I first found Berlin's Kunsthaus Tacheles on 4 September 1997, purely by chance. It blew my mind. This is (with slight edits) what I wrote in my travel journal the next day:
We got to this place! It was a cafe-bar as you go in, with cool, industrial decorations. There was a back door which lead to a garden/small park. Wow! It was mad. There was another bar next door and the building was four storeys high and severely run down. We went up and on the second floor there was another bar and cinema which was showing Kubrick's Dr Strangelove. On the fourth floor was an art exhibition of contemporary East German paintings. As we walked through the park there was all sorts of junk and small stones dotted around, and lots of people with weird clothes just hanging around. On the far side there was a temporary stage with some sort of performance going on, with people shouting and banging drums and singing. On the left there was yet another bar, a few wooden tables and a path leading to a club under the ground. The jungle beats were coming out of there quite menacingly. Finally, on the far right of the garden, by the road, there was a bus with its rear quarter immersed into the ground and its front up in the air. All of what I've described was decorated with brilliant cartoonish graffiti, and the lighting was making everything seem really intense. What a fucking great place! Finding this place was definitely the highlight of my Berlin stay.
Highly impressionable, but you get the idea.
I went back there in 2008 to find the building still humming and the beer garden, though a little tidier, maintaining its industrial feel; the bus and underground club weren't there; and - disconcertingly - tourist groups were being shown dutifully around (at least in 1997 you could only find the place via word of mouth). Its art and events retained a subversive quality, but there was something unmistakably polished about the whole experience.
In 1997 I had been informed that the city authorities were planning a major 'clean up', with the removal of Tacheles key - but that opposition would have been too strong. In 2008 such a move appeared much more likely.
Gentrification of the area - part of a Berlin-wide trend - now seems in full swing: last week, and for the first time in 22 years, the front gates of Tacheles were closed by private security.
Author of 'Spitting Out the Mother Tongue' (Wurm Press, 2011), 'Muses Walk' (yes but is it poetry, 2012) and 'Round the Clock' (Wurm Press, 2009). Dublin regional editor for Succour magazine (2008-10). Co-founder and organiser of the Poetry Upfront series of readings and events (2005-10). Represented Cyprus at Poetry Parnassus (June/July 2012).