Hamburg, Hamburg

Wednesday, March 16th at 15:50

We weave our way through the Gängeviertel and enter the Fabrique from the south via a long sloping ramp: A giant mural to our left, mid-sized trees to our right. Passing through the wide door, we are confronted by a large print of a vertically exploded model of the cultural centre. It is on the wall of the alcove reaching up all the way to the top floor. Looking at the print from the top down we see that there are six floors, numbered [4,3,2,1,0,-1] and marked north [N] and south [S]. There is a conference room[4N], a photo studio[4S], a radio station[3N,2N], a rehearsal stage for theatre[3S], a fitness and dance floor[2S], a cooperative kitchen[1N], a silkscreen and colour studio[1S], an art exhibition space[0N], an event space[0S] and a studio for advanced multimedia[-1S]. The name of each space is written in German, English, Russian, Chinese, Arabic and also illustrated with a respectively descriptive icon.

Although an elevator would clearly take us all the way up to the workshop in the conference room, because we are about 30 minutes early, we decide to use the stairs. Peeking through the half-open door of the event space, we see a number of people apparently preparing the stage for a concert. The elevator door opens behind us and a young man pushes a cart with catering trays past us into the event space. He smiles and says in passing, “It's catering for the band, sorry. There's some left upstairs if you hurry.” As we get out of his way, the door to the art space swings inward and we see a huge painting on the wall opposite the entrance. We enter the large vaulted room, which is attended by a woman busily organising the flyers and catalogues on the table to our right. She smiles at us, says "Hello," but quickly returns to what she was doing. Vinyl letters on the wall introduce us to the "no spoiler" exhibition and we spend at least 10 minutes looking at the show of monumentally important yet indescribable art. We all sign the guest-book and leave small donations in the “Spendenbox”.

As we are about to leave, she asks: “Do you want jewels in your Fabrique Passports?” As none of us know what she means, we all look quizzically at her. “Oh, here.” She pulls out little red passport sized booklets, handing one to each us. “Whenever you come to the Fabrique you can get a 'jewel' on the page for the respective project if you participate in some way. Once you have a 'jewel' from all of the projects in the Fabrique, you can turn in your passport at any event and instead of paying an entrance fee, just jump on in, get involved and become a member of the non-profit. We just ask you at first to help us cover the costs of the production for the passport and stickers, which is five euros.” Of course we all want a passport, so she lays a jewelled-sticker in a passport for each of us and we give her the money. “You have to stick it yourself,” she says, smiling to all of us at the same time. Inside of the passport there are a few pages with information about the building as well as a place for us to put our name, contact details and of course take notes.

Following the stairs up one flight, we see that the silkscreen-printed studio door is closed and a laser-printed A4 sign is taped to it: “Workshop: Silkscreen Basics 14h-18h. By registration only.” Underneath the notice is another printout of a weekly calendar, showing that the studio is generally open, except upon appointment. Across from the colour studio, the door to the kitchen is open. There is a similar weekly calendar with events like “Cooking for Mama's Boys”, “Wonderful World of Woks” and “Vegan Pies with Julia”. The lovely smell of frying onions wafts toward us. We hear the clatter of pans and scraping of spatulas, the plopping of something being dropped into water and the strumming of an acoustic guitar. We hesitantly enter the large open cooking space to find four people washing, peeling and cooking a mountain of potatoes. “Excuse me, coming through,” calls the young man from behind us – pushing the roll-cart toward an island in the centre of the room. “If you're hungry there is still some couscous and humus over there on the table.”

We look at the table, where a dreadlocked hippy is sitting on a long bench, playing an acoustic version of “Something” from somebody. “Plates and silverware are over there,” says the young man, motioning with his head to an overflowing shelf full of plates, bowls and mugs, “and you are welcome to leave a donation in the jar on the table, but at any rate please bring your dirty dishes to the washing station.” After putting our new passports down onto the table, we help ourselves to some couscous as “Something” is strummed to the end. The hippie looks up, smiles a toothy grin and asks: “Sorry, I ate all the humus. Got a request?” We all shake our heads, mouths full of warm couscous with raisins and soy cream. He shrugs and begins to play something he probably composed himself.

Taking our dirty plates over to the washing machine, we scrape off the last bits of food into the trash and put them into the rack. As we are leaving, the young man comes over to us and gives us even more jewels to stick to our passports. He asks us, “Are you here for the tango course upstairs? I usually go on Wednesdays, but we're cooking for the refugee-camp at the train station this week.” We shake our heads and stick the little round glossy stickers onto the kitchen page in our passports; drop a few coins into the jar on the table and leave.

Turning the corner we go up another flight of stairs. Between each floor is a platform that overlooks the open space. A railing, probably to prevent smaller people from falling accidentally, is all that separates us from the floor several storeys down. Far above us in that alcove is the ceiling, three lamps attached to it.

Arriving at the next floor, we see a giant number 2 on the wall between two rest-rooms. To our left, the door is open to a space where we see part of a large open room with black vinyl flooring. Dozens of people are stretching, some of them rehearsing their moves in pairs. A man who is probably the instructor sees us standing in the space's foyer. Coming over to us he says, “We're starting in about ten minutes, so you still have time to go to the changing room and put on your dancing shoes...” At which point he sees that we are carrying briefcases and laptops instead of gym bags. “Oh – you're here for the workshop. I see, well, if you finish early, we have three sessions tonight, each one 90 minutes long: Beginner, advanced, professional. At around nine o'clock there'll be some show dancing.” Thanking him, we leave, passing another calendar that is literally full all day, every day.

Across from us we see that the light above the closed door is red, “ON AIR”. In front of the door is a small stand with the radio station's magazine “Transmitter”, some flyers and the FSK-branded passport jewels. We each take one of each.

About to climb the next flight of stairs, someone bounds past us with an overpopulated keyring in one hand and laptop clutched in the other. We can just make out the blurry text on the back of their hoody: “IT SECURITY”. The dozens of keys and RFID chips jangle wildly as he or she disappears around the corner of the stairs. Continuing upward we arrive at the third floor above the ground floor.

Looking to the right, we see another door to the radio station, “FSK Office – by Appointment only”. The door to our left opens, and we move out of the way as 3 men in black leotards and face-paint resembling cats pass us on their way to the men's room. A woman with an afro wig and lion's mane follows them out and goes to the ladies' room. As the door to the theatre stage is closing, we overhear a loud conversation between two people. “No, no, no!” yells one of them. To which the other replies: “We all agreed that the guys come in after Alice enters the ...” The sound of their voices fades out as the door closes.

As we reach the platform between the third and fourth floors, we see that there is a balcony – the door to which is open on this overcast day. We decide to go out and enjoy a breath of fresh air before the workshop. Looking at the old buildings of the Gängeviertel, it seems quite tragic that so much money has been spent on the renovation of one building while the decaying roofs of the other buildings are left to the course of Hamburg's fickle weather. In the context of these glass and concrete behemoths encroaching on all sides, we feel that we understand for the first time why they gave the workshop such an imposing name. As if in response to our feelings, it begins to rain and we go back inside.

One last half of a flight of stairs and we arrive at the conference room. As we hurry past the elevator, its door opens and two people inside it follow us into the room with a small table. The person attending the table asks us our names, which he then crosses off of a list. He hands each of us a badge bearing our respective names and a binder with The Urban Oppression of Modernism silk-screened onto its brown cover with pink ink. “Just so you know, at the break in the workshop we'll be taking a group-photo across the hall in the Fotofabrique. Do you need a Gängeviertel Passport? No? Ok, great. Here are your jewels. We'll begin in about 5 minutes, please have a seat.”

As we sit down at the U-shaped table, IT-SECURITY stands up while closing their laptop and loudly announcing: “Ok, the VPN is set up and the VLAN WIFI login is over there on the board.” IT SECURITY leaves the room, obviously in another hurry – their keys jangling like the bell on a cat's collar. Several people say “Thanks!” at the same time, to which everyone smiles.

Some of us leaf through our binders, while others are busy logging into the WIFI with their devices. The room has a high, vaulted ceiling, open half-timber construction and a milky skylight. The light patter of rain falling on the skylight slows to single drops and then finally stops. The attendant closes the door and one of the people sitting at the table stands up and clears her voice. “Welcome to the Fabrique in the Gängeviertel...”