Guest article: Shifting Notes – expanding the music industry to the outskirts of Berlin

By Keren Karp, Maria Paula Gutierrez, David Karolinski and Claudia Rojas

Marzahn and other “invisible” districts of Berlin may very well be the next upcoming playground of the independent music scene in the city.

An offbeat course on the creative industries of Berlin, offered at the Hertie School of Governance in collaboration with INPOLIS, lured us into a small research project examining the relationship of Berlin’s public policy framework to the evolvement of the independent music industry in the city. Along our research, we reached the conclusion that public policy should foster the expansion of the music industry to districts located in the outskirts of the city, i.e. Marzahn. In this article, we present a short background to introduce our case study, our findings and our consequent proposals.

Music industry in Berlin and especially in Marzahn

The music sector is one of Berlin’s most important creative industries in regards to tourism and city branding and it has always been a driving factor in the German music scene. The relatively cheap real-estate prices in comparison to the German average are a key incentive for music sector players to move to the capital. Since this sector in Berlin is mostly composed of small-to-medium sized independent companies, the Berlin Music Commission (BMC) is the overarching non-governmental network representing the music industries political and financial interests through lobbying and public affairs.

Empty building in Marzahn

However, districts like Marzahn are not very known for their participation in the music industry. Urban development policies have led to the unemployment and the flat vacancy rates dropping dramatically since 2006. Nevertheless, this district is still seen as one of the more problematic ones in Berlin. This is due to its location in the city’s outskirts and the absence of important industrial and cultural sites, making the district unattractive for investors and tourists. In addition, there are existing prejudices towards this district and its population that are linked to the perception of Marzahn as being grey, monotone and full of intolerance towards outsiders. However, these barriers are countered by incentives such as low real-estate prices in comparison to the Berlin average, and the massive amount of space available, which encourage relocation.

Regarding the music industry in Marzahn, ORWOhaus is the principal stakeholder to be found and is therefore a “flagship” of culture in this otherwise culturally limited district. This is an association that runs an entire building and offers approximately 100 rehearsal rooms for music bands that wish to rent a space and create their sound. We chose ORWOhaus as our case study since they managed to have a profitable self-sustainable business in Marzahn with a bottom-up approach. In addition to this (and what is more important), they are an example of how creative industries develop faster than public policy, which in turn implies that it is an example from which public policy can learn.

ORWOHaus entrance hall


The information gathered through our research allowed us to establish a set of findings regarding Berlin’s music industry. We interviewed key actors from this field, ranging from independent players to political stakeholders. In general, they all agreed on the importance of the creative music industry for Berlin, the relevance of location and space, funding, and the role of public policy (especially focused on city branding). Several problems arise in these four matters that need to be addressed with a proper and efficient public policy. For example, a main topic is the distribution of the funds between the so called “serious music’”, which is taking the biggest part of the funds, and the “pop music” (pretty much everything besides classic music), which has little funding.

ORWOHaus ground floor

In particular, the case study we conducted with ORWOhaus shows a possible new milieu for the industry: the district of Marzahn and other invisible districts of Berlin. With this example, it is evident that location does not seem to matter when faced with the problem of lack of space. This is the dichotomy between the importance of space vs. the unimportance of location. Another interesting finding is that in the former East Berlin districts, there is a lack of information regarding the ownership of the spaces. Like Geoffrey Vasseur from ORWOhaus said, there is a building close by from which they have been trying to find out who the owner is, and 6 years later they still do not know. And let’s not forget that there are many abandoned buildings in districts like Marzahn.

In order to surpass these difficulties, political will is crucial. Even if we believe that the political will to attract the creative class to Marzahn is there, the means for this to happen are extremely limited.


Taking into account everything that has been said, we want to present two proposals to foster the music industry in Marzahn. However, even if we limit the proposals to this district, we believe they could be replicated in other neighbourhoods like Hellersdorf, Lichtenberg and Köpenick. The proposals are as follow:

ORWOHAus reherarsal room

First, the music industry should have access to locations in Marzahn by purchase, lease, or rent.  In order to achieve this objective, the city should update the cadaster and there should be a clear list of the properties in former East Berlin. The new spots could be located in former industrial zones and be officially allocated for the development of all kinds of creative economies. Nonetheless, this is not realistic without proper funding. This is why the funding distribution of the city of Berlin for the music industry should be reevaluated (i.e. division between “serious music” and “pop music”).

ORWOHaus office

Second, we propose a district branding campaign for Marzahn in which the district is linked with the creative economy and the profitable businesses. The space, the (raw) industrial-looking buildings, and the DDR- Chic could be used as possible topics. We propose that the campaign has a bottom-up approach, directly involving the existing actors of the creative economy in these Districts. Financial support and media exposure should be included for the contribution of their participation. Last but not least, and as a basic premise, the branding campaigns should not only use the music industry, but also support it.

While the policy recommendations set forth here are proposed to further foster the relationship between the independent music sector and policy frameworks, we question the inherent ability of public policy to not only adapt to trends of the industry, but to be a step ahead of the game. We believe that this question should be left open and taken into consideration when fostering the current and future steps in shifting notes of the Berlin independent music scene.

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