Dressing Artists’ Hub in Something Button-Down

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BERLIN — For 20 years, a graffiti-covered ruin of a former department store here has housed studios and workshops for artists who occupied it and saved it from demolition shortly after the Berlin Wall fell.

The building, known as Tacheles, is now protected as a historic site. The artists, meanwhile, without a lease for nearly two years, face eviction to make way for a lavish new development.

For Berlin, more is at stake than the age-old gentrification dilemma. The threatened closure of Tacheles, the name of which derives from Yiddish for “straight talk,” has sharpened the debate over Berlin’s identity.

No longer divided by the wall, it is now split between its unique past as a volatile blend of dark history and bright creativity and its status as the capital of a stable, reunified country. While the cash-strapped city has sought to capitalize on its reputation as a free-wheeling, chaotic nest of painters, musicians and anarchists, it is also home to a buttoned-down government and growing bureaucracy....

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