Kunstschalter Berlin Ulrich Eichhorn

The origin of the “KunstWerk”

On order of a kind gentleman of Economic Development Office, on February 12, 1995, from the county Mühlheim the city of Cologne, I received a key (one key!), for the front door of the 8,000 square meters and five floors counting factory bolt in the Deutz-Mülheim-Straße,
and had to within a week raise a deposit of DM 15.000 (fifteen-thousand Deutsch Mark).

I was able to rent only via Art Association “Kunstschalter”, which I had founded, 
that till then had only carried out the project “Art station 16B”.

With the - originally by me and Gabriele Thümmler - in 1993 founded association, as Chairman I rented from 15.02.1995 the former BBZ/ Vocational Training Centre of the City of Cologne Mülheim.
Since all association members, fellow artists and arts activists refused to tackle the project, only Manfred Gabriel in February was ready to conquer with me the 8,000 square meter and over 5 floors extending factory bolt. Together “Manne” as Technical Director and I as CEO/Managing Director started on 12.02.1995.
We called the project, instead of “Art Factory”, now "KunstWerk" , and with “Kunstschalter” started the realization of the vision of a Social Sculpture.

First days

Until August 01.1995 ,the Club/Association “Kunstschalter” had to pay DM 1 / p.sqm as rent.
As Chairman and CEO in one, I rented gradually in tiers in two-month rhythm, beginning at ground floor and basement (because of the many music band requests), then progressing with each amonth, third and first floor, finally in July 1995, officially the second and last floor, where the greatest halls were with most of the rooms to be built up and covered yet.
When KHD/Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz in August took over the court from the City of Cologne in order to sell the whole site in one piece, “Kunstschalter” in the first place just had rented the whole house.
So from March 1995 I raised a rent of 8 marks per sqm + additional/service charges, and now had to rent as soon as possible, because urgent investments for the locking system or fire extinguishers a.o. were necessary.
A special effort of force in this project, where in the first six months I had to depend completely on my own decisions, by that coping with a growing pile of ambitious, untwisted, wild artist individuals. With KHD after tough undertaking in October we agreed on 4 DM / p.sqm with 6,000 sqm recognized as a useful area.

In hindsight it appears as an obvious mistake on my part asking all of them to join the Association, while this had also been a demanded requirement by the City of Cologne, and I myself intended to motivate employees by that, bringing them together as a team and share  responsibilities.

So during the first half year regularly every 2 monthsI organized a founding members' meeting in order to inform and integrate everyone as fully as possible .

The Council of the City of Cologne, Cologne's Cultural Office, all Political Parties, including the Confederation of Artists meanwhile stood aside watching, without taking part in this strenuous crucial phase.
What was up and left for me to do was to toil loudly and incessantly, and mobilize all I could muster on forces, money and people.

I decided every two months to celebrate the each newly-leased floors with a private viewing, midi-forecasts and closing nights. With my earlier six-year activity as producers gallerist, accustomed to organize gallery openings and parties, so for each of these events nearly 1,000 people, radio and television came into the “KunstWerk”.
These events kept the whole house busy over the first six months, so that the indent and renovation of 8,000 square meters on five floors within in this time got completed, and almost every square meter (except for parts of the second floor, which had to be built up yet) was rented. Because of the Press and TV mobilized in this rhythm, by their reports my “KunstWerk”  soon became known far beyond the Cologne borders.

Most of the 70 artists who in my “KunstWerk”, I could engage into collaboration the first six months, were happy to respond to my policies under which I could offer a studio space.
A large part of them had known me for years, and there also was no alternative but to let me go first.
Alas, the day and night lasting discussions, the collectivistic sticking together and working in the 2,000 sqm long corridors and over 100 rooms, which the professional training center had left us, in rooms full of cable waste, wild water and electrical installations, damp cellar vaults, pigeon-nfected or oil-soaked floors, with roofs dripping in places a.m.o., this absolutely collegial, familar and basically loving mood in which we  - literally isolated from the outside world – worked daily, made it possible for us to more than just get over the first six months, in an extremely light, happily working and successful impression.

Thank you all for your dedication.

One thing to note at this point is still one dubious fire, destroying most of the old KHD buildings directly adjacent to our court.
Kind of miraculously, the flames stopped at the wall of our yard.
At the time of the fire about 15 artists in the “KunstWerk”, most of them photographing on the roof the spectacle offered to them. A few of them overslept the conflagration in their studios.

© Ulrich Eichhorn
TRANSLATION: Dr. Lothar Riemenschneider


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