Life In Berlin: Berlin Rockhaus, A Cultural Center For Musicians, May Be Terminated

Apr 12, 2017

In east Berlin, a few blocks away from the former headquarters of the East German secret police, nestled in between warehouses and a holding yard for Deutsche Bahn trains, there is a house of rock.

The Berliner Rockhaus one of the largest practice spaces for musicians in the city. About 1,000 musicians rent 190 rooms in the building in Lichtenberg.

"The Rockhaus is a workhorse for the music scene in Berlin."

That's Thore von Sengen. Four days a week he's at the Rockhaus, practicing, writing songs and teaching students.

"All the little bands who get the party going in this town [are] working there," von Sengen says.

Many bands come to Berliner Rockhaus to practice.
Credit Courtesy of Berliner Rockhaus

But that may change. The building was recently bought, and the new owner wants to terminate the lease early. With the case is in court, the musicians are in limbo.

Signs hang in the window: "Rette das Rockhaus!" Save the Rockhaus! "Wir Bleiben!" We are staying!

Berlin's Senator of Culture and the mayor of Lichtenberg have both expressed a willingness to help in some way.

But Thore von Sengen is worried about what happens to Berlin when it loses the places that make it unique?

"If we want to keep Berlin as this wonderful place, that is so colorful, then we need to keep such facilities as the Rockhaus. We need places like the Rockhaus," Von Sengen expresses. "That is really the question. It's not only a question between some musicians and the owner; I think it's a question that the whole city is concerned with."

I catch members of the band Arbeitsgemeinschaft Form in between practice on a Wednesday night. Their rehearsal room is filled with drum kits, speakers and amps. They share their space and split the rent with two other bands. It works out to 30 euros a month for each member.

Martin Dziallas isn’t sure if the band could find an affordable place to practice if the Berliner Rockhaus closed.

"More and more bands are looking for spaces and it seems harder to find them. It's the general gentrification problem."

Jan Slak is a drummer.

"When we started here around five years ago, this was the outskirts of the city."

They are worried about what happens as development continues, and the periphery of the city become new center. Will there be space to make music on the fringes?

A bulletin board inside the Rockhaus displays headlines from various German newspapers about the fate of the facility.
Credit Oluwakemi Aladesuyi for NPR Berlin

"What I find really amazing and really beautiful about it is that it's a constant meeting point of all different influences. It's culturally valuable thing to have that sort of melting pot," says Slak.

AG Form goes back to practicing, their experimental mix of post-rock jazz.

The Berliner Rockhaus is a house full of musicians, where some of them have found a home.