Between visiting the Stasi-Museum and riding our bikes to Don Juan Center, my friend Rachel and I stumbled upon an odd warehouse in the middle of Lichtenberg (although I don’t know if it is the “middle” of Lichtenberg. It’s just somewhere in Lichtenberg). Since I’ve probably never even been through Lichtenberg before, and because we weren’t really aiming to go anywhere fast (Sunday Funday), we decided to get closer to the building to see what it was.
On first sight we noticed that it was still used on the bottom floors. Entrance doors were locked and apparently, start-up companies had found their temp homes here, as well as what looked like a blacksmith company and a calisthenics gym. We could’ve easily gone back on the road then – there’s nothing to see here, just an impressive building in the middle of an old industrial area of Berlin. But a glaze upwards gave away what we had suspected from afar already: broken windows and graffiti all over.
And, surprise: abandoned building in Lichtenberg. A quick Google earch doesn’t yield any results on what this used to be. I sat down for a longer tedious research (why do urban exploration blogs not take care of their SEO) and finally recognized one of the graffitis in a picture that someone else took: it’s the former Fleischfabrik, a warehouse and smokehouse that was shut down in the 90’s. The reason for why I couldn’t place it on the map immediately: the place looks different now, emptied out more than on the pictures I saw on other blogs. Actually, there was no rubble or anything indicating what this building had been before. I didn’t take a picture from the outside (why? Because I’m dumb), so I’m still not sure. For what it’s worth, it felt like exploring Tacheles; ten years too late.
According to this article, you can book a tour through this place. But part of our thrill was derived from just randomly bumping into it. As always, something about abandoned places – even though they look pretty similar to one another if you just leave them to decay – is magical. Entering a relict of urban history, especially when not planned for, feels like finally experiencing the city truthfully.
As if all the other things – the clubs, the restaurants, the trains – were only artificially placed to keep the people entertained. And of course, to keep people consuming. These buildings then become the real museums of the city: forgotten, untouched by money and most importantly, they are not staged (although it is time to debate whether all of this ‘street art’ is only part of the staging-experience).
But more and more people have also realized that abandoned buildings create powerful emotions, and use the aesthetics of these industrial relicts as backdrop for their sales pitch. Events, galleries, parties are hosted in pop-ups and inbetween-uses of these buildings. This reproduces the myth; it plays with all of the necessary symbols and signs that indicate a true piece of the city, but the obligatory sparkle of magic gets lost on the way.
And so, abandoned places in Berlin transform into commercialized Disneyworlds. Should I be upset about it?
To some degree, I think it’s the natural way of things (like gentrification). I’m not saying one shouldn’t battle it, I’m just saying from a systemic point of view, there’s hardly anything you can do about it. Discussing these phenomenas gives food for thought and it gives a little bit of hindsight to where we are going, and where urban spaces, monetary necessities and social practices are taking us.