Co-creating the future of the Burner Embassy Berlin
This advice process is about the future of the Burner Community room “Burner Embassy Berlin”. The change from its current temporary location into a permanent situation will happen in two years, but the process for that already starts now. The main decisions we need to take are (I). Whether we want to have an active role in the development and organization of the Burner Embassy, and (II). What shall the organisational structure be if we work together with other associations in the Burner Embassy and (III) How much money we will budget for that project.
I am writing this Advice Process on behalf and as an offer to the whole Burner Community, also beyond Kiez Burn. I’m currently the person who is most involved in the current state of the Burner Embassy @ Haus der Statistik @ Alexanderplatz. I’m also currently head of the board of the Berlin Burner e.V., which is currently running the Burner Embassy. Kiez Burn e.V. helped the initial start with a big donation.
Information gathered before posting.
Currently numerous discussions with members of the community, and the boards of Kiez Burn e.V., Mauersegler e.V. and Berlin Burner e.V., also with Haus der Statistik about their application process for permanent residence.
People/roles most affected by this proposal.
People/roles with the most knowledge and experience relevant to this proposal:
Active organizers of meetings
People already using the Burner Embassy
Finance lead @Kathleen
The Burner Embassy Berlin (https://blog.burnerembassy.berlin/) is the first attempt of creating a (semi-) permanent meeting space and anchor point in the middle of the city. It was opened in December 2019 (and survived the pandemic) in the Haus der Statistik in the eastern city center next to Alexanderplatz. It is run as a donation-based project (both permanent donors and donation box at events) with the idea of being sustainable and self-reliant. It provides three main functions to the community:
an easily accessible service room for meeting and planning for Burns and other community activities (calendar reservation, digital lock, projectors, Wi-Fi, heating, fridge, stove, coffee maker, bathrooms, some tools)
communication and common ground within the community, a place to get together regardless of your favorite Burn or subcommunity, and for visiting Burners from outside.
sharing information about our culture to outside of the community, to interested Not-yet-Burners within the city (e.g., on events of Haus der Statistik) and by creating social projects with other groups there.
The Burner Embassy also got some attention in the Burner community outside Germany, for several people it already was their first physical point of contact with the local Burner community. It also received positive feedback from the global Burner community including the Regional Network of the Burning Man Project, which is very interested in sustainable community supporting projects.
The Embassy’s current location is a small part of a container village in front of the of the Haus der Statistik under reconstruction. Our container is 28 m2 on the first floor, the original location on the ground floor of the main building had 54 m2 in two rooms. Since the usage fee (aka rent) is pretty low with 4€ per m2, we manage to collect half of the rent on monthly donations (with donation receipts since Berlin Burner e.V. is a non-profit) and try to fill up the remaining part of the usage fee and other small costs with donations on events. This situation can be continued until the end of 2024, when the first main building is handed over in a state of “veredelter Rohbau” (refined shell?). After that time the container will be gone.
The Haus der Statistik is organized by an artist cooperative together with the Berlin senate, the Bezirk Mitte and others. Most existing parts of the area will be government offices, but the cooperative is negotiating to keep a share of the whole area for permanent use by cultural, social, or marginalized groups, as they do now with the “pioneer usages” like the Burner Embassy Berlin. The whole project shall be secured by contracts with the city for at least 30 years, and the aim is to provide permanent rental contracts. Additionally, to the remodeled building closest to Alexanderplatz there will be new buildings for even more groups and “curated ground floors”, all places are self-organized and partly self-financed.
Note: all the following is bound to the successful negotiation of contracts with the current government. The parties probably forming the new governments have stated their support for the project, but unless the contract is signed, things still can go south … See also the FAQ for all the nitty gritty details: https://spaces.hausderstatistik.org/FAQ
There are some preconditions which are easy to fulfil for the Burner Community, like working together and being nice to each other, and as ongoing resident with additional activity in the self-organizing processes I see a pretty good possibility to be selected for permanent residence. See the questions ask here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mRXZyqVG0r320X0xJohenEkhh1RbEDanQERARABmIhs/edit?usp=sharing and feel free to put in ideas for answers.
The process has several rounds until the end of summer and will become more and more binding. Since the whole process is self-financed, it will start after the first round with a one-time investment of 250€ (standard, non-refundable, less is negotiable, more is always possible). See the process here: https://spaces.hausderstatistik.org/Allocation-Procedure
Becoming part of the process also includes a decision about what we will do there, how much space it will need, and how much it will cost. The costs will be two-fold:
Monthly warm rent between 6€ and 10€ (they aim for 7,50€) per m2.
One-time refundable cooperative shares of 211€ per m2 (the money is locked for at least 5 years, but the shares can be handed over and refunded by the next tenants)
One or both types of payment might be replaced in small parts by our own work in completing the building, but the exact conditions are not known yet.
What we will get for the money:
a fixed, easy to reach and to find address in the middle of the city.
permanent own rooms (if we decide not to share them with others),
access by elevators, and bathrooms on each floor (handicapped accessible).
access to shared rooms like a seating area with tea kitchen on each floor,
access to bigger shared rooms (probably on a pay-per-use base) for events, exhibitions (and maybe parties?),
access to shared workshops (currently bike, metal, fabric, wood and more), mostly within our building,
a voice in the further development of the project (one project one voice)
Some example floor layouts can be found here: https://spaces.hausderstatistik.org/spaces-and-areas
There are at least three factors which this needs an advice process:
As a permanent community project, the Burner Embassy should be carried by the most possible part of the community, not just one association.
The money involved is exceeding the possibilities at least of the association currently hosting the Burner Embassy.
Everything beyond the smallest possible space (1 room of maybe 15 m2) can’t be sustainably financed with the current donation model, so we need other ideas.
I already got signals from all associations that they are interested in general to support the project, given the concept is good and sustainable. Nevertheless, there are some points to consider:
The Burner community in Berlin gets most out of the Burner Embassy due to proximity, it is a bit less interesting to Burners in other cities. But it might serve as a model for their own Embassies.
The current situation limits the possibility of having parties: thin walls, a neighborhood especially on both sides, the project is not supposed to appear as a party location.
In general, a cooperative organizing style is encouraged within the building. More structures are fixed after the beginning. Other projects like the current Clubcommission project on a meadow in the outskirts of Berlin are less predetermined.
Some people would prefer to own land or be at least the sole renter of something bigger but away from the center. Some even think that investing in this project takes away energy from searching something else.
Around the same time the Haus der Statistik showed up, we looked up a temporary space in Gartenfeld near Spandau. Though it was bigger and emptier, the distance to most of the areas Burners are living was considered too far out (50-60 min from Neukölln or Friedrichshain by public transport, 1h by bike), unlikely for dropping by in the evening.
The one small room solution could have served as a shared office, that attracted not much attention. Some artists expressed interest in a large atelier space (50m2, 100m2?), shared on a daily base or by other means. Given the amount of money which would be needed for the cooperative shares and on a monthly base, that needs good (financial) organization and also might limit the number of uses. There is also an “Atelierprogramm” from the Berlin senate which will be in other parts of the building, but that seems to be limited to artists who a part of a professional artist organization.
We are in this place with other groups, and some work there for a living as funded projects. Not all ways of self-expression are helpful if we want to use this place for years to come (we already had that in the past).
Running and organizing a permanent space needs people and energy. If the team is too small or draining out the project can’t continue (or even start).
For some people is identifying as a Burner a phase in life. They don’t necessarily think too much about the future or what impact they could have on following “Burner generations”. With the moving-in phase in two years only some people already changed their location or life.
Several things could also be done without an Embassy, with back rooms of bars or renting event locations or maker spaces for events, or meeting just somewhere. Also, the percentage of time the room is actively used depends on people hosting events (or opening the space). In Berlin there is always a lot going on, so e.g., opening the room on a daily base for several hours needs a lot of volunteers and commitment. This would be also the case if we open the room as an art project room for Burner artists.
Besides the risk of the whole Haus der Statistik project going in a different direction before the bonding contract are finalized, there are also risks that because of our standing or incidents associated with our members, the Embassy might have to leave the area. There is also a thinkable risk that at one point in time the cooperative itself is getting into trouble, and that the refunding of the shares is problematic. Like every investment we need to have a good look into this.
We support and co-organize a new version of the Burner Embassy Berlin at the Haus der Statistik as a permanent art project room and meeting room. We aim for a bigger room for art and a small storage room for supplies etc., together around 50€. The Embassy should still be based on donations as an indicator of community attention. To give back to the community we take over initial cooperative shares, and we also give monthly support if incoming donations are not sufficient, based on a yearly budget plan including building investments.
The organizational structure for working together with other associations in the Burner Embassy will need to cover several elements:
Establishment of a joint coordinating body: The coordinating body would coordinate the cooperation between the associations and ensure that all interests and needs are considered. The coordinating body could be headed by a volunteer board appointed by the three associations.
Formation of a joint sponsoring association: the sponsoring association would manage the operating costs of the art project space and provide the necessary resources for its operation. The sponsoring corporation could be jointly formed by the three associations and managed by an Embassy lead.
Establishment of responsibilities: Each association would take on specific responsibilities to successfully operate the art project space. For example, one of the non-profit associations could be responsible for organizing exhibitions, while the other non-profit association would take care of the finances. The non-profit association could be responsible for marketing and fundraising.
Establishing decision-making processes: The three associations would need to find a way to make decisions together to avoid conflict. One possibility would be that each member of the board has one vote and decisions are made by simple majority. They could also take over the advice process to make sure the community is involved, and that all voices are heard.
Transparency and communication: open and transparent communication is important to ensure successful cooperation. The coordinating body could organize regular meetings to inform about the progress of the project and to discuss problems.
Community relations: To publicize the art project space and increase the number of visitors, each association could use its own networks and contacts and jointly spreads the info about exhibitions and other things happening in the Embassy.
It is important that the associations see this as a long-term project successfully run the art project space. When these organizational structures are in place, the associations can combine their strengths and work together to create a unique cultural offering.
3. The budget will depend on the final size of the space and the number of joining associations. According to the current numbers the overall shares would be for 50 m2 around 10k€, due in late summer. With the concept of the stacking up based on incoming donations (monthly reporting?) und given the current amount of incoming donations, the additional amount would be 240€. If Mauersegler e.V. and Berlin Burner e.V. (and maybe German Burners e.V.) join the organizational structure, the numbers would be smaller. Equals payments seem to be advisable, but since Kiez Burn e.V. is currently financially stronger than the other associations, other conditions might be more appropriate.
How would the proposal be implemented?
If we decide to support the Burner Embassy in the proposed way, the board together with finance will discuss the proper steps how to organize the cooperation structure with the other possible associations.
Since the first application is due April 9th to start the whole process, an initial application with the proposed ideas (as they are discussed then) will be started. Several details can still be changed in the next month. The initial application money after the first selection might be provided as a project grant either from Berlin Burner e.V. or German Burners e.V.
Who would implement this proposal?
When would this proposal be implemented?
Preparation and money: From April 9th until late summer for creating the organizational structure and securing our room.
Organizational setup: late summer until end of 2024.
Relocation/recreation of the Embassy 2024/25
What would be the cost (time, money, effort, etc.) of this proposal?
Money: <10,000.0 € initial, monthly <300€ depending on donation success
Time/effort: this is a big long-term project. coordination effort in the beginning, creating structures, but also assembling community and content.
What are the advantages of this proposal (relative to the current situation and/or counterproposals)
Keeping an important anchor point for the community. Supporting display of art year-round. Bringing even more community together way beyond Kiez Burn itself.
What are the disadvantages of this proposal (relative to the current situation and/or counterproposals)
A lot of money is blocked long-term. We get invested in a permanent project which constantly uses time, energy, and maybe money.
A decision if we want to support and co-create the Burner Embassy with Energy and Money.
A decision if we want to form an entity together with other associations.
A decision if we want to invest in the rooms for the Burner Embassy and want to secure the financial survival, or if we just let it end in 2 years.
Owl Wed 29 Mar 2023 1:43PM
about 120 published on facebook since the opening (according to Robert Dresden), online events during lockdown not counted. Some more internal events, too. But the use as a community available space is still a secret to many people in the community. I suppose the intensity would have been better without the pandemic, and maybe also with better organisation (and community advertisements). Thats one cause why I'm thinking it needs a different organisation structure. And keep in mind the money is way less gone compared to buying land :-D (since it will be reimbursed when the rental contract finally ends).
Owl Wed 29 Mar 2023 2:00PM
And it is true: a majority of the events have been hosted by me, which was way more comfortable than always find places to do events, as I had to before. Some events even came into (short) life because of the possibility. But this is less about my events, since I will end my active community work in two years. Without this transition the Burner Embassy will end then, too. But if we think it has some importance to the community on its own, the decision has to be made now. I think the usage to show art from Burner artists would at least fit two of the main things from the Kiez Burn mission statement.
Owl Wed 29 Mar 2023 2:14PM
Though the land comparison is not totally correct, that money would mostly not be gone, since the land could be sold again. But because of fees and value it might be different then.
Poll Created Sat 1 Apr 2023 4:29PM
Invest time, energy and money into a similar or bigger Embassy? Closed Wed 5 Apr 2023 4:00PM
Shall Kiez Burn create together with other associations (or alone) according the proposed concept a new (maybe enlarged) version of the Burner Embassy? That would include co-organization of the space, maybe help with building it, and also a (refundable) financial investment within the current possibilities of Kiez Burn e.V. (to my knowledge). If not (now), the Embassy will either cease to exist in two years, or a very small version might be tried by someone else. You can also put in more ideas how the space could work.
|Results||Option||% of voters||Voters|
||Looks good||5%||3||A RB|
|Not sure yet||3%||2|
|Undecided||89%||57||JT A MK K K P BRI MK A U BDB C J D A CT|
7 of 64 people have voted (10%)
Sat 1 Apr 2023 4:30PM
It seems like an exceptionally large investment with rather uncertain return. I’d rather see that money directly invested in art at KB, which seems to be broadly considered underfunded.
Sat 1 Apr 2023 4:30PM
Thank you Owl for this thorough and well-written proposal. 🙏 I personally don’t think that our usage of the Embassy is high enough to warrant a larger investment of time and money. I would prefer to focus any extra funding on storage solutions for camps, which is a big topic now that we are leaving Freiland.
Owl Sun 2 Apr 2023 9:35PM
Thanks for the feedback. We had additional discussion today, and currently it seems that only some people are interested in a year-round place for the community and to show (and support?) Burner art outside of those 5 days of Kiez Burn. Some voice also say that we (as a community) should give up the current implementation, but not the idea of an Embassy itself, because it is also a good starting point for Kiez Burn participants visiting Berlin. They say we should rather use the remaining 1,5 years and try to find a different place in a different area.
Owl Sun 30 Apr 2023 11:33AM
Current status: I've handed the application for the first round. it will take them some time to process, since they've got around 200 applications, but as a long-term pioneer and also with the time I spend in past years in the self-organisation structure, our application will get some bonus points ...
We're trying to increase the attention and usage for the Embassy with a second weekly event "Summer of Embassy" on Saturday afternoons (which has a few open volunteer spots in the next months), and also a number of Kiez Burn related usages. We also had a nice movie premiere on Friday with more than 50 people. And with more hosts we could do also additional formats like "chillout Sundays" or the "workshop Thursdays" we tried last fall.
We're currently looking into and discussing an additional (or sole) membership model, where free community events are still taking precedence, but members have a digital key for access all other times, to hang out or for their own activities. That would be my plan C after the associations are covering monthly costs or increasing monthly donations, since it "divides" the usages and who of the community can do there what. It could increase though the personal connection to the place, and also the visibility (and usefulness) to the Burner community and also to the society as a whole. Not to mention the easy access to our neighbours and shared rooms with all the tool workshops, theatre groups, experienced social groups and more.
For the Kiez Burn part of the community it could also be a place to bring in new volunteers and participants for the event itself and the year round community work. Onboarding appears to happen on a random base or by direct friends, but I think the more and earlier new people are getting in contact with the ideas and vision and history of Kiez Burn, the better.
Owl Thu 25 May 2023 10:49AM
Next Update: they've got >300 applications, asking for the sum of 50k square meters (ten times the available 5000sqm). Our application got chosen. Berlin Burner e.V. paid the 250€ "entry fee" (Anwartschaftsbetrag), and Helga joined the first "Cluster"-Meeting with similar groups. We are aiming for a small self-rented room and the sharing of bigger rooms with other groups, including a "Veranstaltungsraum laut" (space for loud events). It still might not be a party location or club, but the chances for nice community events are increasing.
CJ Yetman · Wed 29 Mar 2023 10:03AM
@Owl is it possible to provide some usage statistics about the Burner Embassy over the past years? It's hard for me to think about whether it's worth 10k€ with very little idea of how much it actually gets used and what for.