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Cultural history since 1990
Because the Shipbuilder's Lane was in military and industrial use since 1820, it had managed to remain completely unknown to the public until 1990. After the closing of the gas works, the laundry, and most of the caserne, the area lay idle save for one logistics battalion of the Soviet KGB, which remained until 1994. The first “expeditions”, however, began in 1991 when Potsdam’s cultural scene became duly interested in the thus-far impenetrable area.
The old laundry was envisioned as a superb environment for exhibitions and underground techno parties, and thus in 1992 an unusual development began. Artists squatted the building and suddenly it became an attractive location for people in both Potsdam and Berlin (and even recruits of the KGB crept in for the parties through a hole in the fence). With the founding of Waschhaus e.V. in 1993, a regular cultural life started. Currently, 200,000 visitors are counted every year. A phenomenon that began with about 40 art enthusiasts had developed into a multi-faceted potentiality which was not merely accepted, but also financially encouraged by the city.
The city of Potsdam itself soon began to raise its eyebrows in interest: the city would celebrate its 1000 year anniversary in 1993, and was seeking locations and venues. Riding Hall A was very enticing. Furthermore, there was the idea to place the new theatre building for the “Hans Otto Theater” – which was absolutely necessary - on the Shipbuilder's Lane. The Regional Development Association purchased scattered real estate and initiated a strategic concept for the cultural, urban, and economic development of the location. Primarily, the gas works area was polluted and needed cleansing, and the new theatre as the key investment needed to be ensured. A first step was an international architectural competition in 1992, which resulted in the award-winning draft by Gottfried Böhm. For some time, however, the position of the building as well as its financing remained unclear. The city council made the final decision on May 5, 1999; the resolution “Integrated Cultural Location with the newly built Hans Otto Theater in the Shipbuilder's Lane” ensured the basis for all further activities. Simultaneously, a framework for the new building, the technical development of the area, and the settling of businesses was established, ensuring a stable existence of the free cultural scene in the Shipbuilder's Lane.
Artists, cultural associations, and organisations rapidly found their way to the old industrial and military location and began to make it home. The dance theater Fabrik Potsdam has used the Fishery building since 1994, in addition to a usage of the Riding Hall B and finally the Machine Hall as venues and rehearsal rooms. Riding Hall A was renovated in 1998 and became the venue for the children and youth section of the Hans Otto Theater. Spectacular international art events, such as the lighting setup “Auf zu den Sternen” (Up to the Stars), have repeatedly turned the area into a veritable laboratory for artistic experiments.
With the rapid cultural overtaking and usage of the buildings, substantial defects in terms of security and functionality were not revealed until afterwards. This was a high risk, as the full potential of such a cultural scene would depend on the full functionality of the buildings. In 1999 the Ministry of Science, Research, and Culture in Brandenburg provided funding for the Development Program for Culture, with which a new concept could be developed: the Center for Art and Socioculture (“Zentrum für Kunst und Soziokultur (ZKS). This all-encompassing concept included rehearsal and course rooms, venues for dance and dance theatre, professional free theatre, exhibitions, rooms for club events, readings, and media productions, halls for concerts, studios for young bands, offices, depots, and other rooms. In 2001, the Shipbuilder's Lane became a redevelopment area, meaning that funds from Urban Development Support could be used for cultural buildings and overall infrastructure.
The unique cultural ambience, the outstanding waterfront location, the gastronomic variety, and the open air venue are not only idea as a tourist attraction, but it is also attractive to culturally disposed businesses and innovative service providers. The driving goal has been, and still is, that the Shipbuilder's Lane become an independent magnet for people interested in various contemporary arts, and not merely a supplementary tourist attraction to the castles and gardens, the historical inner city of Potsdam, and Filmpark Babelsberg.
The establishment of the ZKS was rescheduled several times but finally determined in 2003. Hammers began to pound and the first construction phase began: the renovation of the Machine Hall, the dance theater fabrik Potsdam, the T-Werk free theater, the Art Room for exhibitions, and the Schinkel Hall. By the time the second construction phase started in 2006, all of these projects were finished and were already active and functioning. The second construction phase is in full progress: the renovation of the Events Hall (Aktionhalle) including the foyer, the private art museum FLUXUS +, and several business rooms. The third construction stage will follow: the renovation of the Laundry and Offizze and the creation of an open-air stage and other open-air spaces. The final completion of the work is planned for 2008.
With the decision for the newly-built Hans Otto Theater to be in the Shipbuilder's Lane, the public began to discover and accept this new place of culture as an urban adventure space in Potsdam. The official start of building activities took place on October 14, 2004, and with that a new era began. On the September 22, 2006, the curtain of the theater swung open for the first time and the stage resounded with the début performance of “Katte” by Thorsten Becker, directed by Uwe Eric Laufenberg.
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