It is a late summer day with not a single cloud in the sky.
I am spending the afternoon on a rooftop bar in Basel, trying to cool off with a frozen lemonade. My vantage point from the top of Workroom Warteck? Priceless.
Now, you might wonder how I got up here… I had heard about a neighborhood of red brick buildings in Basel where artists, architects, craftswomen and designers pursue their passion. I tapped into the wisdom of the crowd and quickly found out about Workroom Warteck. It was to be my quest to find out about the history of this place and to talk to a current tenant.
Workroom Warteck is a beer brewery turned work space/community center.
Up until 29 years ago, this lot near the River Rhine was occupied by a brewery. Malt silos, beer tanks and loading docks were the predominant infrastructure.
When the Brauerei Warteck was sold to Feldschlösschen in 1989, the property became vacant. To save Warteck from being torn down, it took a lot of lobbying by one Jakob Tschopp. A visionary in his own right, Tschopp was substantial in creating alternative workspaces for Basel’s creative community in the 1980s.
Ever since, no less than forty projects have settled into the numerous factory halls and studios. Among a goldsmith, a puppet maker, a textile designer and several architects, there is Fabian Nichele. As a scenographer, Nichele spends a lot of his time on the practice stage where he designs sets for theater and dance productions.
Nichele has been a part of the Workroom Warteck project since the very beginning. He must know this vast building complex like no other, so I ask him about his favorite viewpoint. “I do not really have a favorite view because you can easily get used to views.”
Instead, he tells me that he loves to move around inside the historic walls where all the memories reside – as well as where his friends work.
Creativity around every corner
We proceed to walk through the hallways and offices of Workroom Warteck. At one point, we enter SUD, an arts center slash events hall complete with vintage bar, stage and disco ball. "Those large rings on the ground are remnants of where the beer tanks used to stand." Nichele points at several circles with large diameters of about six meters.
On the upper floor, there is a typesetting and printing workshop.
This space appears to be stuck in time, but not because the shop is closed for business today. The large machines are from another century, and a particular set of drawers catch my attention: they contain Helvetica fonts of metal type!
Then, we enter the on-site vegan restaurant, another institution here at Workroom Warteck:
It is impossible to miss Cantina Don Camillo with its outdoor patio. Rosy Mürner, the manager, is an old friend of Nichele’s. When I inquire about his favorite dish, he admits that he does not have one. "It’s delicious every time – I never really order from the menu. Rosy will often just invite me in to try her latest creations."
Warteck is a piece of Basel architecture worth preserving
We are back in the courtyard where our little tour began. “What about those chaotic stairs on the outside of the main tower?” I ask Nichele. Attached to the tower building are seemingly random flights of stairs. They zig-zag their way to the top floor in an almost organic order.
The explanation is fascinating: “I actually designed these stairs together with Stefan Eisele, our resident sculptor. Each flight of stairs leads directly up to the door you want to enter. So, while it may look random, there is a lot of logic to it.”
At this point, I cannot wait but climb these stairs myself!
And sure enough, with every turn I take, my orientation changes to face a door on the next level up.
And this is how I ended up at the Kulturbeiz 113 rooftop bar with a frozen lemonade in hand. In today’s world where old factories go down and condominiums go up, it is refreshing to experience an alternative project such as Workroom Warteck.