photo by Colette Pomerleau
“Our cultural mission is fulfilled for the time being.”
These are just a few of the final tear-jerking words of Tammi Torpedo, the owner of Prenzlauer’s Bassy Club. Likely by the time you read this sentence, it’s already too late: another one of Berlin’s institutions has closed its doors after nearly 30 years of serving the city’s music scene. The news broke back in January, but April 30th marks the official last day of Bassy. If you are in fact reading this before the 30th, we highly recommend you go to their farewell party and send them out with a proper bang.
The venue’s closing heralds a number of disheartening truths. As famously noted by Karl Scheffler and subsequently stolen for this article’s title, Berlin is in a perpetual state of transition. Those of us who are paying attention aren’t particularly thrilled about where we’re headed. The current home vacancy rate is around 1.5%. Berlin just took the title for having the fastest rising property prices in the world. Warren Buffet is even getting in on the fun and has just purchased a real estate agency that specializes in luxury apartments.
Ultimately, the closing of Bassy was of their own volition, but we can assume it wouldn’t have happened when it did had it not been for the societal pressures we’re all too familiar with. In the Tagesspiegel interview from January, Torpedo of Bassy also declared, “I don’t want to read the word ‘gentrification’ in an article about the end of Bassy. Pushing everything onto gentrification would be too easy.” Ahem. Surely the closing of Bassy was the culmination of many factors, but we were hoping to make this piece thematic, thus were really counting on using the dirty G-word. Out of respect for Mr. Torpedo, the word “gentrification” will henceforth be replaced by a more pleasant G-word, like gonorrhea. We can all agree we’re tired of reading about gonorrhea, but burying our heads in the sand is hardly constructive. The blame is commonly pushed around between those who benefit from gonorrhea on a small scale while those who are wholly responsible (looking at you, city legislators) chuckle and stack cash. That said, there are always steps that we consumers can take to slow the burn.
And with that, our attention turns to Loophole, which is easily among our top three favorite smelly holes. For the uninitiated, Loophole is a mainstay for artsy-cool-kid-Neukölln activities. The space ticks all the boxes necessary for acquiring cred on a night out: beers that are cheaper than the adjacent späti, squat-inspired decor, and regular lineups of experimental up-and-coming artists. For the better part of a decade, they’ve been the unpretentious and uncompromising safe space for adventurous art, and at the moment their very existence is hanging on by a single passionate thread. If it isn’t already abundantly clear, we really appreciate what they do and we want them to keep doing it. Alas, just a few months before Bassy announced they were closing, some unfortunate news landed Loophole on the chopping block. With a 300% month-to-month rent increase thrown at them from their landlord, they had to make a tough choice: submit to the man or fight for their right (to party, duh). There was no legitimate reason for the increase, other than the fact that their contract needed to be renewed, and there is no law prohibiting landlords from being total dickbags. While things weren’t looking particularly good, LH managed to raise just enough funds in their ‘final’ month to keep chugging along. The story was well-circulated in our quaint community, but we’re hoping that some of you taking the time to read this are new to the neighborhood. It’s now six months since the incident, so we figured it would be good to see how they were fairing. Jan and Stas, the venue’s current operators, invited us over on a Tuesday evening to get us up to speed. The mood was set by the atonal buzzing of a noise artist’s soundcheck, plus a fine top layer of Aphex Twin playing from a separate stereo. We got comfortable on the weathered couches and shouted questions over the din. The trademark papier-mâché face observed quietly.
Jan is the last remaining of the original owners. While Stas has been involved with shows for a number of years, he’s only been a formal team member since October. Both of them have day jobs outside of Loophole, which struck me as remarkable, considering they’re often open five nights a week until the wee hours. There wasn’t much detail to the rent spike outside of what was already noted, so much of the conversation was spent reminiscing about crazier good ol’ days. Back when the venue’s closest neighbor was a deaf woman, they had even more freedom to get weird when and how they wanted. As the neighborhood has changed over the years, they’ve been forced to keep things tamer. Somewhat surprisingly, it has been the younger neighbors that moved in with the latest wave of gonorrhea that kick up the most fuss.
While regaling us with stories from the early days and of the changing times, I was surprised at how lighthearted they were about the state of things. They would flippantly rattle off names of other fallen clubs and venues, discuss their own brush with imminent closure, and their lingering financial instability. All the while, they seemed completely unfazed. Perhaps being jaded is the only functional coping mechanism left. Part of what makes them special in our eyes is that, despite all of their troubles, they have no concrete plan to change the style of their business. Their only source of income is the beer they sell for €2. They give 100% of the door fee to the performing artists. “We want to keep it this way so artists have a place to experiment and try everything. We want to have a space for smaller bands that can’t get booked in larger venues.”
Despite the successful fundraising efforts and a reinvigorated sense of community, they’re far from out of the woods. If opportunistic rent spikes don’t get them, surely Germany’s bureaucratic boogiemen will. Dealing with GEMA and the Ordnungsamt is a regular struggle. “We’re still not 100% sure if it’s financially workable. We’re surviving month-by-month.”
If you live here and aren’t from here, something about the city probably attracted you. We all know it wasn’t because of the food or the weather, so there’s a good chance it was because of the city’s supposed culture. Loophole and various others that have fallen before it are the culture of this city epitomized. It’s weird, grimy, friendly, and operating for the sole altruistic purpose of benefitting the artistic community. Even if their brand isn’t to your taste, you would have to be dead inside to not appreciate what they’re doing.
So why do we take all of this so personally? It’s not our business and we’re not even from this country. The cities we fled were no longer captivating specifically because they lost places like this. These are cities where progressive regulations came too little / too late, thus making gonorrhea a swifter process than here. Berlin has the benefit of being generally late to the party and, with any luck, able to learn from other cities’ mistakes. You can think of us as some sort of time-traveling, do-gooders. We’ve seen the future and it’s fucking bland. Enjoying our city’s treasures as they stand is strongly preferable to reminiscing over their graves. As previously noted, those with significant control over gonorrhea are those in politics, the very same that recently buckled under the lobbying pressure to repeal AirBnB.
In an effort to end on a slightly less bleak note, we’d like to remind you that you can personally influence the way these things go. Loophole was saved, after all. Doing your part is generally just as easy as patronizing. Frequent these places and bring your friends. We promise you that the appreciation is mutual.