STB Editor Paul Sullivan chooses some of his favourite Berlin moments from the year that (almost) was…
As we slide inexorably towards another Christmas, it’s impossible not to feel simultaneously excited about the brand new year to come and reflective about the one just gone. So as we brace ourselves for the blank slate of 2014, here’s a round up of some of our favourite “things” – moments, memes, moods – of the last twelve months. We’d love to hear about yours in the comments.
Colonel Hadfield’s Photo of Berlin from Space
Perspective is everything, as they say. It certainly was in the case of this photo of Berlin taken from the International Space Station by Colonel Hadfield back in April. The image highlighted something that only the city’s urban planners had otherwise known: the division between east and west lives on (at the very least) through its street lighting. The Eastern side is yellower due to the common use of sodium-vapour lamps, whereas the West favoured fluorescent lamps – mercury arc lamps and gas lamps – which give a whiter glow.
Vulkan The Intruder
Spiegel’s “Volkan the Intruder: Man in Underpants Partied in Merkel’s Jet” is undoubtedly the headline of the year – and the story is one of the weirdest, and best of the year also. As the article states, “On the night of July 25, a 24-year-old man clutching a bag full of marijuana and ecstasy pills managed with relative ease to get on board an empty government jet used frequently by Chancellor Angela Merkel, while it was parked at a closed military section of the Cologne airport.
“The man, a bodybuilder of Turkish descent named as Volkan T., proceeded to stage a raucous, one-man party. Reports said he stripped down to his underpants, sprayed fire extinguisher foam around the elegant cream and beige interior, pushed buttons in the cockpit, released an inflatable emergency slide and danced on the wing of the Airbus 319.” I mean, what could anyone possibly add to this paragraph that can make it any better?
Saving The East Side Gallery
This one seemed a little bitter-sweet until recently, since despite the massive turn-out for the main protests and the endorsement / appearance of slebs like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and The Hoff, the plans of a property developer (and former Stasi informer) to remove part of the East Side Gallery to build luxury apartments had merely been stalled rather than stopped.
However, a recent statement by the Senate reveals plans for the Federal Government to provide funds for the preservation and maintenance of the ESG. Whether this means the apartment building will finally be stopped is still unsure – but it’s a step in the right direction and a positive outcome for People Power.
Hipster Merkel Tumblr
Talking of Merkel, as the 2013 election race warmed up over the summer, some bright spark/s fused images of Angie with Berlin’s hipster culture – shades, SWAG hashtags, vintage filters and all – with amusing results.
David Bowie’s song about Berlin
He’s like a bus, David Bowie. Nothing for years and then he’s all up in your local Bushaltestelle. But what a double surprise it was to discover that he had not only side-stepped mainstream industry protocol to drop his comeback with zero prior warning – but that the song he released was all about Berlin! Produced by long-term collaborator Tony Visconti, “Where Are We Now?” was written by Bowie, recorded in New York and harks back to the Thin White Duke’s unhealthy yet highly innovative time in the Hauptstadt. It was followed by an album called The Next Day, which was a bit underwhelming but not bad for a 66 year old!
The Changing British Perception Of Germans
It’s more a subtle mood-change than a specific movement, but it definitely feels that the British perception of Germany and German people has been, how shall I put it, evolving in many ways. Possibly something to do with the way Britain has lurched from one embarrassing socio-economic disaster to another in the last decade while Germany just grows in economic and political stature, but the ‘two world wars and one world cup’ attitude has finally given way to more positive (read: less childish) sentiments.
This year has seen a positively gushing pro-German documentary by the BBC called Make Me A German; a personal but well-balanced and fascinating book comparing the two countries by Hamburg-to-London-to-Berlin transplant Phillip Oltermann (confidently) titled Keeping Up With The Germans; and most recently, a lengthy article by British novelist Will Self – last seen practically spitting-out the phrase “The Germans” during a book reading – extolling the virtues of German culture past and present.
Animals Let Loose In Berghain
No, not party animals – that’s a given. Real animals, like a horse, a fox and a deer. Film-makers Steffen Köhn and Phillip Kaminiak were allowed extremely rare access to the club to make their short movie After Hours, which formed part of an exhibition called Kultur:Stadt hosted by the Akademie der Künste. The stills, released as previews for the film and the exhibition, are strangely compelling; the whole film was intended to make the viewer contemplate their relationship to the famed industrial space. You can see more them here.
Or, as the snappy subtitle goes: The Secret Cosmic Music Of The East German Olympic Program 1972-83. One of the most intriguing music musical releases of year, this cosmic/Krautrock record was allegedly secretly created in East Berlin in 1972 – by an engineer called Martin Ziechnete – as training music for the 1972 East German Olympic athletes.
According to an accompanying press release, the set was “designed and paced to accompany a 5k run, complete with warm-up and wind-down bookend pieces”; Berlin resident Ziechnete was allegedly sworn to secrecy forever. Although very likely a hoax, we decided it was a well-conceived one, and the music essentially sounded good enough to run along with it. The truth may never be known, but the idea was, and is, just too good to pass up. They released it on 180g vinyl too.
The Bike Wall
This came out of nowhere in the summer. The simplest idea in the world on one hand, but the effect of Peter Horstmann taking all of the bicyles from his shop in Atlandsberg (north east of Berlin) and fixing them to its facade was a striking enough look – and story – to make the international press. According to Tree Hugger, the idea came about “when an employee asked owner Peter Horstmann what to do with about 40 bikes that customers had brought in as trade ins. “Hang ‘em on the wall,” Horstmann replied”. In case you were wondering, the oldest bike on the wall is from 1933.
The Tutu Project Comes To Berlin
One morning not so long ago, I logged into Twitter to immediately see a photo of a middle-aged, fairly hirsute man wearing a pink tutu and jumping around in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Trying not to spray my morning coffee all over the screen, I Googled around to try and find an explanation. Turns out it was part of something called the Tutu Project, set up by Bob Carey (that’s him in the tutu) to cheer up his wife (Linda) who was suffering from breast cancer at the time. Fortunately Linda pulled through, but they have continued the project to raise awareness of the disease throughout the world.
The Truth About Berlin’s Gentrification Problem
After years and years of misplaced finger-pointing about the “G” problem in Berlin (It’s the hipsters! No, it’s the tourists! No wait, it’s the landlords! Or is it the ex-pats! The immigrants! The rental apartment agencies!? The squirrels!), Quinn Slobodian and Michelle Sterling’s piece in The Baffler finally exposed Berlin mayor Wowereit and the Senate’s role in the selling-out of the city to wealthy investors and branding it as a Creative Mecca – while having almost zero interest in the needs of the city’s poorer, longer-term residents.
A brand new book called The Berlin Reader – edited by academics Matthias Bernt, Britta Grell and Andrej Holm – has also just been released, which pulls together two decades’ worth of essays on urban development and activism in the city to create the first ever decent gentrification resource in English. Its unflinching look at the levels of corruption and sinister urban politics at the heart of the city we love is a hugely important, if depressing, wake up call.
The publication of our first book
As self-aggrandising as it might seem, there’s no way we could exclude our own book from a Best of 2013 list. Co-edited by myself, Giulia Pines and Marian Ryan, and featuring writing, photography and proof-reading contributions from most of the STB team, 100 Favourite Places represents an immense community effort that provided new challenges for everyone involved. Despite various setbacks and a total lack of financial resources, we managed to pull off something we are all extremely proud of. Huge thanks to everyone who came to the launch, bought the book and generally supported the project.