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The journey towards the creation of the New Space for the Arts in Berlin

From Tachales-Sophiensale-Schaubuehne-RADIALSYSTEM V This article was commissioned by the  Korean Arts Management Services and originally published in Korean  for theApro.kr – a database website for the global exchange of performing arts, a project supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Republic of Korea.

So which comes first? The person(ality) or the institution? Is it the institution that creates personalities? Or can personalities create institutions?




“4 Elemente – 4 Jahreszeiten” with Midori Seiler and Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Photo © Sebastian Bolesch


When cultural managers, producers, programmers or curators reflect on establishing oneself, the initial thought that may cross one’s mind as a starting point would be to work for an institution. As I reflect from a distance, in most Eastern societies, there is a tendency to associate people with companies or some sort of structure. For instance, when one makes a phone call to an office to talk to someone, if you say your name is Eom Park. The next question would be, Eom Park of? Thus, it appears that belonging to something or somewhere is more essential to be than being just Eom Park even to have your phone call put through. It’s as if people cannot exist without any affinity to an institution. But what if you have the opportunity to create our own?  What if you had a chance to make yourself as an individual become an institution creating your own legacy? Looking into how institutions, independent art spaces, cultural centres, dance companies or even personalities in the performing arts and cultural community have developed since 1989 in Berlin, Germany, this article might give you some inspirational hints on how an institution and person(ality) can come to life.


If you are eager to learn about the Berlin performing arts scene, cultural politics or just about the city in general, you are likely to come across the name Jochen Sandig from the old school Berliners.  As a newcomer from a distant land, the most logical question one can ask would be “Who is Jochen Sandig?” You’ll probably get an astonished reaction from the person you are speaking to, as in Berlin there seem to be a village-like assumption, that everyone ought to know everyone.  Instantaneously, the response to the question would either be a) RADIALSYSTEM V, the New Space for the Arts or b) the husband of Sasha Waltz[i].  This would then be followed by a series of names of art spaces like Tacheles[ii], Sophiensale[iii] and Schaubuehne[iv] that would seem to bring you further to an unmapped city-tour or post Berlin Wall story. If you still have no clue, google can easily do the job for you.

This is exactly what happened to me. Travelling between Berlin and Paris four years ago, whilst having a series of conversations with European curator and artist friends of mine about art projects, concepts and life, this mysterious name kept popping up.  Thus, to resolve the curiosity, I decided to get in touch with Jochen Sandig.  It took several chance meetings at an EU conference co-hosted by the Marcel Hicter Foundation[v]; a dance premiere by matanicola [vi]for Tanz Im August[vii]; serial emails and even attendance to his 40th birthday party at RADIALSYSTEM.  Exactly two years later, I found a legitimate reason to meet and discuss a project idea with one of the so-called “gatekeepers” in culture for the German capital.

By this time, I’ve gathered enough background information about him but of course, nothing beats the face-to-face meeting.  It was winter of 2008.  I arrived at RADIALSYSTEM V around 3 p.m. for our appointment.  He was fashionably late but managed to swing it out by apologising in a manner only a skilled manager can, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m late. But I’m here now and that’s what’s important.” We walked through the offices and he introduced me to all his colleagues working in the theatre. The 40-year old, German cultural lobbyist was totally hyper and seemed to function like a high-speed internet, where you can browse through one topic to the next by simply clicking into a new tab.  Our conversation jumped from project to project, to the season of performing arts festivals or markets in South East and Far East Asia; to the upcoming tours of Sasha Waltz & Guests[viii]; to the Asia-Pacific Weeks[ix]; to vividly dreaming of building RADIALSYSTEM in Asia and even a real estate property, RADIAL Towers in Berlin.  He asked “Do you see yourself as a director of a cultural centre in the coming years? I think you could be the director of RADIALSYSTEM in Asia. We’d like to expand RADIALSYSTEM to different places in the world, where creative ideas can be generated.  We can dream as much as we can. So when we miss out on realising one, we can pursue the next one.”[x]


Jochen Sandig and Folkert Uhde, Photo © Andre Rival


With this in mind, one cannot help but physically imagine, what it is like or what it would be like to build your own cultural centre? Where and how should you start?  What are the steps to realise such a gigantic structural dream of building a new space for the arts?  Where and how would one get the money to do it? And if ever you manage to build it, how can you make it work and sustainable? What does it take to make an institution?

The Making of an Institution and the Person(ality)

RADIALSYSTEM V opened as a new creative space for the arts in Berlin in September 2006. Set-up by visionaries, Sandig and Folkert Uhde,[xi] the former turn of the century pumping station for the Berlin Wasserwerke (Berlin Water Services), RADIALSYSTEM V situated in the urban centre of Berlin between Friedrichshain, Mitte and Kreuzberg, [xii]currently functions as a cultural centre where new ideas ‘radiate’ out in all directions, attracting artists and the public from within as well as beyond the city limits of Berlin.[xiii] This historical site, reconverted within a year by renowned Berlin architect Gerhard Spangenberg, serves as a platform for a wide spectrum of international network of partners such as major concert halls, opera houses, music festivals, music schools, orchestras and chamber ensembles, as well as with museums, galleries and other groups associated with the arts. This private institution, which has become a trendy hub by the Spree (river) frequented by German audiences and international mix of people from artists to politicians, economist and businessmen, likewise welcomes companies, associations and other institutions to hold non-public events at the house.

With such openness to inter-sectoral crossings, it comes to no surprise that an average of 295 events is hosted at this unique venue out of the 365 days a year. RADIALSYSTEM V’s two directors along with their dynamic staff of fifteen evidently maintain a work regimen to keep the figures escalating on their ticket sales and revenue that has been doubling annually.[xiv] But beyond the numbers that embody the emergence of this institution, there is another story to tell. Thus, instead of limiting oneself into looking at physical structure of RADIALSYSTEM V, it may be worth to visiting the compact 17-year cultural management process as shared by Sandig over our conversation:[xv]

1989 – Fall of the Berlin Wall

“After the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, I hitchhiked to Berlin the following day.  I found myself in Tacheles, an old shopping centre in Oranienburgerstrasse with another hundred people squatting.  When I first moved to here, I got a placement at the university to study psychology but after three years, was very much engaged with work. Originally, I wanted to make music and play in a band. Nonetheless, I decided early on not to work as an artist but instead become a Curator, Dramaturg and Producer,” recalls the Esslingen born, Sandig.


1990-1994 – Director of Tacheles

Sandig describes 1990-1994 as the most amazing time in former divided city.  “It was a period of transformation. The world in Berlin was constantly changing.  The fall of the wall represented the collapse of the separate systems of East and West.  While everyone was focusing on what to do with the two Germanies – Tacheles became a nucleus on a global scale. It became a catalyst for change and avante-garde art. And this was special about Tacheles in the first two years. First public money came in 1991.  Later on, the problem of money, power and absence of one vision crawled in.  Its collapse did not become visible to the public. But looking back, the place would have needed a dynamic system and circulation.  There were Monday meetings, which took place until 2:00 a.m. It was a place of anarchy. “

1993 – Founding of Sasha Waltz & Guests

After the chaos, I met Sasha Waltz in 1993.  I had passion for her as a woman and for her work. As I am one person who cannot work without passion, meeting Sasha was the absolute fulfilment of these passions.


“Dialoge 06” by Sasha Waltz, Photo © Sebastian Bolesch


1996-2000 –Director of Sophiensale

Jutta Weitz[xvi], who had the keys to the buildings in Augustrasse, offered us a contract for one-year with very low rent.  And I fell in love with the space and created the whole team for Sophiensale. Sasha Waltz and Guest, on the other hand, made Sophiensale possible. Sasha Waltz and Guest invested the money into the space. Travelogue 1, 2 & 3 was a big hit.  Hand and hand, the company and the space grew together.

2000-2004 –Director of Schaubuehne

The company was so successful that eventually Thomas Ostermeier invited Sasha Waltz&Guest to Schaubuehne. The jump from Sophiensale, which had 12 people to Schaubuehne with 250 people was big! Nonetheless, I like these big steps.


2005 –Today: RADIALSYSTEM

When I came to RADIALSYSTEM, it was a more familiar space.

We decided not to be dependent on public funding. Thus, the building is divided into two parts (virtually) half-commercial and half-artistic.


Space for the Creative Mind


Haus von Westen, Photo© Burg&Schuh, http://www.palladium


“The concept of dialogue plays a key role in the operation of RADIALSYSTEM V.” [xvii]This concept is reflected both in he architecture of the industrial age building and the house’s involvement in the interaction of culture and economy.   The balanced synthesis of old and new elements visible in the different spaces at RADIALSYSTEM V regularly interacts with various art forms: early music with modern dance, classical concerts with new media forms, visual arts with live performances.

“Working with artists, ensembles, and other partners, RADIALSYSTEM V strives to develop genre spanning, innovative artistic formats, setting them into practice. Various art forms meet in the creative process, inspiring one another, with special emphasis placed on modern dance and early music. The ensembles Sasha Waltz & Guests, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin,[xviii] Vocalconsort Berlin[xix] and Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop[xx] are closely connected to the house in the rehearsal and production processes, performing regularly at RADIALSYSTEM V.”[xxi] To date, works by artists such as Helena Waldmann[xxii], Luc Dunberry[xxiii], Yasmeen Godder[xxiv], William Forsythe[xxv], Mathilde Monnier [xxvi]and Nasser Martin-Gousset[xxvii] including ensembles like RIAS Kammerchor[xxviii] Ictus Ensemble[xxix], Arditti Quartet[xxx], Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg [xxxi]have been presented at RADIALSYSTEM V.  With at least 7 open and convertible spaces such as halls, studios, two-storey cube that lead to a large terrace that has a full view of the river, RADIALSYSTEM V constantly embraces openness to a diverse and quality artistic programming.

The story continues

RADIALSYSTEM V can only stand still by the river but its spirit travels with the people who run and work with it.  It is a common sight to find its directors at various political and international events continuously promoting RADIALSYSTEM V and in active dialogue with people.  In the past few years, I’ve had a chance to observe the programming at RADIALSYSTEM in parallel with Sandig’s professional work on many occasions: from personally giving out flyers or postcards for upcoming shows taking place at the RADIALSYSTEM V and making sure that the people he gives it to is aware that he is not a paid paper distributor but the director of the centre; to being present at important events and then awaiting for politicians lobby for a cause; to having the logo of RADIALSYSTEM V highlighted by speakers at an international conference in New York within a day’s socialising.  And as he, the newly knighted man of arts and letters by the French government put it “Success is like a drug. One must know how to stop the cycle of success and instead learn how to stay innovative.”

What I am trying to point out here, is that there lies a considerable reason why and how the 3-year old, RADIALSYSTEM V has quickly become known to the public and managed its ubiquitous ‘radiance’ to flow in a magnitude of directions. The person(ality) behind it invested nearly two decades of setting-up a stable foundation of relationships with people, professional know-how, network and alliances.

If one would apply Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule to plus the combined elements namely accumulative advantages, extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies as noted in his best selling book, Outliers, the Story of Success[xxxii], this provides a logical explanation to RADIALSYSTEM’s seemingly immediate success vis`-a-vis´ the intangible layer of personal history contained in the concrete that make up such institution. The change in Berlin twenty years ago, coupled with numerous openings, personal drive, ambitions, desires, brilliance, a lot of luck and hard work fused together at the right time, undeniable led to the making of the person(ality) journeying towards the creation of an institution. A unique occurrence made possible by time.

NOTES:

[i] Sasha Waltz (born in 1963 in Karlsruhe, Germany) is a choreographer. She studied dance and choreography in Amsterdam and New York. In 1993, she co-founded her company, Sasha Waltz & Guests, with Jochen Sandig in Berlin. In 1996, she opened the critically acclaimed sophiensaele, a theater she co-founded with Sandig. In September 1999, Waltz was named one of the artistic directors of Berlin’s Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz.  For more in information, visit < http://www.sashawaltz.de

[ii] Tacheles is a former department store, which was occupied by self-organised artists after the fall of the Berlin Wall on Oranienburger Straße in Berlin-Mitte, Visit < http://super.tacheles.de/cms/

[iii] Sophiensale is a performing arts space founded by Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig in 1996. For more information, visit < http://www.sophiensaele.com/

[iv] Schaubuehne was founded in 1962 under the name »Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer» as a private theater with a politically and socially motivated artistic programme. Under Thomas Ostermeier, Jens Hillje, Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig, who represent the artistic direction of the Schaubühne between 1999 and 2004, the company has become one of the most important places for the theater and dance avant garde in the world..  Visit < http://www.schaubuehne.de/start/index.php

[v] Marcel Hicter Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in 1980 in Brussels, Belgium. It is known for giving cultural management training in Belgium, Europe and Africa. Visit < http://www.fondation-hicter.org/

[vi] matanicola is a creative duo founded by Israeli and Italian choreographers/performers, Matan Zamir and Nicola Mascia. Visit < http://www.matanicola.com

[vii] Tanz Im August is considered as one of the biggest contemporary dance festivals in Germany that invites choreographers, dancers, performers and curators all over the world to a two-week long gathering in Berlin, Germany every year in August. Visit < http://www.tanzimaugust.de

[viii] Sasha Waltz&Guest is a contemporary dance company founded by Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig in 1993. For more information, visit<http://www.sashawaltz.de

[ix] Asia-Pacific Weeks is a biennial that gathers the different sectors of society from business, science and culture.  Founded on the initiative of the Governing Mayor of Berlin, APW serves as Europe’s gateway to Asia. Visit< http://www.berlin.de/apforum/english/apw/index.html

[x] Conversation with Jochen Sandig at RADIALSYSTEM V in January 2008.

[xi] Folkert Uhde (born Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 1965) is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of RADIALSYSTEM V.  After an apprenticeship as radio and television engineer, he studied musicology and communications at the TU in Berlin. Receiving training as a baroque violinist at Akademie für Alte Musik in Bremen, he worked as a freelance musician until 1995 when he founded Uhde & Harkensee Musik Management. Since 1997 he has been the manager and dramaturge of Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and has initiated and created programmes for numerous festivals including the festival “Zeitfenster – Biennale Alter Musik” at Konzerthaus Berlin.

[xii] Friedrichshain, Mitte and Kreuzberg are boroughs in Berlin, Germany.

[xiii] RADIALSYSTEM V, English press release, 5 January 2009, [http://www.radialsystem.de/rebrush/en/rs-presse-presseinformationen.php].

[xiv] RADIALSYSTEM V, op. cit., Facts and Figures, 5 January 2009.

[xv] Interview with Jochen Sandig at RADIALSYSTEM V in September 2008.

[xvi] Jutta Weitz is an administrator for the Wohngemeinschaft Berlin Mitte who held over 4,000 keys to different apartments in Berlin-Mitte and was in-charge of examining applicants who wanted to secure apartments or building for their respective projects. She was instrumental to the development of the whole neighbourhood from 1989.

[xvii]RADIALSYSTEM V, op. cit., The Concept of Dialogue.

[xviii] Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Visit< http://www.akamus.de/

[xix] Vocalconsort Berlin is a Berlin-based ensemble specialised in early Baroque and Baroque. Founded in 2003, Vocalconsort Berlin presents new interpretations of romantic and contemporary music. visit< http://www.vocalconsort-berlin.de/index_eng.html

[xx] Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, is a young chamber orchestra from Berlin that has made the liberation from traditional concert forms its mission.  Under the artistic direction of Michael Rauter, the ensemble presents contemporary works spanning a range of epochs and artistic forms of expression. For more information, visit< http://www.kaleidoskopmusik.de/


[xxi] RADIALSYSTEM V, op. cit., Artists, 5 January 2009.

[xxii] Helena Waldmann is a German theatre director and choreographer. Visit<  http://www.helenawaldmann.com/

[xxiii] Luc Dunberry is a Canadian choreographer and performer. For more information, visit http://www.sashawaltz.de/a02.php?w=2&ID=47&lang=en

[xxiv] Yasmeen Godder is one of Israeli’s leading contemporary dance choreographer. Visit< http://www.yasmeengodder.com/

[xxv] William Forsythe is an American choreographer based in Frankfurt, Germany. Visit < http://www.williamaforsythe.com/frames.html

[xxvi] Mathilde Monnier is a French choreographer. She directs the Centre Chorégraphique National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon in Montpellier. Visit < http://www.mathildemonnier.com/fr/

[xxvii] Nasser Martin-Gousset is a French choreographer. Visit<  http://www.sashawaltz.de/a03.php?w=&ID=57&t=1&spr=en

[xxviii] RIAS Kammerchor is a chamber choir founded in 1948 that played a decisive part in the revival of the musical life of Berlin.Visit < http://www.rias-kammerchor.de/content/index_ger.html

[xxix] Ictus Ensemble is a contemporary music ensemble from Brussels, Belgium. Visit< http://www.ictus.be/

[xxx] Arditti Quartet enjoys a world-wide reputation for their spirited and technically refined interpretations of contemporary and earlier 20th century music. Several hundred string quartets and other chamber works have been written for the ensemble since its foundation by first violinist Irvine Arditti in 1974. Visit< http://www.ownvoice.com/ardittiquartet/

[xxxi] Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg, Visit< http://www.elbipolis.de/

[xxxii] Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, The Story of Success, (USA: 2008).

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