At some point during the night on New Year’s Eve, a group of vandals forced their way into Musik Bading and set off some fireworks which turned quickly into a real fire. The apartments above the shop were evacuated and the fire department contained the blaze before it could spread to the rest of the building. But the shop itself was gutted and its stock destroyed. After ninety-nine years in business, a few moments of malicious pyromania brought a sudden and decisive end to a much loved neighbourhood institution.
The fire made the pages of the Tagesspiegel and the Morgenpost. The doors and windows were boarded up, but a gloomy streak of soot covering part of the neon sign facing Rixdorf’s Karl Marx Straße offered a reminder of the recent events. Within a few days, notes and graffiti started to appear on the boards around the front door lamenting the shop’s unnecessary demise.
What made the shop iconic was not merely what it sold but the way it looked. Its stuccoed façade, which wrapped around the corner of Karl Marx Straße and Thomasstraße, was decorated with around a dozen neon signs advertising strangely anachronistic products – radios and gramophones – made by companies that had long since ceased to exist. Pride of place on the building’s bevelled corner was given to a large neon treble clef. As one approached from the U-Bahn station, one had the impression that this strange apparition belonged to another time and had only accidentally escaped into the modern city. Just by looking at it, Musik Bading seemed to draw us into the past.
When the Berlin Typography project started, Musik Bading was – quite by coincidence – the first place we ended up documenting in Neukölln. In October of last year we returned to take several more photographs for a proposed ‘In Depth’ piece on the shop that did not, for reasons both varied and vague, materialise before the end of the year. After reading about the fire, we made one final pilgrimage to survey the damage and pay our respects.
The tragedy of a family-run neighbourhood shop destroyed by human carelessness a year before its hundredth anniversary is obvious. Yet beneath it, there is a more subtle tragedy: when a shop such as Musik Bading disappears from the city, it takes with it something irreplaceable. Memory, alas, is a poor substitute for the real thing, and there was something about this bastion of the past, surrounded by an indifferently modern city, that can never quite be conveyed in photographs or written accounts. With nothing equally grand to replace it, Berlin loses one more piece of what made it unique, and grows one step closer to becoming just another European city.
It is by all accounts unlikely that the shop will re-open, although we can hope that the neon signs will eventually make their way to the collection of the Buchstabenmuseum, where they can still be enjoyed by visitors to Berlin. For the moment, they remain in situ. If you live in Berlin and have never encountered the wonderful oddity of this shop, perhaps the following gallery of images will encourage you to make the trip to Rixdorf.
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