The master of the courtyards

Mann mit Mobiltelefon im ersten Hof der Hackeschen Höfe
February 2024

Thomas Taubert keeps the Hackesche Höfe going. And has done so for 30 years. When he started as a caretaker, the run-down courtyards were still used to build refrigeration units and repair cars.

Thomas Taubert is not one to be bargained with. An interior fitter's delivery van is parked in the middle of courtyard 1. "We'll be gone in two minutes," assures the young man who is confronted in a friendly but firm manner. But the van is obstructing the passage. And Mr. Taubert knows from experience that "two minutes" can quickly turn into half an hour. The man has to repark. There is more space in courtyard 2.

Always on call

Together with a younger colleague, Mr. Gehricke, Thomas Taubert ensures that the Höfe are in good shape. At least one of them is on site every day between 6 am and 7 pm. The day begins with inspection rounds, the heating system is checked, 20 garbage bins are taken up and down from the cellars every morning, construction companies are instructed and minor repairs are carried out. In addition to the shops and offices, Taubert is also responsible for the more than 100 flats in the courtyards. Burst pipes, stuck lifts – there's always something. But the aim is always to deal with issues immediately.

Photo right: the two caretakers of the Hackesche Höfe

Zwei Hausmeister in den Hackeschen Höfen

Courtyard community

Unless someone is breaking the courtyard rules, Mr. Taubert is friendly and approachable. He knows all the tenants personally. The Hackesche Höfe are like a village. People bump into each other in the courtyards, and in summer they barbecue together at the courtyard party. Taubert sees himself as a caretaker; sometimes he also finds himself in the role of resident counselor. Taubert appreciates the personal contact, the diversity of the tenants and his responsibilities. A temporary job turned into 30 years. This was celebrated with a big party in November 2023. Several pages were added to the photo album that tenants had already put together for him on his 25th anniversary.

Photo left: a look into the photo album for Taubert's 30th anniversary

Pioneering days

After training as a steel construction fitter, Taubert, who grew up in the eastern part of the city, had already worked as a building technician for several years when he came to the courtyards in 1993 at the age of 28. Refurbishment had not yet begun and the courtyards were marked by decades of decay. Instead of shops and restaurants, the first courtyard was home to a VEB Kühlanlagenbau company behind barred windows. Trabants were repaired in what is now the Oxymoron restaurant. The oldest tenants had already moved in shortly after the war. Thomas Taubert explored the new terrain. Unprotected high-voltage cables ran through the cellars. The rooms where forced laborers had been housed during the war were also still preserved here – including a detention cell.

With the help of a lot of coffee, Taubert coaxed trade secrets out of the previous caretaker. As it turned out, another even older caretaker still lived in the courtyards. In his case, it was beer that made him talk.

Photo right: Mr. Taubert and Mr. Gehricke in their office in the Hackesche Höfe

Vier Bilder aus dem Hausmeisterbüro der Hackechen Höfe

Pioneering days

Taubert learned about the importance of insider knowledge in the very first winter when the heating system broke down with outside temperatures as low as minus 18 degrees. The state-owned manufacturer had long since gone under and within a very short time, remaining stocks of special valves had to be found in order to get the heating going again.
The four-year refurbishment of the Hackesche Höfe, which began in 1994, was a challenge not only for Taubert, but for everyone involved. The dark past was what caused the greatest excitement. An aerial bomb had gone unnoticed for 50 years in the roof above today's cinema and one day landed in the hall via the rubble chute, as Taubert vividly recalls. Fortunately, the courtyards were not blown up and soon shone in new splendor.

Photo left: Thomas Taubert in courtyard 1

The lord of things

A few years ago, amateur photographer Taubert discovered Instagram for himself. Since then, he has been advertising his workplace privately and unpaid on Instagram under the apt name Herr.der.Dinge. Taubert shows the beauty of the Hackesche Höfe and their surroundings, he takes his photos in all kinds of weather, at any time of day or year. He finds unusual angles, not least when he is out and about on the roofs of the courtyards, and documents special events, be it film shooting or the planting of a little sapling. So if you want to keep up to date with what is happening in the courtyards, you are well advised to follow the profile of the courtyards as well as that of the lord of all things.

Right: photos from Taubert's Instagram profile

Viere Fotos von den Hackeschen Höfen in Berlin