Exploding renovation costs: artist exile threatens exile itself


The aim was to transform the Palais at the fortress in Berlin into a place for scientists in exile. The project threatens to fail.

Things are not going well here: Palais am Festungsgraben in Mitte Photo: image

BERLIN taz | André Schmitz was attracted to the subject of exile. In the Exilmuseum Foundation he campaigned for a museum to be built at Anhalter Bahnhof, dedicated to the 500,000 people who had to leave the country during the Nazi era.

And that’s not all. For a long time, the former State Secretary for Culture has been advocating that a place of exile should also be created in the Palais am Festungsgraben Unter den Linden: as a public work and meeting place for those scientists who have had to leave their homeland in the present.

André Schmitz therefore co-founded the “Das Deutsche Haus” association, which last year took part in an expression of interest by the State of Berlin on the future of the location. Because the palace, built in 1753, which also houses the theater in the palace and parts of the Gorki theater, belongs to the State of Berlin. Competitors were the Berlinovo housing association, which was planning an event location, and the Humboldt University, which would like to use the palace primarily as an office location.

The German House was awarded the contract. “The steering committee of the Senate Finance Administration was so enthusiastic about our concept that they put us first,” remembers Schmitz. Because the Senate also wanted to create a lively place in the eastern part of the street Unter den Linden, which is mainly characterized by office buildings. However, Schmitz reports that they were later “married” to the Humboldt University. “That was obviously a greater financial security for the finance senator.”

Daniél Kretschmar, Gorki Theater“We now need a political solution in the Senate”

But now this marriage threatens to turn into a war of roses. Out of the blue, BIM Berliner Immobilienmanagement GmbH, which manages the state’s real estate, informed Schmitz ‘Verein in mid-October that the expected renovation costs had tripled. The association should carry the resulting gap in coverage of 200,000 to 250,000 euros per year. Even more: in order to be able to implement the usage concept at all, the association had to sign a so-called “letter of comfort” that ensures its creditworthiness. In addition, a declaration of submission to foreclosure must be notarized.

Hard stuff. Not only does André Schmitz agree, but also Esra Kücük, chairwoman of the German House Association. In her reply to the BIM on October 26th, which the taz has received, she speaks of a “great irritation”. In the expression of interest procedure, construction costs of 22 million euros were assumed. In the meantime, these have increased to 60 million euros due to the long renovation backlog. The associated increase in rents is not a problem for the Humboldt University, but it is for the association. “Should the Senate Administration decide against the expression of interest procedure solely on the basis of non-transparent financial arguments”, write Kücük and Schmitz to the BIM, “the association reserves the right to have the entire process checked by legal means.”

Not only Schmitz and Kücük fear that in the end it will not be the winner of the procedure, but the Humboldt University as the beneficiary. Also in the Gorki Theater it is said that they are concerned that the financial administration of the HU will pass the entire palace. “We now need a political solution in the Senate,” emphasizes Gorky spokesman Daniél Kretschmar. On this Monday, the topic is to be discussed in the current quarter of an hour in the culture committee of the House of Representatives.

Daniel Wesener, the cultural-political spokesman for the Greens, also fears that in the end the HU will occupy the entire palace. “But we need public use there that appeals to Berliners.” That is why he is also in favor of a solution at the Senate level. “If that fails and the results of the expression of interest process cannot be implemented, the whole process has to go back on.”

André Schmitz emphasizes once again how important a contemporary house in exile is for Berlin. “Unfortunately, the subject of exile did not end in 1945,” he says. “Today people are driven into exile every day, even in Europe scientists and artists are hindered in their development by right-wing nationalist governments.”

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