Sprayin' Up The Spree

Last year, I wrote this blog entry about the ongoing commercialization of Revaler Strasse and the RAW Tempel. At the time, a couple of the area's cheap, busker-friendly cafes had just shut down and been replaced by trendier 'shabby chic' bars featuring cocktails and gourmet snacks at prices that buskers cannot afford. Over the past nine months, these new nightspots have contributed some culinary diversity to the RAW scene but little in the way of cultural diversity.

Now, another new project in the area has ignited a glimmer of hope. Urbanspree is a gallery, bar and cultural space that has taken over the lot next to Suicide Circus. It is spread across two ramshackle buildings - one built in the 1800s, and the other built by the GDR - and has a sprawling, laid back yard that is perfect for hanging out in nice weather (if the nice weather ever arrives!).

Urbanspree's owners also have an itinerary of inclusive, cheap and free cultural events planned for this summer.  The lot that Urbanspree sits on was formerly occupied by a spring-break style beach bar called Rev@lution. Favoured by college kids and pub crawls, Rev@lution seemed totally out of context with the graffitied walls and roofless industrial ruins which surrounded it. The crowd that Rev@lution drew was also out of context with the R.A.W.'s socially-responsible ethos; dumbed-down tourists wanting to drink hard, act stupid and black out before their guilty consciences kicked in. Between them and that beach bar, they conspired to turn the RAW into a bombed-out version of Oranienburger Strasse.

Well, Urbanspree seems to be bucking that trend, and bucking it hard.

When my friend Zach and I walked past the site, at the corner of Warschauer Bruecke and Revaler Str., last Saturday, we were drawn by the understated, under-lit and underground vibe that had suddenly settled over it. Strains of music from a birthday party reached us through a gaping hole in the side of one of the buildings. An open, sprawling yard with trees and a comfy, stylish deck stretched away from the bar. The walls of the buildings were painted by Israeli streetartist Klone, and the arches under Warschauer Brucke had also been covered in splashy, bold new works that made a nice change from the tacky pop-art images of Madonna(!) and Ghandi(!?) that were once there.

Zach and I had been exerting ourselves at a street party in Xberg all day (photo above right) so we sat down in the yard to rest our feet. We hadn't bought any drinks and fully expected to be chased away by a control-freak bouncers. But no one ever arrived to hassle us, and we eventually felt compelled to go up to the bar and ask them "why?"

We ended up chatting to the outgoing barman for about an hour, during which he spontaneously gave us a tour of a print exhibition inside one of the darkened buildings. My camera battery was dead by that point so we couldn't take any pictures but the pensive and jarring imagery of the works, silhouetted by street lights coming through the window, left a heady impression.

The barman is one half of a French duo that is behind the Urbanspree project. Both are unpretentious, open and informative guys whose range of interests seems to embrace the entire spectrum of Urbanspree's program. They're planning to showcase "street and graffiti artists, photographers, musicians, plasticians, authors, illustrators". Starting next week, there'll even be an alternative circus on site. Cool!

Urbanspree's serene, intelligent cool is a refreshing replacement for the alcoholic chaos that reigned at the corner of Warschauer and Revaler Strasse last summer. Here's hoping that the rest of the street will start to evolve in a similar direction. It already has plenty of places that feed the craving for sensation; now, it has a place to feed a craving for inspiration too.

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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, activism, social media rights. Other publications that I have written for: OpenDemocracy, Urban Challenger, Siegesaeule, Alternative Berlin and Sensanostra.