Though in the end I grew to like him, GMF always carried a hint of menace when he turned up in Tacheles. A cold breeze seemed to follow him into the building.
He could never shake it, no matter his intentions. He was unfailingly honest in that way. He described himself as being a freak.
There was the way that his thin lipped smile spread out flatly, never turning up at the sides, revealing baked bean teeth with gaps between them where they should have met, that implied a certain imminent malice.
He had shoulder length hair with a grade one undercut and an unfortunate habit of wearing his mirrored knock-off aviators at night, indoors.
When something tickled him he would laugh with a laugh that cackled like splintering wood. He wore a long coat, even in summer, had a preternaturally short temper, an apparent dislike of most people and the uncanny ability to piss off an empty room in a second.
Not that he cared too much.
“It’s short for G Mother Fucker,” he told me, somewhat pointlessly, the first time I met him. But I could use the more informal GMF.
He wasn’t unique in Tacheles. Just one of the many drawn there from across a city that seemed to have ever fewer spaces for people like him to go.
Tacheles was like a magnet for the lost and the dispossessed. It was sheltered from the rain, and its corridors that were clogged up with the dust and detritus accumulated through the most violent century in human history, were cool in the Berlin Summer’s brutal heat.
And there would always be somewhere to hang around, killing time. A tourist to blag something off, a fag or a joint or a beer. Someone to talk to.
Someone to argue with.
Tacheles was like the ruins at the bottom after the collapse of the Tower of Babel. A hundred languages were spoken among the chaos and the dirt. Artists from all over the world, some brilliant others less so, not that it really mattered much, moved through its shadows, painting and recording, drawing, dancing, acting.
And hustling, too. Just trying to get by in a city giving the impression it just wanted to leave them and their kind behind.
I got used to the looks of the drunken businessmen wandering through the old place in fitted black suit jackets and expensive blue jeans after their after-work drinks on Friday nights. They were alpha males, and they’d try to look as confident as they did everywhere else, but there was always a nervousness behind eyes that flitted constantly left and right, trying to see around corners.
For now, for possibly the first time in their lives, they had become the freaks. The bullied. The ones who didn’t fit in. And they didn’t seem to like the experience.
I’d see their shoulders move easily back as they hit the fresh air of Oranienburger Straße again. Checking out the working women who lined the street on both sides all the way along to Hackescher Markt. Looking them up and down like prize cattle, one thing on their minds now they were back where they belonged. In control of the universe.
The women don’t work on Oranienburger Straße any more. Or almost not at all. For the street has changed since Tacheles closed down. It’s infinitely quieter. The Post Office building that radiates with a grandeur and importance of a distant era, that was also the C/O Gallery, an important counterpoint to the shabby glory of Tacheles, is being developed into the headquarters of some tech company or other.
The facade of Tacheles, with its name spelled out in tatty letters painted precariously and amateurishly three quarters up, looks admonishingly, but hypocritically, over the street. Tacheles’ windows at the front give the impression that they are trying to pretend that all is still as it was.
But they are merely hiding the earthworks at the back, as the foundations are laid for the transforming of a building almost Amazonian – it was loud and uncontrollable and wild – into a cold and sterilised concrete and glass phallus.
And at the top of Monbijou park a cheap looking, red plastic sign now lights up at night with the name of the kings of the new economy, Delivery Hero. An enterprise worth billions of Euros on the screens of the hedge funds who own it, but Euros that never really existed. Offering a product we already had, but which they’ve managed to convince us we need in a slightly new form.
I over-romanticise Tacheles. I can’t help it, for I loved that building and the people within it. It was my introduction to Berlin, and I will remain eternally grateful to my friends who opened up its doors to me and let me inside those crumbling walls.
GMF’s malevolent smile hid nothing. He couldn’t lie. And he may have called himself one, but he stopped being a freak when he entered that beautiful building. As the women working up and down the street were the polar opposite of those who now make their money in the shadow of what was once Tacheles.
For at least they were fundamentally honest in their intentions.