An Irish dance school in Berlin, Germany will be without a home from March 1 as the landlord of their studio is converting the space into a refugee center.
Sandra Kuhnert has been teaching Irish dance on and off since she was 18, establishing the Jigs and Reels Irish Dance Academy in Berlin, with another branch in Dresden. Its 80 Berlin dancers are now to be left without a space to practice, however, as the Berlin Arts Studio 118 is allegedly forceing them out to make way for a refugee shelter.
Kuhnert claims that after receiving a tip at the end of 2015 that the space was to be renovated, the landlord sent a note of official notice to vacate the space within a few weeks to all the artists, musicians and dancers using the studio.
Despite the short notice and the normal requirement within a commercial lease that six months notice be given, many of the other artists relocated after Christmas, leaving the dance academy and another music school to battle the construction taking place within their practice space.
The good relationship the dance school had with the management is no more and Kuhnert feels that they must relocate by March 1 before conditions worsen or the landlord attempts to change the locks.
The Jigs and Reels Academy has practiced in the space for a number of years, installing a specially-designed wooden floor to protect the dancers joints just 18 months ago, a floor which now must be left behind. A full-time dance teacher, Kuhnert worries about the effects the upset and the loss of the new €4,000 floor will have on her business.
“We were supposed to be there for four to five years,” she said. “It was built to last, but the floor can’t come with us. It’s fixed in there now, glued to the floor so the wood doesn’t get damaged by things like water and it can’t be taken out.”
Legally, the dance school has every right to stay in the studio until the summer, but Kuhnert has concerns for her students who are already coming to class through a working construction site. There is no lighting in the bathrooms, debris is being dumped outside their door and recently they had no heat in their room during a three-day intensive workshop. She is also uneasy about the number of construction workers able to enter the practice room, gaining access to her equipment and ruining a floor that must be kept clean to avoid injuries.
Kuhnert tells IrishCentral that despite her legal rights she has been advised not to attempt suing the landlord as this could result in an even worse situation than they are in now.
“It's not just for myself, it's for the dancers,” Kuhnert said.
“It’s clear they [the landlord] want it to be unpleasant. Legally we could stay but conditions would be so terrible that I feel parents would say it’s not a safe place.”
The construction work being undertaken in the studio is to refurbish the building to accommodate refugees. Kuhnert explains that the landlord could “be a millionaire within the year” hosting refugees for $56 (€50) per person per day. In a building that could fit a few hundred refugees, she claims, the opportunity is too good to pass up.
“The German government do not have many requirements [to turn a building into a refugee center], you don’t have to do all that much but there is heavy construction in the building right now.”
“It’s happening everywhere [in Germany] and especially in Berlin and with musicians and dancers who can't afford the fancy lawyers. I’ve heard the story over and over,” she continues.
Actions such as this do nothing to quell the growing anti-refugee feeling in Germany and in other parts of Europe, especially after the events in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve when links were made between the influx of refugees and the sexual harassment of hundreds of women.
“Unfortunately, it does [affect how the German people feel about refugees],” Kuhnert said.
“Initially everybody was very welcoming. Of course, there’s always the people who are stupid but now people are saying this is enough. There's no real management for the thing so now we’re dealing with the fallout - it's winter and we have to put them in tents.”
As with the rise of the National Front in France, this is helping feed the growth of right wing parties such as the AfD in Germany, she believes.
“AfD were practically non-existent in last election and now they may make close to 20 percent in the election next year. Nobody cared about them before. They were very specific, get rid of the euro, and now very anti-refugee but a lot of people are saying it's enough.
Germany has accepted more refugees than any other country in Europe, taking in 1.1 million in 2015. With a major backlog in processing requests, Merkel's cabinet recently approved a move to fast-track asylum requests and delay family reunions for refugees who were not “personally, urgently persecuted,” in an attempt to slow down the number entering the country.
Asylum seekers will now also be processed in special reception centers at the border where they will be returned to their home countries if they of a nation deemed to be a “country of safe origin.”
Kuhnert believes, “It’s hard to predict what will happen. Everybody fees there’s a change in the atmosphere in the country,”
“We’re uneasy,” she continued, comparing the current atmosphere 1933.
“The government should get this [the refugee housing crisis] under control and live up to their responsibility. It’s been left to local governments and some cope with it better than others, but Angela Merkel invited them here [her government should be dealing with it]”
Although Kuhnert has made the decision that Jigs and Reels must find a new home, the process is not a simple one. She learned of her school's looming eviction just before Christmas. It was not the best time to look for a new workspace. Slthough she has found a possible new studio it is more expensive and something she would only have hoped to have moved into when she had grown to 120 plus students.
Once a new premises is found, the dance academy must still acquire a license before classes can begin, another delay threatening her business.
In order to afford a new studio, the academy is currently hoping to raise $5,662 (€5,000) which they can use to put a deposit on a new place and to install the all important floor to save dancer injuries.
The dance group has established a GoFundMe page and will also host a fundraiser night this evening in the Oscar Wilde Pub in Berlin, where Kunert's dancers will show off their talent, joined by local Irish music groups.
For now, Jigs and Reels Dance Academy, Berlin, must just keep their fingers crossed and their toes pointed in the hope that a new space and license can be quickly acquired.
Attempts were made to contact Berlin Art Studios 118 for comment.