Archive for February, 2010

Free shops and clothing exchange parties

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.

Berlin as collective fantasy, 70s punk edition

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!

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