when the place first opened, so comparisons to the Tribe's previous base, Tacheles, are slightly warranted. This is one of the few big Berlin clubs that feels like a squat that you could really imagine living in.  

Vibe: A cross between a theater, chillout room (with all the cushions and swirly lights that entails), bonfire party and community center.  But it's not fully any of those things.

Highlights: Moog Conspiracy, Dada Disco and live performances within that festy sort of vein.

Cost: 23.00 +

Official Party Listing
Mensch Meier's Raueberhoele.  Foto by BLN.FM.

Here are the venues that are doing big parties that I've left out because I've covered them plenty of times already:





Salon Zur Wilden Renate


Guten Rutsch!!


Gegen: An Alternative to the Alternatives

Gegen's been going strong for four years now, and guess what?  Yours truly was the first blogger to write about them in English when they debuted at MIKZ club.  There's not much left to say that hasn't already been said by me (or by Gegen - man, do they love to write!) so on the eve of tonight's party, Ass, I'm reposting this piece that I wrote for Alternative Berlin's blog in 2012. Enjoy!

Alternative.  What does the word even mean these days?  In its origins, the word alternative was used to label anything that could not be easily categorized or was non-mainstream.  Over time, those un-categorizable tendencies settled into categories of their own, becoming the subcultures that most of us are familiar with: goth, indie, punk, rave, hippy, hip hop and so on.  Every alternative scene starts out nameless and ambiguous but eventually resigns itself to becoming just another label with unspoken rules and codes that its participants are expected to obey. The queer scene is no exception to this rule.

So where do the people who fall outside of all of the predefined alternatives go if they want to freak out without feeling like they’re just freaks?  Even in a city as big and underground as Berlin it can be hard  to escape definitions and expectations but the experimental queer club Gegen is doing a good job of trying.  Gegen puts on regular, themed parties at the legendary Kit Kat Club in Mitte.  Its aim is to create parties that are  ‘queer’ in every sense of the word, not just in terms of  sexuality.  The Gegen crew and its followers are not afraid to bend genders, defy definitions, subvert stereotypes, mix metaphors and basically, to mess with your mind.  Their parties blur the boundaries between the different alternative categories with the glee of children making mud pies. Their promotional material is intentionally vague, as if to warn party-goers in advance: “Abandon certainty, all ye who enter here”.

Appropriately enough the theme of Gegen’s next party on March the 2nd will be “Alternatives. “  Although no lineup has been announced for it yet, my experience with the club suggests that it will once again act as a meeting point for people who want to celebrate and explore their extremes without moving towards a fixed destination.  Or, as the Gegen crew puts it, “GEGEN does not want to be underground or overground. It wants to be/come ANOTHER GROUND – definitely a playground”.
Previous Gegen parties have brought together emerging underground styles such as witch house and zombie rave with experimental bands from all over Europe, warehouse techno, improvised live performances and followers who have, one way or the other, fallen between the cracks of  various alternative labels. Berlin today may be threatened by conformity and gentrification but Gegen continues to celebrate the deep, dark fault lines that keep its parties rocking.


Halloween Preview: Dancing With the Dark

Leaving Berghain last weekend, I saw two bright beams shining through the mist in the pitch black, pre-dawn sky.  They were yellowish white, and looked exactly like a pair of lights from a construction crane.

My first thought was, "Shit, they're building another high rise in Friedrichshain??"  But after a while the mist cleared away and I realized that those two orbs in the sky were actually a pair of stars: Venus and Jupiter, in fact.  The veil dropped between the sky and the earth, and suddenly everything seemed like one big extension of the dark dancefloor I'd just left behind, dotted with glimmering lights that stretched all the way to the edges of space.

I'm used to leaving a party in the morning and being shocked by the sight of the waking world outside, doing its thing, blissfully oblivious to whatever's been going on inside the clubs and bars.  But this time, the 'world' I was seeing was millions of miles away and it was still close enough to clearly see.  It even seemed close enough to touch.  And so bright, for a couple of planets that aren't  even real stars. 

It seemed like a visual metaphor for the fact that a person doesn't really have to 'be a star' in order to make an impact on the cosmos. As long as they're loud and proud and close enough to others to be seen, they can keep on passing changes on down the chain-reaction of events.

As I passed by the bouncers at the door to the club, I also felt like I was witnessing a visual cosmic pun.  Astronomically speaking, Jupiter is a kind of bouncer for the inner solar system.  It screens out nasties (like the asteroid Schumacher Levy 9) that might mess up the balmy green planet we're prancing around on, alongside Venus.  As in heaven, so on earth and so on.

This glowing conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars is going to last all weekend, right through Halloween and All Saints Day.  Millions of people worldwide still believe that a 'rift' between the worlds opens up on October 31st and November 1st, and allows us to see a little bit of what's outside of our Earthly reality.  It seems kind of fateful that at the same time of year, we're getting a clear view of what's happening in the 'heavens above'. 

Berlin's nightlife scene is also taking a long-range perspective this weekend, fusing sensations and perspectives from different eras, lands, and corners of the world to express those timeless certainties about death, sex and rebirth.  The theme underlying all of them seems to be the same: we need to embrace the dark before we can see how bright the light is.

On Saturday October 31st at new Prenzlauerberg venue Horns and Hooves, "One of the last surviving female sword swallowers and artiste extraordinaire returns to open her own venue: a hoofy, horny mix of club, cabaret, circus and piano bar."  The night is being organized together with co-founder of the HM Stubnitz and CCCP bar, two Berlin institutions that meld Cold War decor with a modern ethos and futuristic sounds. About as timeless as you can get!

On Sunday November 1st there is Mexican themed noise-industrial-experimental-ambient arts fest Dia de Muertos at Maze Club.  Including "Performance Artwork dedicated to Mexico and its War On Drugs supported by the US government which is bringing Death to innocent civilians."  Alongside this will be a performance by live industrial artist who incorporates "constant sonic research on Shamanic and Ritualistic music" into her performance.

All day long on Saturday October 31st is Samhain on the Spree at Wagenburg Lohmuehle just east of Goerli park.  This is a Halloween-slash-abortion rights soliparty.  As if getting an abortion isn't scary enough, the prospect of a world full of unwanted children, and unhealthy, unhappy mothers carrying unfulfilled dreams is far worse, as many northern Irish folks can tell you.  Accordingly, the festival is being co-organized with the help of the Irish community.  It features cheeky, creepy events like a Monster Baby Rave and performances by the likes of Mad Kate (see photo above).  But there's serious talent there as well, as this track by Atma shows.

Fight Together, Dance Together at Mensch Meier brings us another transcendental perspective: it's run by an alliance that helps out refugees in Berlin, believing that humankind needs to share what is has left and cooperate to survive, not to destroy it all, and each other, by fighting.

Mensch Meier is a sprawling, tangential gathering place in Storkower Strasse that seems to change every time I go there.  They will have information stands from 20.00 by the organizers, Bundnis fur Bedingungsloses Bleibrechts (try saying that five times fast!  It means 'Alliance for the Unconditional Right To Stay').  Party starts at 23.55 and is 10.00 Euros to get in. 

For traditional underworld fare in a calmer setting, head to the Kastanienkeller (Kastanienallee 85, Prenzlauerberg) on Saturday October 31st.  They're putting on an exhibition of 'drawings from the crypt, postapocalyptic photography and demonic/mummy drawings.'  It starts at midday and it's right under the anarchist bean collective Morgenrot cafe.  You're guaranteed to leave quaking, either from fear or drinking too much of their amazing coffee.

If you just want a straight-up free party where you can dance like a machine, then try the
No signal party at Wrangelstrasse.

Finally, next weekend is Gegen's annual Samhain trans-everything spectacle at the Kit Kat club, on November 6th.  As they say on their website: "To explore darkness shall allow you to experience blinding colours."  I couldn't have found a better way to describe what you can expect from Berlin this weekend.


Photoblog: BLO Atelier Arts Space

Last week, I stumbled upon Blo Ateliers, an art space that's been managing to keep "one of the most interesting and largest artist communities in eastern Berlin" hidden from me for the last four years, despite being right on my doorstep in Lichtenberg.  

It doesn't feel like you're going to an art venue; the road's cracked and flooded and leads towards what seems like the deadest of ends.  There are signs telling you to stop, that the yard's for rail employees only, even as a handwritten sign promises that there's an free exhibition on.

After a few seconds' hesitation, like the kind that I get before every new discovery made in Berlin (is this a new find, or is it all in my mind?) I went ahead in. 

A courtyard opened up and around each crumbling building in the complex, the litter of half-finished sculptures, DIY gardens and pointed statements written in graffiti and kept carefully clear of encroaching trees & vines.  All gradually offered clues that there was more than bureaucratic tedium going on in here. 

There was a free exhibition in the Ateliers' Kantine, a sparkly, glittery space gradually filling with people who were playing dress up with the zeal of a kid exploring their flamboyant aunt's attic, or their mad uncle's shed.  An exotic looking guy in a silk robe and oriental makeup pointed me in the right direction for the free exhibition, a sound installation in the back of the building.

It made the smallish space seem much bigger and complex than the four neutral walls suggested.  It seemed like an homage to an activists who'd been exiled or fled Berlin in the 1930s, and though I didn't really stay long enough to get the gist of his life story it succeeded in bringing a bit of history to life in this 1920s style industrial complex that seemed to fit in better with the past than the present.  Later, droves of people started turning up for a marriage ceremony that involved even more glitter and stage costumes, and left them to it. 

Blo Atelier does regular events on its stage and hosts occasional festivals.  It also has an open doors day at least once a year.  The people are so friendly there, I get the impression that anything going ont here would be one of the most inviting and least pretentious experiences one could find in a space devoted to the arts in Berlin.

The complex is located at Kaskelstr. 55 in Lichtenberg, in the alley next to S-Bahn Noldnerplatz. 


Fall Uprising: Views of the CETA / TTIP March

Fighting for the right to live, eat, breathe... and party... at last Saturday's demo

On the surface, the Stop TTIP & CETA demo last weekend was a mass uprising in all of the usual ways: there were signs, costumes, chants and dance tunes.  People marched and made demands.  But the demo was a lot more than just the sum of its parts.

It wasn't just that there were more people there than at any demo I've been to in Germany; their feelings about the cause were also tangible, full of new variety and depth. They were the feelings of a variety of people: families, kids, teens, pensioners, working classes, black bloc anarchists, ad-hoc hippies... all of which were blended into a colourful mass by this same, multifaceted awareness of a shared threat.  All of them aware that the TTIP, CETA and the corporate tunnel-vision that they represent, are just anti-them.  Anti-whatever-it-means-to-be-free.

That seemed to be true for everyone there, regardless of what freedom they wanted.  People I spoke to about it were almost left speechless by their jumble of fears and anxieties about the trade agreements, verbally tripping all over themselves to get the words out of their mouths. Not because they were vague or unsure about how these agreements could affect them, but because they were aware that it could affect them in too many ways to count.

You can't just pick one cause.  Standing up against CETA and TTIP isn't something that you can do a single issue at a time.  The only way to successfully stand against it is by being: alive and free, human and healthy, and determined to stay that way.  Maybe that was why all 250,000 people and their millions of supporters seemed larger than life: they were dead set against this pact, with every fiber of their beings.

And that's fair enough, because the threats posed by CETA and TTIP also sprawl across every level of existence: law, environment, human and animal welfare, water, health care.  These two vast agreements are jam-packed with ways to undermine our current lives, cultures, health and welfare plans and career.  It's an all or nothing kind of deal.  

The sunshine and leaves helped keep everyone energized as we marched down Friedrichstrasse, through the stiflingly dull government quarter, and into a beautiful riot of fall colours in Tiergarten that a cacaphony of music, speeches and beer still couldn't manage to overshadow.  Anger would have kept us warm even if it would have been overcast though.  It wasn't a dejected anger, but upbeat: a  certainty that these deals have to be scrapped, that people can't allow them not to be scrapped.  Survival as we know it depends upon it.

If self assurance alone can make change happen, then the TTIP and CETA are doomed.  There was plenty of it there on Saturday, and that's something that no amount of dirty money can buy.