By Ares Kalandides and Caspar Lundsgaard-Hansen
In terms of urban regeneration, Berlin truly is a special city: to this day, the city still boasts comparatively many undeveloped or temporally used areas. Unsurprisingly, the emergence of a large part of these areas can explicitly be ascribed to the division – and the subsequent reunification – of the German capital. One of the more prominent examples for this kind of urban areas is the RAW site in the district of Friedrichshain. Here, it is not only possible to observe the process of inner-city regeneration in Berlin, but also to examine what role the public sector can possibly occupy.
Originally, in 1867, the site was mainly used for the maintenance of locomotives. It was only after World War I that the plant was renamed to Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk, the typically awkward German word explaining the mysterious abbreviation used today: RAW! (By the way: that name still means that the site hosts a plant for the maintenance of locomotives and the likes of German national railway) In 1994, only a few years after the German reunification, the plant was shut down and the area became a centrally located brownfield.
Shortly before the beginning of the new millennium, the organisation RAW-Tempel – with the support of the city borough – managed to sign a contract with the then owner of the property. It not only allowed the organisation to use the property temporally, but also acted as the starting point for the contemporary use of the site, which today – following the leitmotiv of the organisation of a bottom-up (!) urban development – includes manifold and very popular facilities ranging from sports to music and so on.
What is additionally interesting, besides the observation of what can happen in a bottom-up development triggered by the initiative of the local community (some call it: Null Euro Urbanismus or Zero Euro Urbanism) – is the role of the public sector. The municipality of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (where the RAW plot is situated) played the role of a mediator between the owner of the plot (a Deutsche Bahn/German Rail subsidiary) and the squatters/users. In this case the state was neither the planner nor the initator, but was brought in to find a solution between two diagreeing parties.
Well, how does the future of the property look? Will it be raw – or RAW? Only recently, the contracts for the use of the site were extended until 2019. In the upcoming months, Platoon – a Berlin-based and internationally operating organisation for subculture – plans to build a Kunsthalle. Among other things, it will contain exhibition- and office space as well as studios for guest artists. The construction, which will be built of many containers, is supposed to act as an (alternative) landmark for Friedrichshain. How it will affect the development of the whole RAW-site though remains to be seen. We certainly hope that the area stays interesting and positively symbolic for a Berlin-style of urban regeneration.