“Get connected with other spaces and to try to bring in new thoughts. Bring new ideas to the Berlin art scene. That is what basically drives it: new people coming in with different approaches and different ideas.” – Co-Founder and General Manager at ACUD MACHT NEU, Johannes Braun
ACUD MACHT NEU Co-Founder and General Manager Johannes Braun describes how a nineties squat house has been revived as flourishing art space within Berlin Mitte’s gentrification. From a spur of the moment thought, to becoming a successful art hub in Berlin, Johannes Braun details his journey from idea to execution.
So Johannes, let’s imagine we’re in an elevator. Let’s hear your pitch.
Basically, this is an old office space which we revamped with the people who are still here, and we are trying to build it up as a new cultural startup space in Berlin and Mitte.
In what year was ACUD MACHT NEU founded?
We were founded in 2013, but the house itself was there since 1991. Before then, it was empty for a while, and even before that it was an apartment. The rest of the rental market was destroyed in the war, however, the people inside remained.
Tell us about the founders. Is it just you?
It was Julie Gayard and myself. We built the process from the ground up, but now we are a team of six people and in the future, I’ll be stepping out of the program and will just take care of the house itself.
What inspired you to start this project?
It stemmed from a question about gentrification. We’ve been artists for more than twenty years and we’ve been working here in Mitte. Through this time, more of the art spaces and studio spaces for artists vanished. So, we had the chance to keep this place and to revive it as an artist-run house. This was very interesting for us.
Tell us a bit about your competition and why you are better.
We’d be happier if there were more clubs and art spaces in the area, as now we often have to attract people from Neukölln and Wedding to come here. This is because the area has changed so much. I wouldn’t call it competition because there’s a lack of spaces in Berlin for this purpose. I also welcome the opportunity of having a younger audience, but not excluding the general audience in Berlin. I mean, I have the fear that it’s heading toward the direction of other cities where they can’t afford housing costs anymore. The artists and students who keep the cultural life alive are vanishing, just like London.
What advice would you have for entrepreneurs just starting out in Berlin?
Get connected with other spaces and to try to bring in new thoughts. Bring new ideas to the Berlin art scene. That is what basically drives it: new people coming in with different approaches and different ideas. I think in the past ten years, quality and idea-wise, the cultural independent art world and the art scene in Berlin have developed very much.
The goal for the art scene is different here because the main intentions are not to maximize profits, or to expand because of making money. It’s not the idea of the project, it’s more the ambition to change it into a well praised and well-understood culture in society.
What is your favorite spot in the neighborhood?
There is a very small Italian cafe on Anklemer Straße which is in an old drive through. It has a fantastic wood stove and the best Italian coffee around. It’s just off the corner of Brunnenstraße and Anklemer Straße. It’s called Caffe e Cioccolata.
Where do you see Berlin five years from now?
Five years from now, I think a lack of housing will be a huge problem we face. We’ll be bigger so there’ll be much more pressure to earn money here. I think it will be more commercially successful, but it will create similar problems like we have in Paris or London.
Is there a single group/individual/project that has been the most influential to you during your time as an entrepreneur in Berlin?
No. I can’t say the most influential. I wouldn’t want to name any specific person because I think in Berlin, it’s very much about diversity and networking with people of influence. Bertolt Brecht is the only thing that comes to mind as a personal side note.
Can you name one particular moment that has been pivotal during your time in business?
There was this one singular moment when I was driving home with a friend who worked here before we came in 2012. He told me about the bad situation of the house as it was bankrupt. So then I really started thinking, “Okay. Maybe there is a chance to save this house.” This moment remains in my mind because it never was a major plan or anything. It happened to be a coincidental talk on the way home. I just started off the conversation saying, “Yeah, so how is your work?”. So, that was a starting point.
We got into discussions with banks and with the cultural association of ACUD to rebuild the house. It was a nice find since we had just been kicked out of our own studio only half a year before. We also still had (and have) our own studio in Wedding, but our thought process was more like, “maybe it’s still possible to act, to get active, to get into action.” Ultimately, the goal was and still is, to keep something and not to lead something to maximal profit.
Has Berlin’s informal nature and unique history – urban fabric, city divide, demographic, etc. – been a positive aspect of your time in the city?
I was born here so it’s become a little bit different over the years. It has become so much more international. What I like about Mitte is that it is kind of open, laissez-faire, and cosmopolitan. It’s not like Prenzlauer Berg or Kreuzberg. Prenzlauer Berg is a bit bourgeois in the sense that it’s about families and more private. It’s very homogenous. And what I like about Mitte is you can meet very different crowds here. Of course, it’s becoming expensive and there are also old shops that are closing, but still, everything is mixing up so you have quite an active intellectual life.
Finally, Coffee, Tea, or Club Mate?
Coffee (from Caffe e Cioccolata).
Interviewed by: Andrew Haw
Photo: Cecile Mella