Places in Berlin

KaterHolzig Poisoned, But Not Down


‘We’ve been poisoned by the mainstream ‘, say the folks at KaterHolzig on their website.

Yet another classic of old Berlin––this squat-underground-club-off-beat restaurant located in a former soap factory––has closed down under the pressure of the exploding real estate market.


What did they manage to create? The people at Kater call it a ‘Eine Meisterleistung an Zwischenmenschlichkeit’, a masterpiece of human interactions (despite the tough door policy). And what’s replacing it? 53 Luxury apartments with views to the Spree river, costing up to 2 million euros each.

This is all part of a massive change along the riverside, more broadly conceived by the city as a commercial project for the media industry (speciously marketed as ‘artistic’ in character), called Mediaspree. These developments aren’t just bad for the old clubs, but also for historical monuments––last year we saw mass demonstrations to prevent developers from knocking down parts of the celebrated East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall on the right bank of the river.


KaterHolzig’s closing torment lasted seven days from Silvester, or New Year’s eve, and then went silent. But even if KaterHolzig has been poisoned, it’s not dead. There’s an irony in the antidote. There are plans for Kater to move across the river to the location of the former Bar 25, which was also knocked down in the interests of developers. Bar 25 was the predecessor, run by the people who later made Kater. When it closed in autumn 2010, Kater brought its bartenders across the river. Now those same employees will find themselves crossing the bridge once again to their old stamping grounds in a new space called ‘Holzmarkt’ (wood market)––in this way there’s a certain justice in their re-occupation, although one wonders whether they are now at greater risk of poisoning.


There’s a reason for this: people are talking that the Mediaspree project is, in the end, leaving this little piece of ground alone because it is contaminated by waste from East German industry (the whole area was de-industrialised with reunification, which is why there are so many exciting venues in former factories here).  The dance floor and kitchen of the old Bar 25 stood over the most contaminated section––and  I’d be interested to know from readers what’s happened with the planned clean up and how the Holzmarkt plans stand to be affected.


Holzmarkt is a much more ambitious project than either Bar 25 or Kater. When, in 2008, the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg voted to sink important components of the Mediaspree project (87% in favour), more community-oriented projects entered into the pipeline. Holzmarkt will include affordable housing, a village square, a restaurant, a Kidzklub, a hotel… The kid-friendly aspect reflects that the people involved with KaterHolzig are no longer the young single club ravers they once were, and new projects reflect the maturity of the 90s/2000s generation of the Berlin scene. 20-somethings coming to Berlin looking for the old hedonism of the erstwhile beach bars might find themselves competing with baby buggies.


I was away from Berlin over New Year’s and thought I’d never set foot in the old KaterHolzig again, so I was very surprised when I received an invitation last week from a friend to a vernissage in, of all places, KaterHolzig. We entered the space which is already beginning to be dismantled.


Kater’s charm was always in its partial degradation (even here always a rather planned and curated degradation). To see former wooden structures now dashed to splinters, a massive fire burning in the lot, to anticipate the evacuation of the interior spaces, lent it a more cataclysmic feel. Downstairs, in the kiosk, on a very cold day, there was sound-art exhibit, and bearded arty types lumbered over a stone oven to keep warm––the heat and intimacy of the wooden structure made one feel like one was in a chalet leaning over a precipice in the alps, rather than on the Spree.


Upstairs, an exhibit of portraits by Henrieke Ribbe of Kater’s employees was overrun with joyous children climbing into the treehouses, still packed with cigarette butts and empty bottles.


So much of Kater felt like the ruins of another age: the treehouses perched in the industrial halls harken to a moment of improvisation, when young people approached the de-industrialised spaces along the river with the challenge of how to domesticate the austere and uninhabitable. Now the future of this building is commercially planned and overdetermined—as is so much of Berlin and with it the old improvisation so typical of an older Berlin aesthetic is disappearing, and even becoming dated, clichéd.


The cement stairwell covered with graffiti seems Ur-Berlin––but the one tourists have come to see, and is often carefully recreated in, say, youth hostels.


The graffiti-splattered bathroom––the kind that may well be clean but you can never tell for all the swirls of paint––where perhaps some of the children now scampering around Holzig’s chambers were once produced––too seems like a scene from a film of Berlin before it became all slick and low-lit, a city of fusion tapas and a good wine list. The plans for Holzmarkt hold on to this dated aesthetic of organic structures (I mean: informal, scrappy wooden structures, inside or alongside industrial surfaces)––a nostalgia for the old times, before we were poisoned. Before we got just a little bit older.

Meanwhile, down the road, in another part of Berlin, in Neukölln, experimental 20-somethings have something else in mind for Berlin. But that’s the story of the future, not the past.


Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.