Experiencing Berlin’s history through its repurposed spaces
The 80’s were wrapping up and East Germany was looking to turn their life around. They dumped their ex with a weird birthmark on his forehead, started working out, and decided they needed to remodel their apartment (that wall just wasn’t Feng Shui). Berlin’s most recent makeover was thus set in motion. Its previously undesirable burrows were commandeered by the first artists, anarchists, and opportunists to come along. This gold rush is what vicariously brought many of us here. Some of us were lured by a sustainable cost of living, others just like unnecessary paperwork and regularly stepping in dog shit. Hailing from a country with an age rivaled by most European cobblestones, we were drawn, at least in part, by Berlin’s textured history. When our gaze isn’t focused on the sidewalk to avoid said dog shit, we’re still regularly charmed by our surroundings. Conversely, there is also a great deal that we take for granted. While even the most wasted backpacker may acknowledge the novelty of dancing in old textile factories and derelict apartment buildings, few take pause to realize how incredible and increasingly rare it is to do this in modern, livable cities.
The spice of Berlin lies in its inherent contradictions. It’s famously recognized as the only European capital to be an economic drain on its country. It has the lingering infrastructure of a world power, but lacks the economy to support it. It was an image of capitalism depicted on an Etch A Sketch that has been shaken. Berlin’s past is more convoluted than can be meaningfully recapped here, but you shouldn’t be coming to us for history lessons anyway. Suffice to say, this city has seen some shit. But aside from building character, economic strife forces resourcefulness. Nearly everything in this city has lived several lives before your arrival. As part of an ongoing series, we’ll be discussing how this is relevant to our preferred subject matter: the live music scene. Selfishly focusing on the positive repercussions of feuding governments, what all of the aforementioned translates to is an unparalleled collection of spaces to see and experience music. Whether you get your kicks from BDSM-inspired noise in a church or from crust punk in a meat locker, this city has something for you. Like everything good, it will all invariably be converted into luxury condos, so we suggest you take advantage of these while you can.
Elisabethkirche – Invalidenstraße 3
Built in 1835 by the renowned architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Elisabethkirche has seen its share of ups and down. After being fully renovated in 1935 for its 100-year anniversary, it burnt to the ground only 10 years later in 1945. The church lay in ruin until 1991, when its potential was rediscovered. Its latest renovation is a juxtaposition of exposed bricks and modern, steel-framed glass that feels like a cyborg. While the church still acts as a multicultural center of worship, it also host the likes of Pan Daijing and Nurse with Wound. Something for the whole family!
ACUD is a relic of the fabled ‘edgy Prenzlauer Berg’ that our neighbor told us about. It was founded as an art collective just after the wall came down, when full apartment blocks were going for pennies on the mark. The original owners operated it as such until the late 2000s, when mounting maintenance costs forced them to sell the project. Fortunately, “the initiative” came along to save the day, allowing ACUD Macht Neu to continue as a safe space for all things creative. The building features two venue spaces, a gallery, Kino, and full hof that is a treat in the warmer months. While they don’t have the most impressive interior on this list, their curation is on point.
(photo cred: Camille Blake via kraftwerkberlin.de)
Most notable for housing the famed techno trifecta of Ohm, Globus, and Tresor, Kraftwerk is also home to our favorite annual festival, Berlin Atonal. The brutalist powerplant was erected at the same time as the wall, with the purpose of being the sole electricity supplier for East Berlin. It stood abandonned for a spell before Dimitri Hegemann brought the power back (get it?) with the opening of Tresor in 2006. For those who haven’t experienced its full interior, it makes Berghain look like a shoebox by comparison.
(photo cred: silent-green.net)
Looming in the forbidden space outside the ring is silent green, the first crematorium built in Berlin. The space was originally built in 1905 atop a municipal cemetery just after cremation was legalized in Germany and the concept was becoming more widely accepted. The main concert hall, originally a hall for mourning, is a cupola complete with a tile snake on the floor and hundreds of alcoves that formerly displayed urns of the deceased. The combination of reverby acoustics and doomy surroundings make for an unforgettable concert experience.
(photo cred: funkhaus-berlin.net)
About 20 minutes east of Friedrichshain, Funkhaus is quickly becoming the destination venue for compositional-leaning recording artists. Sitting on the banks of the river Spree, Funkhaus, both inside and out, is the epitome of picturesque. Built in 1951 as the GDR’s radio headquarters, the complex feels like the ideal setting for a sequel to The Shining. The recording rooms vary in size from a literal telephone booth to a studio that can host a full orchestra and audience. The impeccably preserved interior and acoustics of Saal 1, their flagship venue space, inspire just enough awe to distract you from the backpain incurred by having to sit on the floor.
RAW – Revaler Str. 99
Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk, or RAW, as it’s known by its friends, is a Berlin institution. As the name literally indicates, it was originally the train repair station for Deutsche Bahn. The 150 years-young compound is widely known as a veritable theme park for drunk tourists, but it’s also one-stop-shop for rad venues: Urban Spree, Cassiopeia, Astra, and Badehaus. These four essentially have you covered for all of your heavy music needs.