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MaHalla. Expanding Culture beyond the Ego

MaHalla @mahallaberlin Chief : Irina Rusinovich
Photographer: Sasha Grigg @sasha_grigg
Make Up : Elena Schmerberg @caras_masqueradas
Stylists : Elisa Lindenberg, Thoas Lindner @elisa_lindenberg @thoaslindner
Curator & Text: Dr. Almut Hüfler @almutcorneliahuefler
Fashion designers: @fadeoutlabel @lenavoutta @theothergods

MaHalla. Expanding Culture beyond the Ego

The Mother Hall

MaHalla is a private socio-cultural initiative. Initiated by renowned filmmaker Ralf Schmerberg, it is supported by a growing community of artists, investors, and creative enthusiasts. Thus, years of engagement and social activism were brought together under the roof of the industrial building. 

Its overall aim is to inspire social consciousness. ‘The world is full of pain’, is what visitors learn from the emblazoned writing. The project’s name MaHalla can be translated as ‘mother-hall’. It conjures up associations with comfort, warmth of the arms, softness, and care. A ‘mahalla’ in Arabic is a centre for the whole neighbourhood, a place to meet, to talk and do business. In contrast to the initial roughness of the building and its innate masculinity, the vision is to create a program that aims at providing relief and nourishment on different levels: inspiration, practice, knowledge, discourse, celebration, and community.

Right from the beginning, fashion designer, stylist, and musician Elisa Lindenberg decided to take care of the food side and make lunch for the team. ‘The kitchen is the beating heart of the day in MaHalla’, she says. Once a day, everyone is called from where they work to come and sit together at a long table and enjoy a wholesome meal cooked with love. Elisa is joined by a team of artists who are happy to take turns in bringing their creativity into the kitchen.

Since the summer of 2021, the team and the ever-increasing group of volunteers have been organising various events. For the winter season, they created LUX NOCTURNA — Salon zur Unzeit to provide the community with warmth and shelter during times of darkness. For the first time since its construction, the black hall was transformed into an exhibition space for contemporary painting, photography and installations. With a background in literature, art history and years of personal development under her belt, curator Almut Hüfler has developed a curatorial concept for MaHalla that allows art to become a means of participation and consciousness development. For the show, the curator selected colourful works of large formats of renowned Berlin artists to provide a better framework for a series of three months of interactive experiences. Ranging from innovative music, participatory art events, breathing exercises to Michelin-starred gourmet feasts, these events invite the public to recharge their batteries. 

Human Electricity

In 2019, Ralf Schmerberg fell in love with the building while looking for a new studio space — and it was love at first sight. Serving as a turbine showroom, the factory was part of the former Electropolis area (Berlin, Oberschöneweide), which stood out in all its industrial grandeur and beauty. It was not a usual factory, however, but a functional one with some decorative elements. This place is believed to have inspired Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Entering through a tiny door, anybody with a sense of creativity points out the capacity of its internal space.

Built in 1897, only a few years after the Eiffel Tower, the steel construction comes as the very embodiment of a groundbreaking innovation. A good hundred years later, with mankind in the midst of another technical revolution, MaHalla incorporates aspects of energy generation and humanity and moves into the digital age. The concept is to link creativity with energy, trigger inspiration in others, and establish a solid basis for innovation and change.

Economical Innovation and Spirituality

The economic side of MaHalla rests on the basis of a private initiative of its founder and a steadily growing circle of well-off visionaries and entrepreneurs. Eventually, there will also be public funding. However, at the beginning, the concept of MaHalla asks for a committed community of shareholders instead of one main investor or public financial support. The idea of MaHalla is democratic and very idealistic. Together with a team of creatives, free spirits, and volunteers, the investors and shareholders make the dream possible. 

MaHalla is unique in the sense that it is an oasis, a small, idealistic world in its own respect. It explicitly rests on an open spiritual foundation in the widest sense, aiming at raising consciousness on all possible levels. The team is developing an ambitious program balancing out contemporary art, cutting-edge music, spiritual experience, humane science, and strategies towards a more partial society. It is a creative experiment that aims at becoming a myth radiating far beyond Berlin, while at the same time generating sound economic growth for everyone who has invested in its foundation.

Anyone can find a way to contribute. MaHalla’s roof is literally very wide: ranging from a volunteer program that provides exciting opportunities to learn, meet interesting people, and obtain a one-year free membership, to freelancing/working for the team, renting studio spaces, and finally acquiring the status of a ‘whale’ or an ‘elephant’, i.e. becoming a larger shareholder of the MaHalla GmbH & Co KG. 

Working on the Myth and Transforming the Crisis

Many artists and partners discover MaHalla, while looking for a special location to present or document their projects. The process of developing MaHalla is conceived as an organic growth model. The team plants the seed and takes good care of its cultivation. They create a particular ‘MaHalla-vibe’ and are confident to continuously attract and build the right audience for a wide range of different formats. Many artists feel drawn towards MaHalla by its creative, unconventional and welcoming atmosphere. Soon there are going to be studio spaces and a project-based residency programme for artists and external curators.

Speaking about the so-called ideal audience, MaHalla is a ‘mother’ with a big heart and open arms, welcoming a crowd of people as diverse as possible. Anyone who identifies themselves with her humanist core values can come to enjoy the space — and is invited to join and co-create! Ralf Schmerberg said in a team meeting recently: ‘I have just started a campfire for you – it burns with everything you bring’. 

MaHalla was launched during the crisis: thanks to private supporters, it survived and flourished despite still looking like a building site in the middle of the pandemic. But even this phase was turned into art: Staub (German for ‘dust’) is a film documenting the cleaning of the big hall in cooperation with Kärcher. The resident band Music Ashram produced a record, through which the team led MaHalla into the next phase of the revival of culture, moving beyond the pandemic.

The MaHalla-vision paints a vibrant cultural space, a place for people to leave their sorrows behind, feel inspired, nourished, and creative. MaHalla is going to have restaurants, bars, exhibition spaces, and a nightclub; thus, it will become a venue for a continuously running diverse and innovative program. There are going to be workshops, festivals, concerts, conferences, film screenings, fabulous dinners, dance, yoga, breathing, meditation, sound experience, and many ways for people to share their skills, art, and knowledge with the world. The building will be renovated and made welcoming and comfortable; it will be surrounded by a landscaped garden with a vertical ‘green wall’ as one of its main attractions inside. Meanwhile, we will continue reading enthusiastic feedback on social media with people talking about ‘this amazing new place’ down in the south-east of Berlin.

Through out the shoot we used the following Labels :
Elisa : Fade out Label , Moga e Mago , Comme des Garconne, Alexander McQueen , Rick Owens , Vintage Head, Jewellery (earring) by ALAMA

Almut: The Other Gods , LALA Berlin , Lena Voutta , Borsalino
Ralf : KENZO , Fade Out Label , Lumen et Umbra , Alexander McQueen and Birkenstock Shoes