"There’s a lot of discussion beforehand, but afterwards you have a solution that the majority can live with. So we have less problems for the future. We make our side clear and they can tell their point of view and that makes it a better place."
Anke Jahnke is one of the managers of GSE gGmbH – Gesellschaft für StadtEntwicklung, a trustee of Berlin. They provide housing and studios for artists, people with low income or other people who don’t fit into the normal system. Kunstquartier Bethanien is one of the projects they manage.
So, what can you tell me about your work?
Our company is kind of special. We own houses for low-income households. Their income is paid by the state. We are only allowed to give flats to these specific people. Next to that, we do have other projects. Smaller projects and a lot of cultural projects. Kunstquartier Bethanien is one of them. We also have quite a few artist studios throughout Berlin, which are sponsored by the city of Berlin. We do the management of all that. In the Kunstquartier Bethanien for example, we have rehearsal rooms for musicians. Musicians can rent them if they can prove that they are playing longer than a year together and do it on a regular basis. We are able to maintain low rents because of subsidies offered by the senate. The artists and musicians pay 4 Euros per square meter, and the rest is paid by the senate. And we are managing all of this.”
Can you explain how the ownership is organized?
“Kunstquartier is one of our biggest properties. It is a former hospital, which was turned into a cultural institution in the 70’s. We still have the three founding institutions in the house: the music school of Kreuzberg, the printing workshop of BBK Berlin and the communal gallery, Kunstraum Kreuzberg. There was a forth institution, but they moved out five years ago. Other than the three big institutions, there are a lot of smaller institutions. We have a council of all the tenants of the house and they can decide who’s going to be the next tenant. We have this for all our houses. After the forth institution moved out, the three big institutions decided to get another branch in the house.
They already got art and music, so they wanted theatre and dance groups. Sometimes you can hear the actors and dancers rehearsing, because one of the studios is located directly above the entrance hall. The actors and dancers can rent the space per hour. Because of this system and because we are situated in Wedding, we asked the Mime Centrum, one of our tenants, if they can do the management. So, next to the three big institutions, we have a lot of theatre companies, which organise productions, but also studios in the basements for artists, the outdoor movie cinema of Kreuzberg in the backyard and a restaurant, 3 Schwestern.”
How is this all financially possible?
“Every institution is independent and they are required to pay a subsidised rent, according to senate rules. We have to keep the rents on a exclusive basis, so that cultural people are able to rent is. We do the maintenance and we have to keep the house running with the rent that is coming in. We can’t modernize because of the little rent and some construction work will take longer time because we have to plan carefully. It takes us more time than a company who wants to make profit. But the money is enough and everybody is happy, I think. We have so many interested parties to rent a space, but we’re completely full. We have a waiting list, but that’s not very helpful. We’ve now had this management system for six years, and during those six years only once a small tenant moved out. Our tenants don’t want to leave, because of the convenient rent. It will take years and years if you are on the waiting list. And because the project is self-sufficient, we don’t need volunteers. Off course, every institution is different and some work with volunteers and some don’t, but to maintain the house we don’t need them.”
How is your relationship with the local municipality?
“It’s very good. For example, Kunstquartier Bethanien is situated in a green space, a park. And the park and the buildings surrounding it are listed as monuments, they belong to the district of Kreuzberg. We also have a lot of projects to take care of the lawns and the surroundings. They are also easy with giving permits now. It took us some time to get to know all the people in charge, because it’s all very bureaucratic and for every branch there is someone different in charge. But when you once know the right person then it’s easy to get permits.
Do you work together with schools or universities?
“Yes, especially with art institutions. We have two exhibition spaces and they are used by those institutions and universities. We also work together with primary schools here in the neighbourhood. They come and visit the exhibition. One requirement for every person who wants to exhibit, is to take no entrance fee. It has to be free of charge so that children and people with low income can afford coming into contact with art and music.
And how is the contact with the business sector?
“We have little contact with them, but because we are a non-profit organisation, we don’t have them as tenants. They do sometimes rent our venue. For example, they rent the restaurant or other spaces for conferences and things like that. But we can’t take them on as tenants and we also don’t need them to invest in things. We are not allowed to by the senate. We have to look for other ways, because everywhere in politics the economic world wants to get influence on things and we don’t want that, nor do we need it.”
What obstacles do you encounter as the management of Kunstquartier Bethanien?
“I don’t want to name it ‘obstacles’, but sometimes it’s difficult with so many different people, like the council, the tenants and others. Everyone wants his or her idea to be the best and come through with it. You have to have a lot of discussions and that makes the process longer but it will also make a change, because it’s a very democratic way of coming to a solution. There’s a lot of discussions beforehand, but afterwards you have a solution that the majority can live with. So we’ll have fewer problems in the future. We make our side clear and they can tell their point of view and that makes it a better place.”
Is the city using Kunstquartier Bethanien for city branding? And is this a good thing?
“Yes, it is a good thing. We are a registered monument. One of the architects who built it, was a pupil of one of the most famous architects in Germany, Karl Friedrich Schinkel. And Theodor Fontane, a famous writer, worked in the former Hospital of Bethanien. You can still see the pharmacy, which is called Fontane Pharmacy. So the place is interesting for tourists who visit the building as cultural heritage. You can see an increasing number of tourist groups coming trough the house all day. That’s good for everybody, the restaurant and other institutions have more visitors and that makes in more public, so everybody wins.”