Neighbourhood gentrification was still a long way off in 1992, the year the neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK) moved into the premises at Oranienstraße 25 in Berlin Kreuzberg. Now it has long since become reality. The district was full of artists and studios just a few years ago—now start-ups are taking their place. Rents are soaring. The nGbK, home to 50 years of artistic activity on political and socio-critical topics, is one of the last remaining cultural institutions in the area. »We are one of the last vestiges«, says managing director Annette Maechtel.
The art nouveau building that houses the nGbK was built in 1910 and is now a listed building. For decades, the commercial courtyard complex was the Berlin headquarters of Deuta-Werke, a company which mainly produced speedometers for the automobile and aircraft industries. It then became the property of a joint owners’ association in the late 1980s. Recently the building was acquired by the Luxembourg-based real estate fund Victoria Immo Properties—and it immediately took on a political dimension. Drastic rent increases have threatened all tenants in the building with expulsion.
The tenants themselves constitute a kind of community of common destiny. Access to the nGbK exhibition space on the ground floor leads through the bookshop Kisch & Co. The right of passage and use of the bookshop’s display window are even specifically stipulated in the tenancy agreement. Moreover, the art institution and the bookshop also try to harmonise their offerings in terms of content. The bookshop, Maechtel says, is familiar with the nGbK’s respective programme and tries to complement it with books on exhibition-relevant topics. The nGbK is also friendly with the Museum der Dinge, which is also housed in the building. Maechtel says a good symbiosis has developed over the years.
Although gentrification has led to more tourism and foot traffic, benefiting the art institution’s exhibitions, the question is also how long art and cultural associations like the nGbK can survive. A small consolation: talks are currently underway to move the nGbK to a state-owned property on Karl-Marx-Allee, a move that would protect it from these kinds of exorbitant rents in the long term.