The Last Of The Bohemians

Text by Chauntelle Trinh
Photography by Intirasse Aamri

M83 – Wait (Kygo remix)
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011) – Remixed in 2014

After five years living in Berlin, I decided it was time to get a proper bed. The humble appeal of sleeping on a bedstead of crates was over. My search through design showrooms proved futile, so I went online and chanced upon an advert for upcycled furniture custom-made out of old lumber. The company and their workshop were only a stroll away from my apartment, so I paid them a visit.

Walking through the neighbourhood, then along the Torstrasse I contemplate the drastic changes taking place in this trendy side of town where vacant weedy lots sprout concrete and glass edifices almost overnight. Real estate speculation remains rife, property values soar and the Scheunenviertel (Barn Quarter) of the city is a rapidly expanding stable for luxury condominiums, exclusive retail and cosmopolitan consumerism. The upgrade has been swift, unrelenting, unstoppable and inevitable.

Before the fall of the Wall in 1989 this was East Berlin, home to a working class folk who considered themselves fortunate if they were assigned a prefabricated Plattenbau since tenements built before 1948 were left in a state beyond disrepair. Pockmarked by war an Altbau (old building) often had a creaky staircase, lavatories in the stairwell or attic and coal ovens.

After Reunification many residents abandoned their homes for a new life in the West and a wave of young West Germans and expats moved in. The focal point of Berlin’s underground culture shifted from Schöneberg and Kreuzberg to Prenzlauerberg and Mitte—a wasteland wonderland in advanced decay, raw, unpretentious and full of possibilities.

Fast forward two decades and the new arrivals are now tourists, transients and a well-heeled creative class. They come in droves, unperturbed by the city’s ’broke’ reputation, fuelling the hype and keeping spirits high. Never has the territory been more fertile for commercial development.

Considering all this, I suddenly wondered how a carpenter’s workshop could afford to exist here. I knock on the large entry door of one of the last grey stucco facades on the street and was greeted by Will, an amiable young man with glazed eyes. Andre, who ran the workshop, gave me a quick tour.

Inside the shabbiness continues, the corridor of the Vorderhaus opens to an unpaved courtyard and beyond it a small Hintergebäude with a collapsed roof, a ruin long ago reclaimed by Nature. A makeshift kitchen-shed hung onto the side of the two-storey Quergebäude that housed the workshop crammed with wood cutoffs and basic machinery. A remarkable mural of two figures hand-painted on the peeling brick walls of the interior drew my attention.

Will and Andre tell me they are artists, building furniture is what they do on the side. We discuss the design for my bedframe, the deal is on and upon leaving I feel giddy at the prospect of having a souvenir from these strange men from this strange place in my cosy apartment.

Read more in N˚5: Arrival.