After nearly a decade of events, Berlin club Maria am Ostbahnhof will throw its final party this Saturday night.
Located on the Spree between Berghain and Bar 25, Maria has long been a staple of the city's club scene, with an open-ended programming style that could strike anyone's fancy sooner or later. Its range can be seen in this past month's events alone: one night featured veteran post-punk band The Fall, and Monolake headlined the next. The property also housed a smaller, more low-key spot called Chez Jacki, formerly known as Jacki Terrasse.
On the broad side of a wall near Maria, someone has spray-painted the words "Fuck off Mediaspree," referring to the massive development project that some Berlin clubs see as a threat. But according to founder Benjamin Biel, the real culprit behind Maria's demise is a much more general change in the city's landscape. RA caught up with Biel by phone to talk further about the end of his club.
Did you see this coming for a while or was it a surprise?
Well, our contract was meant to be a sublet, so it was kind of clear from the beginning. It was a lucky place: we established the club on the idea that we would have three years for sure, we had no idea that we'd get nearly nine. So we can't really say it was bad for us.
Do you feel that's common for Berlin clubs, they close because they were set up on a tenuous contract?
Yeah, but times are changing for sure. Like, in the past 20 years you could rent property, use it and quit as you like in a way. Now they're stressing that the only possibility is to buy something or rent it for a long time. For sure I'll find another place, I'll sell it now because I don't want to use it myself, but for sure you can find places, but you have to make different contracts. You have to be more professional than ever.
If there wasn't so much development along the Spree, would you have been able to keep this going for longer?
This is a different problem I think. The problem here is city planning.The local government really doesn't understand the area... it's stupid, because it could be money for them. You know, when tourists come to Berlin to go to clubs, they might bring 500 bucks and spend only 50 in the club--the rest they spend everywhere else in the city. So the city pays nothing for the culture of the clubs, for the complete scene, but they can sell it worldwide. The city's going to lose a lot of chances that it could have.
What will Maria's property be used for?
The piece of ground, that I am on? Well it's going to be used for two different projects, two different hotels from two different owners, so the piece of ground will be parted and as well there will be office area and three living houses. That's it. I saw the project and it was not that bad, but in the end it will come through the bureaucratic institutions, then it will be looking a bit more boring than in the beginning.
Have you lived in Berlin a long time?
I came in April 1990.
As a Berliner, how do you feel about this sort of thing: clubs getting shut down to make room for hotels and what not?
I think for sure the problem is the people. Not the foreigners like you maybe, who come from all over the world, because many of those foreigners come from big cities that are even weirder than Berlin, so for them everything is fine I guess. It is more the people coming from the country side, from the villages of West Germany or East Germany. They're quiet and they still want to have quietness, but want to live in a big city maybe until they have children. They want all of the cultural surroundings, to be able to go to the theatre or whatever, but definitely not right in their neighborhood. That's true for everyone I think: You want to have the club, but you don't want to see these people too close. That's the strange fact. And that's the case with where Maria is, because it used to be an industrial area, but now you can live here. That's problematic, and it's too provincial for the inhabitants of the city--they want to live here, but they still can't accept the metropolis. In a way, there's not much education in this city.
What does that have to do with it?
Well if you have an education, if you can travel around the world, if you can see different cities, different ways of living, then you have more opportunity to understand what's happening with the people in the city, so you may be more relaxed about what's happening. But if you come from a quiet village, then it's magic just to be able to walk across the street to a bakery. That's enough for them.
So you're saying that the problem is not so much foreigners coming in, it's people with money coming in from the provincial parts of Germany?
Yeah they are the problem more than the foreigners, I think. All of the Americans I met, all the English people I met, they've had a chance to stay in London, New York or whatever, so for them, everything is fine here.
What do you think you'll do next?
I'll have a half-year break, OK, that's the thing, to take a look at what's been missing. And if i end up running a club again, I think it won't be before the beginning of 2012. If I don't run a club again, I think I'll just take pictures. I've had more opportunities in my life than just running a club. Anyway, I'm not really in a bad mood, because I had a lot of success. I'm very well connected in the city so I can do whatever I want I think. And for sure I can go someplace else, it is not over now.
Maria's final trio of parties begins on Thursday night with a Dangerous Drums event, followed by a party on Friday with Abe Duque, Adam X and Suzi Wong among others. It all ends with a bang on Saturday: Final Night at Maria Am Ostbahnhof features sets from Apparat, Modeselektor, Thomas Fehlmann and many more.