Agora Collective: Where creativity grows in Neukölln

Whenever walking through the cities of Berlin Kreuzberg or Neukölln one can see very trendy fashionable people, gay couples kissing in public, lots of young people from all cultures, punks beside hipsters, anarchists beside businessmen. Thanks to these liberal vibes the creative industry in Berlins has been put on the map recently. In the last few years the city has grown very quickly; welcoming thousands of creative minds from all parts of the world who enjoy this openness that is spread everywhere. This makes it an interesting hotspot for artists from all parts of the world. Cheap housing, international people, a variety of cheap food locations and generous investors aware of the potentials thriving in the city make it even more appealing. Many artistic movements have settled down in Berlin and profit from the huge amount of available studio spaces which often are abandoned factories. It is that feeling in Berlin that everything is possible and one can achieve anything. For now it might not be a rich city compared to other metropolitan centers like London but as a former mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit defined very well: “Berlin is poor but sexy”.

One of those artistic movements is certainly the Agora Collective based in the stimulating yet vibrant Kiez of Neukölln. The nomination fits perfectly as agora comes from Greek and means meeting place whereas collective gives a hint that team working plays an important role in their artistic practice. But the Brazilian Caique Tizzi, co-founder of the project, gives it also another meaning. “In Brazil it means ‘the here and now’”, he explains in an Interview with the Berliner Morgenpost. It is all about the acting and creating in the now. Planning is also part of the creative process but the most difficult is to design a certain idea. This is where the Agora Collective comes in as the ideal place to provide exchange of ideas between artists. For Tizzi this is certainly one of the typical features of Berlin that enables progress.

Already walking down the stairs of what used to be an old brewery it feels like entering in a world where anything is designed and put together in a creative way. Old and new chairs all mixed together, plenty of plants everywhere, self-made desks and DIY wardrobes create a unique interior design. Even the food in the café looks fancy. What the collective wants to provide is a vibrant co-working space which is more than just the casual design start-ups supported by market giants like google. They consider themselves as an experimental center for contemporary practice open for all kinds of art and creativity. Within the 5 floors, 1000 m2, photographers, artists, dancers, IT-experts unite and develop innovative projects and contribute to the cultural scene of Berlin through events such as art installations.

Founded in 2011 the current team Caique, Sheena and Elena have different backgrounds. Though this mixture is crucial for trans-disciplinary arts as in their case a curator and artist with focus on food through an artistic approach, working together with a professional dancer experimenting with queering the body in performance and a cultural anthropologist who is also a producer. All of their CV’s might have much more to provide than this short description. Their pillars of nourishment as in food, experimentation as in art, production as in work and education as in learning are combined with solidarity among artists. The Agora Collective unites different creative minds and supports the creative process that is like a fuel to a city. Each month they have exhibitions, workshops, cultural events, community-based activities and many other fun events. Apart from the events Agora Collective is trying to provide the ideal surrounding as in a garden and even yoga classes to reach these comforting vibes that the place is spreading in order to make each member feel at home. Co-workers can choose between silent areas, common areas, and studios depending on their needs and projects. The common language is English as there is so many different nations all typing on their computers, discussing with pen and paper in smaller groups or simply enjoying a coffee at the Café together.

The area of the Creative Collective is located on the Vollgutlage which is an area owned by the Swiss Foundation Edith Maryon and devoted to artistic, social, cultural and ecological projects. The whole environment in Neukölln but also Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are very much open minded towards grass-root squats and successful artist unions such as the Agora Collective.

Gentrification in Kreuzberg and resistance

Nevertheless gentrification – as in the division of areas in a city – can be felt in other big cities as well as in Berlin. Rents are rising in former working-class areas such as Kreuzberg and people complain. The creatives argue that it was them who built up areas which before were not innovative or appealing at all and now they are given to those with the most money. Stefano, one of the members of “The Factory”, a fancy co-working space in Kreuzberg, talked about the conflicts and protests they have to face as being ruled and run by Google, Soundcloud and other big investors such as Airbnb. “I live just around this area and whenever I pass by during the weekends the windows are full of posters and stickers of protests. Locals and artists here in Kreuzberg refuse to accept big companies and accuse them of being exclusive and of not caring about what is happening with the Kiez. Those enterprises however don’t seem to care too much, Stefano explains that on Monday all signs of protests are gone and the windows are clean again. The “Anti-Google Café” is another initiative in the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg who come together each week to discuss about the planned Google Campus nearby the Umspannwerk. But they don’t want to have a new Silicon Valley in Berlin and complain about rising rents and companies exploiting cities and its citizen. Yet the locals in Kreuzberg are not giving up their resistance against the big companies and fight against gentrification in order to keep variety and flourishing creativity in their beloved Kiez.