BERLIN (AP) -- An artists' commune that became an iconic symbol of the German capital's post-reunification creative boom celebrated its 19th anniversary Friday amid doubts about whether it'll be around for its 20th.

Tacheles was once one of dozens of decaying buildings in East Berlin occupied by artists, anarchists and bohemians after the Wall fell in 1989.

But the graffiti-covered, dilapidated structure has seen its real estate value skyrocket as the area around it gentrified — leaving the group of sculptors and painters in a fight to buy the former department store in a bid to avoid eviction.

"Our plan is to secure Tacheles for the artists," said Linda Cerna, a spokeswoman for the commune.

"It's not just about the money we've invested in the building — Tacheles is a successful project developed by the artists and we're optimistic that they'll be allowed to continue."

The group occupied the building in February 1990, two months before it was scheduled for demolition. The squatters saved it by getting the city to declare it a historic landmark.

"Those first two years were complete freedom. It was the craziest time of my life," said Txus Parras, a Spanish-born artist who was one of the original squatters.

"East Germany suddenly didn't exist — cops would just lean back in their cars, not working, because they didn't know what to do."

Now, Tacheles is a top tourist attraction, housing 31 studios, a cinema, cafe, performance venue, and bar. "I've never seen anything like this before," enthused Pauline Koningsveld, a student from Amsterdam.

The artists became official tenants 10 years ago, securing a unique deal to rent the building for the symbolic price of one German mark, or about 50 euro cents annually, from the Fundus Group, which owns the five-story building.

That lease ended Dec. 31, and residents were advised to move out though no court order was issued.

Johannishof Project Development announced plans in 2003 to turn Tacheles into apartments, restaurants, and a hotel for business travelers. The company is a subsidiary of the Fundus Group, which has invested in high-profile development projects in Berlin.

But the building fell into receivership administered through Hamburg-based HSH-Nordbank, which ordered the artists out. Both Fundus and Nordbank refused to comment on the case.

The artists hope that the ?300,000 they have invested in the building — in renovations — might count as a down payment if the building is sold in a foreclosure sale.

"We've bought it already and now we want it," said Martin Reiter, the leader of the collective. "They should have to sell it to us."

Fundus and Nordbank have not disclosed what they consider the property to be worth; the Tacheles collective says a surveyor last year estimated a value of ?3.6 million ($4.6 million) for the building and its surrounding 1,200 sq.-meter (13,000 sq.-foot) plot.

But Reiter's group remains hopeful, planning to raise funds through donations.

"We've always survived on improvisation," Reiter said.