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.