The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'berlin'
Visual treat of the day: Endbahnhof; a collection of photographs of all of Berlin's splendidly varied U-Bahn stations, by Melbourne photographer Kate Seabrook, who moved to Berlin some years ago. The platform are all photographed empty, without passengers or extraneous distractions, capturing the variety of architectural styles: from baroque grandeur and Jugendstil fancy to explosions of psychedelic kitsch, crisp modernism, and various steps in between. (And, of course, the nondescriptly utilitarian stations, typically on the outer reaches of lines, sporting just the stock BVG signage haven't been omitted.)
Berliners are protesting against the tearing down of what's left of the Berlin Wall, as a section decorated with murals and known as the East Side Gallery is demolished to make room for—wait for it—luxury apartments.
About 120 international artists were invited to plaster it with colourful murals, as the strip of wall carried none of the colourful graffiti that had covered the western side. In 2009 the murals were renovated at a cost of €2m (£1.7m).So as Berlin is gentrified, the artists and bohemians are priced out and replaced by wealthy yuppies drawn to the city's aura of cool, and the schicki-mickis as they're called start voting with their euros to have more luxurious accommodation built. And so, yuppie apartment complexes are built, and everything from art squats like Tacheles to sections of the Berlin Wall is demolished to make room for the city's new owners. And soon, Berlin will be a city of prestigious apartment towers, luxury shops and expensive champagne bars, a sort of Dubai with worse weather; the remainders of the city's rough history, artistic ferment and unkempt, boisterous underground culture will be represented by a few curated exhibits that don't interfere with the business of making and spending vast amounts of money.
There's a petition against the demolition of the East Side Gallery here.
The ongoing gentrification of Berlin is now making a linguistic mark on the city: Prenzlauer Berg, the chic inner eastern neighbourhood popular at first with squatting artists, and then with trendy schmicki-micki couples with children in sports-utility prams, is now facing an influx of affluent new residents from Swabia, a wealthy, conservative region of southern Germany adjoining Bavaria, resulting in the Swabian dialect of German replacing the Berlin dialect in parts of the neighbourhood:
"The positive side of the changes, is that literally everything looks nice now," he said. But he then thundered, "I get angry when I'm in the bakers, and there are no Schrippen (the Berlin slang for white rolls) only Weckern (the Swabian term). And its exactly the same for plum cake," he went on, which the relative newcomers call Pflumendatschi (a Swabian term.) "That makes me really the last defender of the Berlin dialect."
Thierse added: "I hope the Swabians realize they are now in Berlin. And not in their little towns, with their spring cleaning. They come here because it's all so colorful and adventurous and lively, but after a while, they want to make it like it is back home. You can't have both."
Exhibit A: a free-range pig farm in Berlin has a website allowing the public to see the profiles of the pigs their sausages and meat products are made from, and vote on the next pig they'd like to eat:
Mr Buchman selects the pigs from a free-range farm near Berlin, photographs them and then places the pictures online with descriptions of the animals. He also updates the website with the latest information detailing the lives of each pig so people can follow their progress.Exhibit B: this.
More on the Pirate Party's recent electoral success in Berlin: Der Spiegel asks who the Pirate Party are (spoiler: they're the new Greens):
Voter analysis from Sunday would seem to back up that assessment. The survey group Infratest established that 17,000 former Green Party supporters switched their votes to the Pirate Party on Sunday, more than came from any other party. The SPD lost 14,000 voters to the Pirates and the far-left Left Party 13,000.
The party's largest coup, however, came from its ability to attract fully 23,000 people to the polls who had never voted before. More votes came from former East Berlin, where the party secured 10.1 percent of the vote, than from former West Berlin. Most of the party's supporters are young, well-educated men -- as are 14 of the 15 Pirates who will now take their seats in the Berlin city-state parliament.And a Spiegel survey of editorials from various German newspapers (conveniently annotated with their political slants) links the Pirate vote to the rise of the laptop-and-latte generation in Berlin, a city now said to be Europe's IT start-up hub. Which raises the question of whether the Pirates are a progressive party for an age of gentrification.
Meanwhile, the Grauniad asks whether something like that could happen in Britain. (Spoiler: not in a first-past-the-post system, and Britain's politicians also seem less technologically clueful, and more beholden to the old-media powerbrokers, than Germany's:)
The German government was one of the first to decide that national-security systems should not be based on proprietary software. In such a climate it's predictable that a campaigning political party with a radical online agenda would find a ready audience. The bovine way in which the last House of Commons passed Lord Mandelson's digital economy bill, with its clueless 'anti-piracy' provisions, does not exactly engender confidence in the British political class's understanding of these matters.
As the world celebrated Talk Like A Pirate Day (with the true hardcore eschewing the "yarrr"s and brushing up on their Somali), the good burghers of Berlin have done one better; there, the Pirate Party has won some 14 or 15 seats in the city-state's 149-seat parliament; about half as many as the Greens and slightly fewer than the neo-Communist Left Party.
Indeed, the support for the party -- founded in 2006 on a civil liberties platform that focused on Internet freedoms -- was sensational. Not only will the Pirate Party enter a regional government for the first time, but its results far surpassed the five percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. The success was so unexpected that the party had only put 15 candidates on its list of nominations. Had their support been just a little higher, some of their seats would have remained empty because post-election nominations of candidates isn't allowed.Many of the seats came at the expense of the neoliberal Free Democrats, who were wiped out in Berlin. The Pirate Party (which started campaigning on a copyright-reform and online privacy platform, and expanded this to include the decriminalisation of drugs, the abolition of Germany's church tax system and a basic living wage for all), in fact, seems to be taking over the mantle of forward-looking progressive party from the Greens, who were once considered dangerous radicals (in the Reagan-era action film Red Dawn, the Greens winning West German elections was the catalyst that led to a Soviet invasion of the USA) but now have become all but part of the establishment.
The Pirates also have something other parties have long since lost -- credibility, authenticity and freshness. The erstwhile alternative Greens, whose share of the vote in the Berlin election fell well behind their expectations, were also once the young party with funny mottos and unconventional campaign methods. When they entered the Berlin parliament in 1981, other parties were skeptical. At the time, the now imploding Free Democrats described the Greens as "domestic policy anarchists and foreign policy gamblers", while lead CDU candidate Richard von Weizsäcker, who would later be appointed German President, said they were "impossible to describe."It used to be that the concept of "Green" (i.e., ecological consciousness and sustainability) was the hook to hang progressive ideals from; now, it seems, that the idea of the Pirate (as defined in opposition to the propaganda of Big Copyright, the steady privatisation of the public sphere and an encroaching authoritarian surveillance state) may be replacing the idea of Greenness as the banner that draws in progressives.
Web design webzine Smashing Magazine has an interesting article on Berlin's street-art heritage:
After the few East Germans who crossed the Berlin Wall in the ’80s blinked and pinched themselves, what do you think was the first thing they saw? They saw big bubbly letters, spelling out words in German, English and French. They saw political slogans, either carved indelibly into the concrete or sprayed temporarily onto surfaces, commenting not only on the situation in Germany, but on the whole political world: “God Ble$$,” “Concrete Makes You Happy,” “Death to Tyrants.” As far as they could see, covering every inch of wall, was layer upon layer of zest, life and color.
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the graffiti artists marched straight into East Germany. Mitte, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg — all of the areas that the military had occupied became a new playground for the Western artists and became a new world for the Eastern artists who joined them. Few doubted that the East Germans’ work was weightier. It wasn’t that they were better artists, but that they could express — with authority — the one concept close to the hearts of all people now living in the city: what it meant to be free.
The article briefly profiles and analyses the work of a number of Berlin street artists, including XOOOOX (who does impeccably drawn black-and-white stencils of glamorous fashion models, sometimes relieving themselves), Mein Lieber Prost (whose sketches of jolly cartoon homunculi have become immediately recognisable) and the curious case of Linda's Ex, an artist who, in 2003, put up hand-drawn posters imploring someone named Linda to take him back, engaging others to debate whether the object of the unknown artist's affections should return to him, before revealing that Linda never existed, and the whole thing was an art project, sort of like a web soap implemented in wheatpaste.
At first, people either ignored the posters or were mildly curious. But as both the pictures and messages increased in intensity, they had no choice but to take notice. On one poster, Linda’s ex told his estranged lover that he would be waiting to speak to her at a certain bar every Saturday and Tuesday night. People were starting to believe that his suffering was real. And if his suffering was real, then they did not doubt that he needed help.
People enjoy XOOOOX’s approach because of his objective treatment of his subjects, presenting each model as neither happy nor sad, neither warm nor cold. He even draws one model urinating on the ground; while some might interpret the piece as a sign of arrogance, XOOOOX’s signature, flowing from her head like a thought bubble, persuades sensitive observers to judge her on a more humane level. She is, he suggests, just like everyone else.The article also mentions the peculiar status of street art in Berlin. Graffiti is, of course, an outlaw activity and subculture, and gets its vitality from its fraught, illegal status. Berlin (the capital of Germany, a country not known for its citizens' cavalier disdain of regulation, no less), however, gets a lot of its buzz (and, indirectly, tourist revenue) from this underground culture. Berlin's police insist that graffiti is a crime, whilst focussing their enforcement efforts on gang-related tagging. Meanwhile, having dodged the threat of prosecution, street art arguably faces the threat of legitimacy, of being turned into just another cultural consumable in a gentrified playground for the affluent:
Today, such work has made the street art a tourist attraction. Kunsthaus Tacheles, once an artists’ squat and still a focal point of the scene, holds disco nights downstairs and sells urban art books upstairs — its bar is as expensive as anywhere in the city. Artists such as XOOOOX, Mein Lieber Prost and Alias have started to exhibit and sell in galleries. They still work on the street, but they are no longer impoverished artists — if they ever were. They can afford to travel and work in countries across the world.
While these artists believe that street art needs to appeal to a wider audience, the local, more traditional artists, such as the tagging crews, disagree. They argue that street art derives its power from being on the margins of society; only from the outside can they address problems within it. That difference of opinion is opening a space in the scene that can be filled only by the mainstream. In the next few years, street art has the potential to become a social movement as inclusive as anything from the ’50s and ’60s.Does it make sense to talk of tagging crews as "artists", though?
The latest flashpoint of the culture war: whether or not a street or square in Berlin should be renamed after Ronald Reagan. Germany's conservative ruling party wants one, though the idea is not popular with Berlin's more left-leaning residents, or the city's Social Democratic local government:
That's why many in Berlin see Reagan, who would have turned 100 last Sunday, as a trailblazer for German reunification. Indeed, some would like to see the city do more to publicly honor the man. In December, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg tabled the idea on behalf of his party, the conservative Christian Social Union, of placing an official commemorative plaque honoring Reagan on Pariser Platz, the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Guttenberg's CSU is the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. The Berlin branch of the CDU, for its part, is calling for the renaming of a public square or a street in Reagan's honor. But so far nothing has happened.
And is there not a slight whiff of truth to claims that the city's leftist government has trouble with Ronald Reagan as a person? The Republican, who since his death from Alzheimer's in 2004 has become the most popular US president ever, was considered by the German left during his two terms in office from 1980 to 1988 to be the personification of the Cold War. Reagan's appearance in West Berlin in 1987 was not without risks. In adddition to the Cold War aspects, his message of Reagonomics was deeply unpopular with the city's anti-capitalism movement.They could always wait a few years, until the left-wing Berliners have been gentrified out, and replaced by affluent schmicki-mickis who are a bit more fond of winner-takes-all capitalism, by virtue of being the winners. Perhaps then, with the vanquishment of Communism as an ideology, and the second ongoing vanquishment of "poor but sexy" anti-capitalist Berlin by the forces of gentrification, they could rename various streets named by the DDR after famous Communists after NATO hawks and prophets of the free market. Karl-Marx-Allee could become Milton-Friedman-Allee, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße Reaganstraße and Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz Thatcherplatz.
Der Spiegel has an interesting article about how a new generation of Israelis are flocking to Berlin, tempted by the city's vibrant culture and sense of freedom, and negotiating the fraught history and politics of doing so:
"I do not know if 'forgive' is the appropriate term," says Gil Raveh. Raveh, a conductor, came to Berlin four years ago on the recommendation of award-winning Israeli conductor Noam Sheriff, who himself had studied in the city. "Forgive whom? Merkel? The waitress who serves my coffee?" he asks.
With a European passport thanks to his mother, who was born in Eastern Europe, Netter made the move to Berlin. His first year in the city, he says, was spent having fun and living off of his savings. Then he started Meschugge as a one-time event, and it became a regular attraction: "The Unkosher Jewish Night," as he calls it. A quarter of the audience is Israeli, the rest German. Netter says he suspects some of the Germans might come as a way to alleviate their own feelings of guilt. "We Israelis cannot understand how it feels not to be proud of yourself, as a nation," he says. "The Germans are full of serious identity crises."The Israelis have a different ways of addressing the elephant in the room:
But Israeli immigrants in Berlin have their own identity issues. For example, almost all of them prefer to be treated as "Israelis in Berlin," not as "Jews in Germany." "Even the Germans themselves say Berlin is not Germany," says Russ. "The Jewish component of my identity has to do with a shared cultural past, not with a religious belief. I do not go to synagogue or eat kosher food."
"An Israeli friend in Berlin once showed me his apartment," says Russ. "When we got to the kitchen, he opened the gas stove and said: 'And this is the shower.' But the first time I told a Holocaust joke here, a friend warned me that it's illegal."One of the motivating forces seems to be a contrast between the liberal, creative culture of Berlin and the situation in Israel today, where an increasingly authoritarian political environment is threatening civil liberties, with a right-wing government waging war against civil rights groups.
An art exhibition in Berlin involves a hall divided into two parts, each of which containing six reindeer. One half of the reindeer are (possibly) fed fly agaric mushrooms, fabled by Lapp shamans to give their urine hallucinogenic properties. In the centre of the hall there is a hotel-like suite, which may be rented for €1,000 a night; the suite contains a minibar, which is stocked with bottles of urine collected from the reindeer; however, the bottles are not labelled as to which reindeer they came from. The title of this show is Soma, though an alternate title is "how to make hipsters pay €1,000 to drink piss".
Pabst Blue Ribbon is the main sponsor.
Dorothée Brill, the museum's lead curator, says: "As far as we can tell, nobody's done anything they shouldn't have." Staff at the restaurant, however, report that some guests "drink the minibar dry".
A set of photographs taken in cold-war Berlin, by an American intelligence officer and amateur photographer; there are some interesting scenes here.
Also, Cold War era maps of the Berlin U-Bahn, from the West and the East. It's interesting to note the differences in graphic design and what information they contain. The West German map is neutral and businesslike, though shows both lines in the West and the East (though the Eastern lines are uncoloured). The Eastern map looks superficially more colourful and friendly (much like the jovially behatted Ampelmann compared with the standard capitalist traffic-light man), but shows only East Berlin; the forbidden capitalist enclave behind the "anti-fascist protection barrier" is terra incognita.
I recently read an interesting article in the September issue of Exberliner (though not on the web site yet, it seems) about the state of the music industry in Berlin. According to it, the clubs of Berlin still draw in the "Easyjet set" who fly in for weekends (apparently a significant proportion of Berlin's clubbers are tourists), though the club market is saturated, to the point where door charges have dropped dramatically. Meanwhile, gentrification is threatening a lot of long-established clubs, as apartments are built next door, yuppies move in, and the clubs' licenses are not renewed due to the newly bourgeois, residential nature of their environs. (Which all sounds familiar.) Though, according to the article, the real area of growth in Berlin is not so much clubbing or music performance as music technology; the article pointed to the growth of Berlin-based music software firms like Ableton and Native Instruments, and also mentioned SoundCloud's Swedish founders having relocated to Berlin to establish the firm. Which seems to tie in with what I've heard elsewhere about Berlin being Europe's IT startup hub these days.
Anyway, while that article is not online, here's an earlier one about the rise of "place consumers" and "post-tourism tourists", foreign "hipster nomads" who move to Berlin temporarily to enjoy and participate in the lifestyle before moving on.
Allegedly the next big thing in Berlin: cannibal cuisine:
In a prominent advertising campaign on the internet, in German newspapers and on television, the restaurant, Flime, is appealing for willing donors and diners to become members of what it hints at being a new dining movement. "Members declare themselves willing to donate any part of their body," the advertisement reads, adding that any resulting hospital costs will be taken on by the restaurant. They say they are also looking to employ an "open-minded surgeon".
The restaurant cites as its inspiration the indigenous Brazilian Waricaca tribe, which once practised the ritual of "compassionate cannibalism", or eating parts of the corpse of a loved one to emphasise the connection between the living and the dead, which was said to help with mourning.I bet this is a prank; it sounds like something Joey Skaggs might have come up with. Though you never know; perhaps there is someone who thinks that a cannibal restaurant could work.
Hipster is a global phenomenon, but there are certainly cultural differences. What's special about German hipsters?And here it is in German.
They are very "German" at it. Meaning that they take themselves very, very serious. Everybody is gravely determined to show how free and relaxed their life is. Like young people all over the world, Germans want to break free from the limiting world of their parents - where it only matters that you have the bigger house or nicer car than your neighbors, but all they seem to be able to is get themselves entangled in a different hierarchy that's even more limiting: Who had the wildest night out, who knows the most authentic Chinese restaurant, who has the biggest vinyl collection, who is the first to open a clandestine art gallery near Ostkreuz. Young Germans stopped using their built-in engineering skills to construct better cars, and channeled these skills into building the most impressive, delicately engineered hipness-hierarchy of all.
Data visualisation of the day: Locals and Tourists. Location data was harvested from geotagged photos on Flickr and plotted on maps; the points were colour-coded: blue if the poster was a local (i.e., had been in the city for more than a period of time), red if they were tourists (recent visitors with no prior history), and yellow if it was ambiguous. Here, for example, is London, with the Thames and the West End ablaze with red and the East End blue (which means that there are fewer tourists but still plenty of photographers, think Hackney art hipsters and/or kids with iPhones):Paris; tourists flock to the obvious parts (the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, the Seine and the Île-de-Cité), whereas the locals who tend to post photos gravitate to the east, around the Bastille and such; the affluent, conservative southern arrondisements are largely a wasteland, photographically at least. In Berlin, meanwhile, tourists fill the city's broad central boulevards, the Tiergarten and Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee, and visit the East Side Gallery, but there's a lot of local photography happening around Kreuzberg/Neukolln.
In fact, one could use the frequency of non-tourist photography for an area as a predictor of cultural vibrancy. Areas where a lot of photos are taken by people who live in the same city and not by tourists could be the kinds of broad areas where local scenes form, and the kinds of people who engage in cultural activity beyond passive consumption (sometimes referred to as "hipsters") are more likely to be found. This is borne out by other maps: Melbourne (there are specks of blue around the inner north, while the sprawling suburbs are largely empty). In New York, meanwhile, Manhattan glows with tourist activity but Brooklyn is veined with blue.
Of course, the amount of blue space on these maps is considerably larger than any nexus of cultural activity would be; it'd cover the areas where events take place, where the participants live and work, and spaces in between. However, it does make one wonder whether one could data-mine the buzz of a city by correlating Flickr photo geodata or other indices of participation with other data; possibly transport routes?
Ich Werde Ein Berliner is a Stuff White People Like-style blog only purporting to unmask the hidden rules of being a member of the "Elite German People" (the word "German" is used there in the way Christian Lander uses the word "White") who populate the hipper parts of Berlin, ostensibly for the benefit of the numerous auslanders moving to Berlin for its creativity, edginess and bohemianism. The blog presents a tour of the various hipster leks, arms races and balancing acts for demonstrating one's cultural bona fides as a Berliner (and that one is not one of the Wrong Types of Germans), subtly underscoring the contradictions and absurdities beneath their surface.
There are, for example, entries on personal transport (summary: two wheels good, four wheels bad), techno music, obsession with
Japan China, the 10% of (mostly bourgeois professional) Germans who model themselves on Americans, café culture (one thing one can't argue with there) and the semiotics of soft drinks, audio-visual media (apparently not having an interest in it is considered by Berliners to be a sign of deep sociopathy), the precarious balancing act of Berliner irony and Berliners' relationship to other German cities (apparently Cologne is not so much a mecca of underground electronica as a boringly bourgeois provincial town inhabited by orange-tanned, Ed Hardy-attired "guidos"; Munich, meanwhile, exists solely so that Berliners can slag it off for its conservatism and boringness) and the inevitable ordeal of family Christmases ("One good rule of thumb is - the more artiste, urbane, and bohemian a German person appears, the more remote and redneck his family background will be. For example, all those cross-dressing, Ketamine-addicted, full-body tattooed gay skinhead minimal-techno deejays (so, roughly 20% of the population of Berlin), stem from (remote rural towns in south-western Germany).")
(via Ian W.)
Not even bohemian Berlin is immune from the forces of gentrification; luxury apartments are going up where the Wall stood, and the city's legendary bars and clubs are threatened with closure by rising rents and noise complaints. The city's non-yuppie residents are fighting back in a number of ways; some are torching luxury cars, while others are uglifying their areas with yuppie-repelling camouflage:
A recent meeting at SO36 discussed non-violent ways to keep out "unwanted" residents. Erwin Riedmann, a sociologist, proposed an "uglification strategy" – to "go around wearing a ripped vest and hang food in Lidl bags from the balcony so that it looks like you don't have a fridge". The suggestion drew laughs, but is a strategy being adopted.
An "anti-schicki micki" website, esregnetkaviar.de (it's raining caviar), offers the following tips to make a neighbourhood unattractive for newcomers: "Don't repair broken windows; put foreign names on the doorbell, and install satellite dishes."
From a Momus blog post, in which he, on departing from Osaka, speculates on how he might possibly live there:
I've never seriously thought about living in Osaka before. I love Tokyo best of all. But increasingly, my outlook has Berlinified, by which I mean I regard expensive cities like New York, London and Tokyo as unsuited to subculture. They're essentially uncreative because creative people living there have to put too much of their time and effort into the meaningless hackwork which allows them to meet the city's high rents and prices. So disciplines like graphic design and television thrive, but more interesting types of art are throttled in the cradle.Momus raises an interesting observation, and one which may seem somewhat paradoxical at first. First-tier global cities, like London, New York, Paris and Tokyo are less creative than second-tier cities, largely due to the increased pressure of their dynamic economies making all but the most commercial creative endeavours unsustainable. I have noticed this myself, having lived both in Melbourne (Australia's "Second City" and home of the country's most vibrant art and music scenes; generally seen by almost everyone to be ahead of Sydney in this regard) and London (a city associated, in the public eye, with pop-cultural cool, from the Swingin' Sixties, through punk rock and Britpop, but now more concerned with marketing and repackaging than creating; it also serves as the headquarters of numerous media companies and advertising agencies). In London, it seems that people are too busy working for a living to make art in the way they do in Melbourne or Berlin, and the arts London leads in are the commercial ones Momus names Tokyo as leading in: graphic design, the media, and countless onslaughts of meticulously market-researched "indie" bands. Those who thrive in London (and presumably New York, Paris and Tokyo) tend to be not the free-wheeling bricoleurs but the repackagers and cool-hunters, one eye on the stock market of trends and another on the repository of past culture, looking for just the right thing to pick up and just the right way to market it. (Examples: various revivals (Mod, Punk, New Wave), each more cartoonish and superficial than the last.) "Moving to London" is an artistic cliché, shorthand for wanting to hit the commercial mainstream, to surf the big waves.
There are, of course, counter-examples, but they tend to be scattered. For one, the more vibrant a cultural marketplace a city is, the more money is floating around, the more rents and prices are driven up, and the more those who are not driven by a commercial killer instinct find themselves unable to keep up, without either channeling their energies into money-spinning hackwork or whoring themselves to the marketing ecosystem, subordinating their creative decisions to its meretricious logic.
Also, as Paul Graham pointed out, cities have their own emphases encoded in their cultures; a city is made up as much of cultural assumptions as buildings and roads, and there is only space for one main emphasis in a city. If it's about commerce or status, it's not going to be about creative bricolage. (This was earlier discussed in this blog, here.) The message of a city is subtle but pervasive, replicating through the attitudes and activities of its inhabitants, subtly encouraging or discouraging particular decisions (not through any system of coercion, but simply through the interest or disinterest of its inhabitants). As Graham writes, Renaissance Florence was full of artists, wherea Milan wasn't, despite both being of around the same size; Florence, it seems, had an established culture encouraging the arts and attracting artists, whereas Milan didn't.
When a city is said to be first-tier—in the same club of world cities as London and New York—the implication is that its focus is on status and success, and the city attracts those drawn to these values, starting the feedback loop. Second-tier cities (like Melbourne and Berlin and, according to Momus, Osaka) are largely shielded from this by their place in the shadows of first-tier cities and their relatively cooler economic temperature. (There's a reason why music scenes flourish disproportionately in places like Manchester and Portland, often eclipsing the Londons and New Yorks for a time.) Of course, as second-tier cities are recognised as "cool", they begin to heat up and aspire towards first-tier status. (One example is San Francisco; formerly the hub of the 1960s counterculture (which, of course, birthed the personal computing revolution), then the seat of the dot-com boom, and now promoting itself as the Manhattan of the West Coast.) Cities, however, fill niches; they can't all be New York, and the number of first-tier "world cities" is, by its nature, limited.
In Germany, they go in for human-powered transport in a big way. In Hamburg, for example, they have an experimental bus powered by onboard stationary bicycles:
The bus takes a maximum of 20 people, and needs at least six to power the bus. One model had a row of seats at the back for pure passengers. The driver doesn't pedal, but steers and operates the brake. It can get up to about 25mph. (Here's another design, on YouTube.)I haven't seen one of those, but I have recently been in Berlin, where I saw a bicycle-powered two-carriage fake tram being pedalled through Mitte. I spoke with the two gents pedalling it, who told me that it was a consciousness-raising exercise to campaign for an extension of Berlin's tram network to the West (where it had been torn up in the 1960s, as not to get in the way of affluent capitalist Berliners' VWs and BMWs), and to help campaign for the Greens in the election.
In Britain, the government is making plans to let artists and community groups take over shops hollowed out by the recession, to sow the seeds of Berlin-style regeneration (which, for all its lack of respect for the sanctity of property rights, is a lot nicer than the alternative, urban wasteland):
Planning rules will be relaxed to allow changes of use which go against local guidelines. For example, a disused clothes shop could become an art gallery or an empty Woolworths an NHS drop-in centre.
Temporary lease agreements will enable owners who want to retain a vacant property in the long term to make it available for community or creative use during the recession. Councils will be urged to take control of empty properties until the recession ends.
"Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets," Blears said. "Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the knowhow to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the community - a social enterprise, a showroom for local artists or an information centre - and stop the high street being boarded up.Of course, as always, the devil is in the details. What exactly "relaxation of planning rules" involves is uncertain. As long as the shopfronts are used for community centres or art spaces and not, say, cut-rate toxic-waste processing facilities or something, that's a good idea.
Not all artists and activists are waiting for Her Majesty's Government to hand them the keys to a disused Woolworths, though; some have taken matters into their own hands:
The slack space movement has echoes in previous slumps when many now successful architects, magazine publishers and artists moved into vacant premises. There is certainly room for creativity again. One in six shops will be vacant by the end of the year, according to the data company Experian. It predicts that 72,000 retail outlets could close during 2009, more than doubling the number of empty units to 135,000 in the UK.Of course, some artists still haven't shaken off the language of Thatcherism-Blairism, and talk not of "community spaces" but of "business development". Art, you see, is a means to an economic end, and, even immediately after the recessionary shock, in Anglocapitalist cultures, there is the assumption that artists and squatters' role is merely that of the microbes in the soil of commerce, to prepare the ground for the next wave of aspirational consumerism, and hopefully make a few quid at the end of it:
"Rather than letting lots of pound shops appear, we are encouraging people to start up businesses," said Firmin. "We know recessions are awful but can be a good time for artists as creative ideas start appearing while otherwise redundant people are sitting at home fiddling and doing creative stuff."And here is a profile of various groups of artist-squatters, including the Da! Collective, notorious for outraging the tabloids by having the temerity to move into a disused mansion, rather than a warehouse or something more appropriate; not to mention a chronology of the history of squatting in Britain (and Europe).
Via Momus, who's, understandably, over the moon about this, hailing it as a triumph for the Berlin model (which, for a while, looked like it was going to be ground under the wheels of yuppification):
Since it's a global recession, I also like to think Berlin has now become a sort of template for cities all over the world. Whereas we might once have looked like a museum of crusty subcultures past their sell-by date, this city now looks like the future of Tokyo, the future of London, and the future of New York. We're your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.
If the major cities of the world all become "Berlins", though, I can't guarantee I'd stay in the actual Berlin, the black flagship, the Big Squat itself. If Tokyo, for instance, got as cheap and cheerfully creative as Berlin -- if it became the kind of city you could simply occupy without having to scuttle around pointlessly making rent -- I'd be there in a flash. Secretly, what I'm doing here in Berlin is waiting for Tokyo to Berlinify.
A funny thing happened in Berlin recently, where Madame Tussaud's opened their latest wax museum. Being ostensibly an educational institution, they had to put some historical figures amongst the celebrities, and it would have been impossible to cover the history of Germany without mentioning the elephant in the room, Adolf Hitler.
Of course, in Germany, any depiction of Hitler or the symbols of Nazism is still fraught with the risk that someone will rally to them or regard them with sympathy, and that the embers of Nazism may once again be fanned into flame; which is why Nazi symbols are banned in Germany, leading to things such as, many years ago, American heavy-metal band KISS having had to change their logo for the German market because two lightning-bolt-shaped 'S's are verboten there.
The Madame Tussaud's management took no chances; they posed Hitler behind a desk, to prevent visitors from getting too close to him, and showed him (quite reasonably) in a state of abject defeat. Additionally, the museum banned touching, kissing or posing with the dummy, and posted security guards to enforce this rule.
All of this was for naught, because, minutes after the museum opened, its second-ever visitor, an ex-policeman turned left-wing anarchist, vaulted the desk and ripped Hitler's head off:
Mr L. resigned from the Berlin police after being assigned to quell a May Day demonstration of left-wing anarchists – “I realised I belonged on the other side,” he said. Since then he has been active in the punk and squatter scene; since February he has been a care worker. His girlfriend Yvonne said: “I’m really proud of him. I’ve been furious about Hitler for days.”The act has been met with popular acclaim in Berlin:
One commentator hailed it as “a successful assassination attempt – sadly 75 years overdue”.
Henryk Broder, a columnist for Der Spiegel, exclaimed: “At last, a successful attack on Hitler!” His one quibble was the nature of Frank L.’s political outburst – no more war. Mr Broder said: “If the Allies hadn’t waged war on Hitler, we might still be under the yoke of his heirs. He should have shouted ‘Never again dictatorship!’ But that’s not a very fashionable rallying call on the Left.”
Politicians were also shedding no tears for the wax Führer. The Social Democrat politician Frank Zimmermann said: “It’s more of an artwork to rip off Hitler’s head than to put him on display.”It's interesting to contrast this with The Times' own readers' comments about the "Looney Left" and its rabid intolerance.
The latest exhibition at Berlin's super-hip Tacheles art space is a travelling exhibition of artefacts from failed relationships. The Broken Relationships exhibition, originally from Croatia, actively solicits contributions from attendees in the cities it visits; contributions have included a wedding dress and an axe used to destroy an ex-lover's furniture.
Police in Berlin have arrested two men on suspicion of placing cement-filled soccer balls around the city, along with spray-painted messages reading "Can you kick it?"
The two are accused of causing serious physical injury, dangerous obstruction of traffic and causing injury through negligence, police sai
In Berlin, a city known for its ultra-cool club scene, a community health service has launched drug awareness ads modelled on the iPod ads.
There may soon be top-level domains for cities; the push is being spearheaded by a German businessman who wants a .berlin domain:
ICANN recently green-lighted TLDs for geographical regions (.eu and .asia, as well as .cat, established to promote the culture of the Catalonia region of Spain).
"Cities are the next logical step," said Krischenowski, who added that .berlin is just "the tip of the iceberg." (A similar effort is under way in New York, to create .nyc.)And, of course, there is .la, bought by some Los Angeles entrepreneurs from Laos, but that already existed, so it doesn't count.
I wonder how fine-grained the allocation of domains will be; I imagine that, not long after .london and .nyc are allocated, someone will want things like .northlondon and .brooklyn. (Then again, perhaps London will get a bunch of postcode domains, with trendy Islington eateries getting .n1 domains and such.)
Berlin artists put an iMac, a battery and a video projector in a suitcase, and magnetically attach it to the side of a subway train to project visuals in the tunnel outside the windows (QuickTime video), and somehow avoid getting arrested/shot for suspected terrorism.
Last night I went to see Goodbye Lenin!, the German comedy about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, at the Cinema Nova; I really enjoyed it. It was intelligent and very funny, and managed to also be a very human film without drowning the audiences in Hollywood-style schmaltz. The way they used small details (like styles of clothing and furniture and drab, Communist-era consumer products) to highlight the differences between East and West was interesting. And the score by Yann Tiersen (who did AmÃ©lie) was also quite evocative.
Some have accused this film of being too soft on the Communist rÃ©gime. It does have some scenes of Communist military police suppressing a demonstration (though, looking at the scenes, they don't seem any more brutal or totalitarian than, say, the S11 demonstrations in 2000, or the US "Miami model"). In my opinion, these complaints are unfounded. The film does not paint the old East as a lost utopia; there are allusions throughout it of the totalitarian nature of the DDR. The reason it doesn't beat the viewer about the head with gulags and Stasi torture chambers is because it's not that kind of film.
All in all, I enjoyed it much more than Lost In Translation. The main difference is that the latter seemed to belong to the Andy-Warhol-filming-someone-sleeping-for-6-hours school of arthouse cinema, where films are deliberately tedious to give discerning audience members a chance to differentiate themselves from the excitement-hungry multiplex-going masses, whereas the makers of Goodbye Lenin! actually set out to be entertaining, and did so without dumbing it down for the broadest possible audience.
A 24-year-old woman committed suicide by jumping from the window of an art gallery in Berlin; the day before, she went to the gallery and was filmed by artists saying that she planned to commit suicide. When she jumped, bystanders thought it was performance art.
(Which brings up the quesion: if she hadn't killed herself, would it have been performance art? And just because she did, does that automatically make it not art?)
We. Are the robots: A bar staffed entirely by robots has opened in Berlin. Everything in the Automaten bar is automated, and the jukebox only has electronic music.