Berlin, Where are We Now? – A City as an Artistic Laboratory
Since the fall of the Wall, Berlin has been a hotspot for artistic and architectural experiments, attracting artists from all over the world. With the implosion of the mutually-supporting dual system of the Cold War, Berlin–as the epicentre of the world’s division–gave rise to unique artistic energies. While the End of History was philosophised in the Western World, history was being made in Berlin.
Berlin became a lab to test out elements of new cultural ways of life. Suddenly, central buildings and areas offered free space. Space was co-opted by culture–with a culture that does not hide in white cubes, but rather worked publicly, shaping life in the centre of the city. Tacheles became a symbol of this outward-looking anarchy of experimentation. Today, in a moment of inescapable change, this approach might be vital for us to realise a more sustainable future.
In post-industrial buildings, techno developed a totally new combination of ritual, bodily experience and music. With the Love Parade, the cornerstone was the idea of an independent and open experience economy, linked to city and collective experience. Examining the interrelation of ecology and culture were the Prinzessinnengärten and many other initiatives–most recently, the Tempelhofer Feld, where Berliners acted against politicians to create the city’s second “green lung.” Always spontaneous, the field is simultaneously a place for sport, physical culture and leisure activities. It is a rare place to experience vastness in the city, which acts to relieve stress and support health. And during the COVID-19 lockdown, the field has proven an ideal place for walks, business meetings or outdoor offices with social distancing.
With some success in Berlin, cultural institutions like the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, the Gorki Theatre and SAVVY Contemporary actively work to shift the strongly segmented self-awareness of German society towards a multicultural perspective. Immersive experiences between art, history and architecture have been created in numerous exhibition projects in unconventional halls, subways and other underground worlds. The location of this talk, St Agnes’s Church, is also an example of co-habitation with relics of our history. Plans for the conversion of the “Mäusebunker” in Lichterfelde into a place for animals and art were also presented in the framework of the talks. Such examples represent concepts of a more sustainable use of urban space.
Moritz van Dülmen, Constanza Macras, Adrienne Goehler, Yoram Roth, Freo Majer, Anh Linh Ngo, Prof. Dr Ulrich Seibert, Dr Friederike Gräfin von Brühl, Mikolaj Sekutowicz
In contrast to almost every other large city, Berlin comes to an abrupt end. In sparsely populated Brandenburg, a culture of ecological farming is developing that acts as feedback, strengthening Berlin’s food culture and a general awareness for regional sustainability. We could name many more examples of transdisciplinary linkages between art and living culture that are being tested here.
Nonetheless, gentrification does not stop at Berlin: free spaces are disappearing, rents are becoming more expensive and art is becoming institutionalised. “Brooklyn on the Spree” was the headline of the 2014 New York Times article about the general Berlin-fatigue. Art institutions and politics must today find an answer to this undeniable development. How can we further support the cultural hybridity that was developed in Berlin and make it productive in the redesign of our urban world?
Even with the present crises of ecology, dislocation, health and social inequality, the lab of Berlin can deliver solutions. How can we now pick up and direct a movement that came to pass, more or less, through coincidence? On the stage, leaders of cultural institutions and an architect, a choreographer, a curator and lawyers considered new visions and development models. As the last in the series at St Agnes, the talk synthesised outputs of the previous talks, which together act as touchstones to the question: “Berlin, who do we want to be tomorrow?”
1. How was the situation when you began to make art in Berlin? How did you sense the landscape of the city? 2. Many have described a constant sense of excitement in the air in Berlin of the 90s. Has it disappeared? Or has it transformed into other forms? 3. Which prototypes for a city of the future were developed in the artistic laboratory of Berlin? How can they be applied today? 4. How is present-day Berlin perceived and received by the press? Does the image of Berlin still have some resonance in our current reality? 5. How can we direct the development of Berlin, while at the same time preserving its unique forms of freedom? 6. What new ideas and forms have emerged during the coronavirus situation that can be the driving force for innovation in the years to come?
Mikolaj Sekutowicz, CEO and Curator, Therme Art (Co-Moderator)
Moritz van Dülmen, CEO Kulturprojekte Berlin GmbH / Berlin Art Week Dr Friederike Gräfin von Brühl, Partner K&L Gates, Berlin, Advisor in Art Law Anh Linh Ngo, Editor in Chief, ARCH+ Freo Majer, Founder and Artistic Director, Forecast Adrienne Goehler, Author and Curator Yoram Roth, Cultural Investor Prof. Dr Ulrich Seibert, Lawyer and Honorary Professor for Business Law Constanza Macras, Choreographer
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