The LURE Guide To: Making it as an artist in Berlin
BERLIN MAY BE IN FLUX BUT YOU CAN STILL SURVIVE AND THRIVE AS AN ARTIST. HERE’S HOW.
A booming startup scene, the world’s fastest growing property prices and predatory real-estate developers — myriad forces are working against Berlin's starving-artist mentality.
The German capital is getting more expensive to live in, and creative ecosystems are more crowded and harder than ever to break into, but trust us: it’s still possible make it as an artist in Berlin on a shoestring budget. LURE asked local experts for advice on how would-be Berlin artists can harness the city’s resources to be successful.
Know your space
From the zany protagonists of Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, to the techno pioneers who staked out rave culture after the Wall fell — Berlin has always been a laboratory for new creative endeavors.
Today that mysticism is embodied by the 40,000 startups founded annually in Berlin. The German capital’s business boom has funneled cash into the creative economy, but it’s also created competition for workspaces – independent artists often lose out due to having unstable income.
Creative economy advisors told LURE it’s important for artists to shell out for a workspace, because it can be a return on investment. Be on the lookout for spaces offering networking events and services supporting your artistic growth at no extra cost.
Our suggestions? be'kech, a so-called "anti-café" and coworking space that holds cultural events; ESDIP, a coworking space and arts school; and Der Salon, a small, non-profit space with its own video cutting room.
Know your city
With rapidly rising living costs and a highly saturated arts scene — an estimated 200,000 Berliners work in the creative economy — artists are constantly asking how they'll finance themselves and their projects in a city undergoing gentrification.
There's no secret formula for success, but according to Jens Thomas, editor-in-chief of Creative City Berlin, a networking platform for the arts, the best bet is finding out about funding the government has on offer.
Between city and federal initiatives, there's about €1 billion in public funds available in Berlin for cultural projects, from screenplays to arts education. Over 200 projects alone can be found on the online database Kulturförderpunkt.
There is also a slate of new protections to ensure artists receive fair pay, says Daniel Bartsch of Berlin’s Senate Administration for Culture and Europe. Much of the increase in the city's cultural budget over the past two years has gone toward guaranteeing collective bargaining and safeguarding artists’ livelihoods.
“Even if we can not help all artists and projects, Berlin has one of the best programs for promoting culture available,” says Bartsch.
Know your mentors
Even so, competition for funding is steep and grants often come with stipulations. Striking a balance between artistic independence and sustainability can be frustrating, says Harley Aussoleil, a curator and organizer with sex-positive artists collective Coven Berlin.
So if you're just starting out, seeking out artists or collectives with similar creative interests can help you foster the savvy to succeed. Many offer resources to help new Berliners navigate the bureaucratic jungle gym of securing a visa, a work permit and health insurance. And a non-competitive environment means you’ll also have a support system when things get tough, says Harley.
"Everyone who's done it has had the experience of talking to others,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask people about how they’re making it work, and don’t be ashamed to ask questions that are taboo.”
“DON’T GET TOO DISTRACTED”
Know your limits
According to Frank Schroeder, the founder of popular lifestyle blog iHeartBerlin*, the beauty of Berlin is that “mainstream success is often not what people are after.”
“It’s still easier [to make it as an artist in Berlin] because it is still a workers’ and students’ city, even though resources are not as numerous and not as cheap as they used to be,” he explains.
A decade ago, Schroeder left his career as a full-time web developer to take a chance on founding the website. He says Berlin’s vibe is very encouraging to underdogs who are starting from square one. Many artists arrive in Berlin expecting an easy ride, so work ethic and persistence go a long way – especially when tackling German bureaucracy.
New artists needn’t be scared off by rent increases and a rising number of avocado-toast cafés. Often, the biggest obstacle will be themselves.
“My main advice is to stay focused on what you want to do and don’t get distracted,” says the local creative veteran. “Berlin has too many tempting possibilities for leisure and it’s easy to put your own things off to enjoy the time.”