Summer Happenings at Kunsthaus KuLe

This August marked the 25th anniversary of Kunsthaus KuLe, a diverse art collective organization that originally began as a squat shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The name KuLe is a combination of Kultur und Leben, or culture and life, and last weekend's raucous street celebration and eclectic performances were an exuberant display of life, art and the power of shared community.

KuLe's stunning five story edifice sits in the center Auguststraße, in the now hopelessly trendy Mitte neighborhood. The building is a beautiful monument to the history of uprisings, cooperative protests and squats that were once far more common in Germany's capitol city; it is something of a stalwart survivor from another era. Since its founding in 1990, hundreds of artists from all over the world have been residents or guests of the space, helping to chronicle the evolution of the neighborhood with a wide range of installations, music, lectures and subversive creative expression.

This year's KuLe Festival: Relations in Time honored the arts collective's birthday with a series of performances and Happenings that took place throughout the weekend in the middle of August. Throngs of people crowded into the closed-off street to embrace art and help mark the joyous occasion. Streams of voices filled the moist air with music, laughter, conversations and fragments of different stories told in languages I do not speak. Even late into the evening the oppressive heat and humidity were relentless; on Saturday night Mitte felt a bit more like strolling the sidewalks of Havana than being in the middle of Berlin.

As we walked from the train and turned the corner onto Auguststraße, the 80's ska hit “Our House” by Madness was blaring out into the night sky. The positive anthem helped swell the crowd's enthusiastic energy, rejoicing in the continued success of the local arts group with each syncopated beat. Seas of people young and old thronged together in excited unison, captivated by the performers who gracefully traversed the building's ornate facade. Periodically clouds of water drizzle were sprayed down into the street to cool the sweaty masses bathed in reflected blue light as the flow of performances unfolded.

Through the mist and noise artists in crisp business suits carrying briefcases flew up and down the front of the building, like a flock of agile capitalist window washers, protesting the increase of corporate control. White banners stating “We are all staying (Wir Bleiben Alle)” and “No silence when rents are rising (Kein Schweigen wenn Mieten steigen)” were draped and hung across open windows. Then Pastor Leumund presented an inspired and eloquent sermon to the gathered populace.

Leumund spoke of menacing threats from a culture of increasing compliance, rising rents and displacement, as well as a growing dearth of collective protest and activism in Berlin and beyond. Various individuals continued to crawl in and out of lit windows, precariously dancing along the pediment's dark edge, engaging the audience in the street with both movement and message. Themes of home, surveillance, refugees, activism and claiming space interwove throughout the night. The assembled congregation stood together, enthused and transfixed by the fascinating spectacle. And for a few fleeting moments, it really felt like anything could be possible.

By Rhonda Winter

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