We covered RaW Tempel in a previous article where we discovered its history and development throughout the 20th Century. Starting as a train station that was once a main hub for importing and exporting goods in Berlin, today it is home to one of the largest clusters of cultural venues in the city. As I'm walking through its chaotic maze of graffiti-coated walls that frame thousands of visitors coming from around Europe, it dawns on me that RaW remains an important aperture for Berlin and the rest of the world. Currently home to one hundred members and over sixty project spaces, it's become one of most celebrated cultural centers in the city. For the final installment of our investigation into RaW Tempel, we take a closer look into the area's most recent years and talk to its gallerists about why they chose to call it their home.
A Beautiful Day To Get RaW!
It's 4pm on a Wednesday and finally, after a month of shitty weather and freezing rain, the sun has crept out of its shell of clouds and bakes Berliners from Schöneberg to Wedding. Off of Warschauer Straße, where two important trains meet, crowds are forming by the thousands in what is probably one of Berlin's most popular artistic district. Nestled between hip Kreuzberg and punk Friedrichshain, this neighborhood is a 24-hour-party of music, art, and madness. Walking across the bridge, over the tracks and to the tune of several street performers (ranging from talented guitarists to some bum who happened to find a saxophone), you can witness what is perhaps one of the best views of the cityscape. Finally, as you reach the end of the overpass, you're at the mouth of RaW Tempel; a community known for it's unique art and music venues.
Like most Berlin sites, the entrance to this Mecca is anything but orthodox. Surrounded by two old-fashioned photo booths and a currywurst hut occupied by delinquents and hipsters, visitors walk down the crudely made steel steps to a large enclave. Immediately, you are struck by the unique atmosphere offered by RaW: hundreds of murals adorn walls under the nearby road, fresh paintings mask the walls of a cafe and a few metallic sculptures scattered on the ground. One of the first buildings you encounter within the space is Urban Spree—a gallery with an extraordinarily large sunlit showing room. I got in touch with two members of the Urban Spree crew, Lucie and Pascal, who shared with me their thoughts on the Tempel.
"Let’s say that RaW is a really nice and peaceful area during the day time, where you can come with your family, friends and lovers for a coffee or to scale a wall, (I forgot to mention, readers, there's a rock climbing wall in RaW Tempel!) but when the sun goes down it takes on a funny decadent character," Lucie tells me, "But I won’t betray RaW’s and Urban Spree’s secrets— come down and see for yourself!"
Originally built in 1867, by the end of the Cold War RaW Tempel was abandoned and its fate was in the hands of the Deutsche Bahn. While the DB was keen on reclaiming the greatness of the train station it once was, an organization saw great potential in the space. The "open, non-profit organization" fought to have the property where they wished to create a sector for creative individuals, socio-cultural activities, as well as become the bridge between artists working in East and West Berlin. Miraculously, the DB decided to give the rights of the area for a short-term lease to the idealistic association who later adopted the name RaW (which is an abbreviation for the word Reichsbahnausbesserungswerkstatt, which translates into auto body/locomotive repair shop).
This decision, however, was very peculiar and several individuals had theories about why such a massive and conservative institution would willingly depart from the valuable property. Some have stated that the land had become worthless due to the wear of a century's use of dangerous chemicals on the site; that the Tempel had become contaminated. Yet this has not prevented other investors from attempting to purchase the space in hopes that it could be profitably used to build apartments. With the recent destruction of part of the East Side Gallery for living spaces, this fear could unfortunately become a reality. Thankfully, RaW today is still home to galleries like Skalitzer's Contemporary and several concert halls. But what attracts so many gallerists to this site? What is the ethos of the RaW art crowd?
What It Takes To Be RaW
"If Urban Spree had a mission, it’d be to spread culture and fun in a historical yet gritty post-industrial space. Besides the gallery, which mainly focuses on street art, eclecticism is at the heart of our program," Lucie explains. With this in mind, it makes sense why they chose to remain within RaW's interior. As a titanic labyrinth filled with graffiti and young people having a good time, why not post up a gallery like Urban Spree here?
If you're a long time resident of Berlin and you haven't spent a lot of time at RaW, well, shame on you! There are flea markets, cafes, a rock climbing wall and several galleries to choose from when you do visit. And while I still haven't found any confirmed cases of whether or not the grounds are actually contaminated from chemicals, I can assure you that everyone who works here is not deformed in anyway.
Article by James Shaeffer