Back to Berlin. This article reviews three recent novels set in the city, and uses that format as an excuse to make some sharp, but accurate, comments on us aimless expats:
The Berlin of the present exists in a state of rare double-consciousness, hurtling into the future while keeping a steady grasp on its past. From a writerly perspective, the coexistence of multiple selves is inspiring\u2014what writer wouldn\u2019t want to summon so many layers of injury and experience when creating a character? Aridjis and Winger have both, for better or worse, written books representative of their expat brethren\u2014the city is just one more instrument in the arsenal of their (our?) solipsism. It can\u2019t possibly stay that way forever. As manicured greens and glassed-in apartment complexes crop up in all those empty lots, they need not represent loss or erasure, but simply the city moving on.
Everything’s coming to a rapid end here; metblogs is probably closing next week, and the entire site will be taken offline. That means this blog will vanish into the black hole of internet history. Take a last look around, before the doors close.
I’ve contacted the metblogs admins about keeping an archive of the site online, but have so far had no response. If anything here is particularly important to you, please take your own copy of it. You can also email me via daniel at ohuiginn dot net, and I’ll try to provide copies from my own backup.
I don’t think there’s sufficient interest in this blog to keep it running outside of metblogs; if I’m wrong, please contact me and we can move the blog to another site. Otherwise, it’s time to start saying your goodbyes :(
Mix and heat cornflour, water, vinegar and glycerine. You now have a hard-setting material from which you can construct anything from lampshades to wallets to bags. This is bioplastic: very much like regular plastic, but made in the kitchen and less likely to remain in garbage dumps for millennia.
The Open Design City, in the back-room of the Betahaus office space at Moritzplatz, is somewhere they’re getting serious about bioplastic. Or seriously playful, at least: after attending a practical session, I can testify that the entire experience is still full of playful creaivity, like the Platonic ideal of primary-school science experiments.
The bioplastic pioneers are impressively idealistic about turning this enjoyable goop into a fundamental material for a decentralised, post-oil culture of open-source design:
We have a dream. A dream where everyone can manufacture, repair, create and build products in their own home. Where everybody has control over the design, and the ability to personalise the products they build. We believe that these products should be environmentally friendly, biodegradable and sustainable and accessible in every meaning of the word.
They have an open session every Monday evening, and other events fairly frequently. More here
Spent a couple of hours on Friday dashing round assorted gallery openings. Less motivated by the art, to be honest, than by having excuse to walk round Mitte — and so, being in the wrong frame of mind, didn’t see much worth mentioning. Best of the bunch was No portrait. No pornography by Lar Theuerkauff, an exhibition devoted entirely to flesh-tones, adding some pink to the walls of the Cain Schulte, a Schöneberg apartment converted without great gusto into a gallery.
More intriguing as a space is the Salon Populaire, defining iself as “a meeting point for conversations on art and neighboring topics, and for the convergence of different ideas, positions and contexts.”
We want to experiment with formats which both intend to break the hierarchical forms of traditional presentations, podium discussions and seminars on the one hand, and the increasingly popular category of the event on the other, and which exceed the private talk at home, at a café or a at dinner with friends in a restaurant. A prerequisite is: the currently ruling situation in the art context of ‘one talks, the others listen’, is to be suspended, and the audience as a mere witness of the production of cultural surplus value should be abolished. In contrast to this, we understand the SALON POLULAIRE as an invitation for joint debate.
Granted, organizations which successfully break away from dull and hierarchical presentaitons are far outnumbered by those which try and fail. Still, a worthy attempt.
I’m intrigued by “Berlin Festee“, a festival of independent art and music which is taking place this Sunday at RAW-Tempel. Including music lined up under the heading of “The queens and the rebels” — describing itself as a “playful, somewhat awkward thing” that “wants to take over berlin’s nighhtlife and then to spit it back into the pavement”.
And…all free :)
Last-minute plug for some English-language poetry tonight:
Berlin-based British poet Catherine Hales launches her stunning new
poetry collection, Hazard or Fall, in the first of Dialogue Berlin’s
poetry events at Café Hilde in Prenzlauer Berg. Published by Shearsman
Books, Harzard and Fall is Catherine Hale’s first full-length
[I assume there is some kind of a reading as part of this; the event announcement is oddly non-specific on that point]
Wednesday 14th April, 7.30 pm – 9.30 pm, Café Hilde, Metzer Straße 22, 10405 Berlin, FREE ENTRY
At almost the same time is the FilmPOLSKA, showcasing films from Poland. The glitz has been toned down in light of last week’s plane crash, but the films are as many and varied as they would otherwise be.
With clothing exchange parties we get a fresh face and new self-image for something that’s been happening been going on around students, squatters and groups of friends since, well, forever. Rather than getting together informally to swap trousers, provide a party as an extra excuse. The list of events in Berlin isn’t that long, and the only regular events seem to be in Kollage on Yorckstraße. Nonetheless, they’ve already got themselves an enthusiastic write-up in the Taz.
Much longer-established are Berlin’s several umsonstläden, or Free Shops. This one was part of the Brunnen 183 squat, and so was evicted last summer. But there are others in the TU, at Systemfehler in Friedrichshain, and in Weißensee, part of a loose national network
I have a good view from my balcony. To the right, a cemetary. Opposite, “Berlin’s largest sun-tanning centre”. And to the left, I can see Hermannplatz, dominated by a Karstadt department store.
It’s hard to picture this slightly shabby shop as the last remnant of a doomed icon of Weimar modernism. But that’s exactly what it is. Opened in 1929, it was one of the largest shopping centres of the world, and a Berlin-wide attraction for more than sheer size. There was a huge roof-garden, and what must have been some very garish night-time illuminations.
It survived the Depression, the 30s and the war, only to be destroyed by the Waffen-SS in 1945 to stop it falling under Soviet control. Sections have been rebuilt over the intervening decades, but it’s hard to imagine this — or anything else in Neukölln — ever recreating the grandiose over-optimism of 1929.
The start of February saw the launch of Herbstradio, a new Berlin community radio station that imagines itself spiritual successor to the late lamented Radio MultiKulti. You can hear them at 99.1 MHz, or online.
The project is only here for sure until the end of this month. What happesn then depends on the outcome of their €50,000 donation drive.
Meanwhile if anybody has been listening, and wants to share recommendations from the 24/7 schedule, go right ahead!
The mound of ice outside Nollendorfplatz U-bahn has grown to epic proportions over the winter, as BVG staff diligently clear snow away from the entrance to the station. Now a homeless Berliner has found what must be about the only decent use for it: building himself an igloo.
Enterprising and entertaining — although slightly less fun when you remember that at least 3 of Berlin’s homeless have already frozen to death this winter.
Michael Bracewell has just recorded a series of five quarter-hour spoken essays about Germany. The episode on Berlin is somewhat underwhelming. The introductory section, though, precisely pins a certain kind of British punk dream about Germany in general and Berlin in particular, ‘a fantasy of febrile decadence and alienated modernism':
‘somewhere in the middle of punk was the idea, fanciful no doubt and swollen with youthful egoism, that we were growing to adulthood in the ruins of history. In every racing, snarling punk record was the message that modernity itself had accelerated to a point of critical mass, and what was left was a tribe of lost urban youth who dressed as though Dickensian urchins had time-travelled to the 23rd century….It flattered us to believe we were living in a new decadence, of melancholy urban ruin, dark covert little bars, and febrile nightclubs, a place caught in the louche cafe culture of the Weimar republic, where young men and women of ambiguous sexuality spent their days and nights in a cocoon of unreality, the better to shut out the premonition of disaster.
….And the more you thought about it, broke down its influences and inspirations, the more you realised that this imaginary world was in fact a dream Germany.
It’s obviously not the real Berlin, past or present. But any city is too vast to experience directly it its entirety, and sometimes this kind of half-conscious caricature can be a powerful psychogeographic guide to how we understand a place. And if not — well, it’s always fun to dream.
*blows away cobwebs*
Well, I finally returned to Berlin in December. Then this week back to Neukölln, and glad of it. Schöneberg had its touches — the Dildo King stall nestling innocently within the all-too-picturesque Weihnachtsmarkt, for instance — but there’s a particular guilty pleasure to being on the front lines of gentrification.
Today, though, I thought I’d flag up that the Transmediale is now in full swing. The annual gathering of digital artists has found a suitably determined and confused slogan ‘Futurity Now!’, with its whiff of a manifesto demanding the impossible. A perfect keynote speaker, too, in Bruce Sterling, somebody who’s perfected the art of explaining the present by examining the future. Naturally the interesting stuff is going to be buried deep in the programme, though. If you’ve been attending events and looking at contraptions, tell us what you’ve found!
AskMen ranked Berlin in the Top 10 cities to live in, in its list of the top 29 places to live. They labeled the city, affordable and cultured. And you can’t really argue with that.
The top list is led by Chicago which is (from my experience) either too hot, or way to cold and also rather rural. :-D But who knows what they were up to when they created it.