Clubs and stages, street food and underground art – it is the urban playground for steam punkers: The RAW Area at Warschauer Straße has become the (sub-)cultural center of Berlin Friedrichshain in many ways. Since we from Industriepalast Hostel are practically neighbors, we introduce you in our new mini-series Boiling RAW to the area’s history, future, and all the amazing stuff it has to offer. This week we present you with part 1 on the history and future of the area.
R – A – What?
RAW is a more than 5 hectare large former industrial site at Warschauer Straße. Where they used to fix and maintain trains is now a big open playground for grown ups with clubs and concert venues, studios, sports centers and street food markets. The all bolshy subversive charm of Berlin Friedrichshain is nowhere as vividly alive as it is here between shabby factory halls and spray-painted brick walls. RAW, named after the former Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk (State Train Repair Workshop) that used to sit here until the 1990s, reaches all the way from Warschauer Straße to Modersohn Bridge.
Trains a Comin’
Even before Germany became its own nation state, the Royal Prussian Railroad Workshop II was founded here in 1867 to keep up with the increasing demand of locomotives and coaches to be maintained. The entire quarter around what today is Warschauer Straße used to be a thinly populated outlying district of the Prussian capital Berlin. It was only in 1918, right after World War I, that the area was renamed Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk – or in short: RAW – and it carries that name until today. Roughly 1.200 people worked here to fix and maintain trains. For the 100th anniversary the factory, now a part of the German Democratic Republic, was given the honor name Franz Stenzer after a communist politician that was murdered by the Nazis. You can still sometimes hear the name in relation to the area. When the wall came down and Germany was reunited they started decommissioning the plant piece by piece until 1995.
A Temple of Dreams
As soon as most work had stopped here, the creative minds of Berlin’s subversive 90s scene began pulling in. Informal projects, studios, exhibition and party venues emerged, before the cultural association RAW-Tempel, a resident’s project, rented a couple of buildings on the site in 1999. The Tempel gave a new home to a number of intercultural projects: Besides studios, galleries and open workshops a skating hall and a climbing center were opened, as well as nightclubs and concert venues. Over the first decade of the new millennium RAW and the Tempel projects contributed in a decisive manner to the development of the entire quarter from a downtrodden problem district to a trendy borough. RAW gave the densely populated district a creative center and brought people together. And the call of the charmingly shabby nightclubs was now heard until far over the borders of the borough.
Fame and a Vague Future
The developments in the neighborhood did not leave the utopia of the creative paradise RAW untouched. Rising rents and the gentrification of the borough with new bars, restaurants and clubs brought investors to the scene. As neighboring Simon-Dach-Straße turned into a crazy strobe light district with visitors from all over the globe (cynically the street is now sometimes called “Ballermann’s Revenge” after a notorious party beach on Majorca), RAW was sold to a number of private investors. Wild speculations about what was going to happen to the area began immediately. Rumors reached all the way from luxurious apartments to a huge event venue and office towers. Artists and operators on the site were furious and so where many residents, but in the end it were legal disputes that made all planings stop. The creative minds behind the many RAW projects were understandably happy with that situation and so new ideas and projects have been constantly emerging during the recent years.
It was only in April 2015 that a large part of the RAW area was sold again. This time the new owner promised that the site was going to “keep its basic DNA”. We can therefore expect, that the colorful wonderland RAW will stay with us for a while to come. However, some of the old factory buildings will be renovated and arguably some of the existing projects will probably not be able to afford the rising rents. That is exactly why you should come now to explore and enjoy the countless adventures and offerings of RAW, before the golden age of the site will come to an end. You will find out about all these great opportunities in part 2 and 3 of our mini-series on RAW.
We think that RAW with its multifarious, creative, colorful and intercultural offerings stands symbolically for what makes Berlin Friedrichshain special and unique. Well, and also it is simply the most fun thing in the world to go and discover the numerous wonders of the area every day anew. From Industriepalast Hostel it is only a short hop – so hop over!
Keep RAW boiling,
your IP-Blogger Simon
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.