Young African Arts Market, Berlin

The spray paint from the bridge said ‘Refugees Welcome!’ expressing a clear position on an increasingly contentious issue in Germany.

To the back of the sign on a wall of bricks was a cartoon of a mass of people cramped and overloading what seemed like a boat.

It looked like an abandoned construction plot left to fend for itself under the assault of nature’s elements. But it was instead, a thriving arts community housing a little beach (even if it was under the assault of capitalist elements).

Berlin may be located inland along a river (Spree) without a true coastline, but believe it or not, it has a beach. I’m saying nothing about the view, except that it had a beach. And it is located and run by the best people who know how to make a beach Carribean people. The beach is housed at the Young African Arts Market (YAAM), an independent arts district and a player in the alternative scene in Berlin since 1994.

The vibe at YAAM is relaxing, you walk in and pay a token fee of 1 euro to help keep operations going. To one side are restaurants selling Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Gambia Yassa.  Jerk is a style of cooking originating in Jamaica, in which meat is a dry rub or wet marinate with a spicy herb mixture called Jamaican Jerk. The meat is then barbecued over a smoking woodfire.

To the other end, guided by a wall of beautiful street art is an beachfront bar playing reggae music as well as a gallery selling the art work of the artists.

YAAM was set up in 1994, co-founded by a social worker Ortwin Rau (who passed away earlier this year) as a social club for young African youth. It began as a social club for young people to meet, socialise play sports and engage in art. It soon became a place for everyone to meet and mingle, for people of all social status to interact and for young talented artistes and musicians to get their start and make a name for themselves in Berlin. It has overtime turned into one of the focal points of Berlin’s leisure culture, its beach one of the best chill-out spots in town.

YAAM has had to move 6 times since its opened, every time because of redevelopment plans un the area. If I didn’t know better I’d say these guys are good for fengshui – everywhere they’d go they bring development. But the truth is more than the whole district they are in (Friedrichain) has slowly been taken over by large commercial interest so it was always going to be a matter of time before they’d have to close and move. YAAM is under pressure again to move as the developers and developments spring up all around them. Until then, this quiet oasis remains a little Carribean paradise in the heart of Prussia.



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