What happens when 165 street artists take over a single building in Berlin? The result is a five-floor urban art labyrinth boasting the work of creators from over 70 countries. There's not a single canvas in sight. Filled with low-lights, sound effects, 3D casts, growing things, unnerving portraiture, tape, stickers, and smells, it feels as far from a traditional gallery as you can get.
This building was once an abandoned bank on the famous avenue Kurfürstendamm (colloquially "Ku'damm"). Now overflowing with indoor street art, it's set to be demolished in June to make way for apartment buildings. But that's part of the fun of it, according to the artists. And until then, anyone willing to brave the two-hour line outside is welcome inside, free of charge.
THE HAUS (tag-lined "Berlin Art Bang") is a project kicked off by Kimo, Bolle and Jörni (all aliases), a trio of creators on the Berlin urban art scene for more than 20 years. While they operate Xi-Design, a hand-painted advertisements company, it's their never-for-profit crew Die Dixons that built THE HAUS. After inviting their expansive network of artists to participate, they created the packed-out platform to put street art in the spotlight, offering a temporary, no-fee experience much like street art itself. "We have a huge network," Kimo tells Creators, "and we're very organized, but all this really came from the heart and from people's willingness to do it."
Kimo let me interview him in the back room of THE HAUS, surrounded by crates of spray paint, beer, and supplies stacked floor-to-ceiling. I later found out it was all donated by supportive businesses. The building materials came from a local construction company. The beer was contributed by Berliner Pilsner. A four-star hotel put up all the artists for a period of the project, free of charge. "This is not a marketing joke," Kimo says. "We want respect for the artists, for them to choose what they want to say and when their work is seen. That's why no one was paid, and nothing is for sale."
The project's magnitude makes more sense after learning a little more about Die Dixons. "We started out like everybody else in street art—illegally. Over time, we went through some training, built our skills, then got jobs. Twenty years later, we have our company Xi-Design. That's why we have a huge network of not only artists but brands and agencies. So the people know us, and they know we're trustworthy guys when it comes to big projects." As for the project's temporary nature, everyone was on board. "We are always painting, it always gets removed, and then comes new art in its place. That's how it works. We don't do it because it lasts, we're looking forward to getting better, working with new materials, new places, other dimensions.
The artists worked from mid-January until March 9. They slept, ate, and built together almost non-stop. "We gave them a few rules," Kimo told us. "No beef, no hating, no bullshit. Like if there's 'Fuck Trump, fuck this, fuck that,' we didn't want it. If it's political with a message everyone can interpret on their own, it's cool. But with 165 artists, we didn't want their work to conflict with each other. In a family project, we want people to see what we can do, how professional and high quality street art can be. There's still a lot you can do without going hard against other people."
Artists range from Berlin natives to international activists, established crews to newbie collaborators, and individuals to nonprofit giants. Solo artist Urzula Amen constructed a fake grocery store-like room with graphic health-hazard labels in the style of cigarette warnings. Only rooms away, International Justice Mission created a room to look like an Indian brothel, complete with VR goggles to visualize the plight of a modern-day prostitute.
As for the no-phone zone, it's there for audiences to "get back to the roots," as Kimo puts it. "Use your eyes and feelings and emotions, standing in the rooms. Step back, look again, touch it. Stop looking at things through your phone, or on the internet. Experience it for yourself, and focus on the moment."
Die Dixons are currently exploring new places to build another Haus. "We're getting inquiries from Belgium, The Netherlands, and several other countries," says Kimo. "They're all saying 'we have a building for you!' This will not be the last Haus."