this issue contains
>> An Interview with Andrea Zittel
>> Miwa Yanagi: The Beauty of the Prison
>> Franz Ackermann's Mental Maps
>> New Forms of Governance
>> Working on the Myth

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Working on the Myth: City Neighborhood Culture as Global Culture

Does social proximity produce nothing but homogeny in culture and fashion? Ulf Poschardt on the miracle cure of Berlin Mitte, small-scale big cities, and the tranquility of global Bohemian ghettos.

They made it. In the summer of 2001, the WMF Club in Berlin provided the arena for a memorable concert of the New York electro-pop band Fischerspooner . The Manhattan-based band was widely celebrated because their sound had become the sound of the German capital, or, to be more precise, its neo-liberal Bohemian quarter. Fischerspooner was the band in Mitte - the district between Alexanderplatz, the Hackesche Höfe, and Invaliden Strasse. Following German reunification, the area, part of former East Berlin, was restored in record time as the choice cut of real estate agents and homespun experts alike. Throughout the early nineties, restoring Berlin to its former identity as a modern cosmopolitan city seemed to be less the task of the large opera houses, theaters, and film studios than that of a tirelessly toiling German, or more specifically Berlin, youth.

It was primarily a young middle class that moved in, one that had been longing to finally realize their dream of living in a cool German city of real cosmopolitan caliber; in the process, they helped boost the value of what was once the city's center. The mission was accomplished with astonishing speed. Since the mid-nineties, the area has become - with increasing urgency - the epitome of a new German hip, an elegant avant-garde. A group of people largely below the age of forty settled in, a self-styled "info elite" supported both by the Kunst-Werke, run by the Mitte pioneer and social engineer Klaus Biesenbach, and the many galleries that opened on and around August Strasse.

Michael Bach: Ohne Titel, o. J.,Deutsche Bank Collection. Courtesy Galerie Heinz-Martin Weigand.

In terms of Fischerspooner, Berlin was the first place to decipher the trendiest codes of urban Manhattan culture in all its facets, a seemingly miracle remedy that cured the peculiarly German trauma of congenital uncoolness. For Berlin, this marked the end of a time of rebuilding and formation that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and that took on increasingly restorative features towards the late nineties. Electronic dancing music became the motor of all invention, carrying on what's commonly considered to be the typically German coldness of bands such as Kraftwerk and Neu (read NYT article here). At the same time, cultural products continued mushrooming in the shadow of that peculiar aesthetic comprised of West Berlin depression and severity and celebrated in the films of Wim Wenders or Robert van Ackeren, the stage productions of Einstürzende Neubauten, or the theater of the Schaubühne.

Yet in contrast to these cultural phenomena, dance music had what it takes to turn millions of people on, and that's exactly what it did in the mid-nineties - with the Love Parade , techno came close to becoming mainstream culture all around Germany.

Sabine Hornig: Ohne Titel (Karl-Marx-Allee), 2002,
Deutsche Bank Collection

Although other regional centers such as Frankfurt or Munich had their own techno scenes, the two icons of techno and dancefloor culture were born in the cellars around Potsdamer Platz, Berlin's destroyed city center: the WMF Club and Tresor. The fact that these cellars were products of the Second World War and Germany's later division tickled the cozy feeling of horror already reflected in the ravers' camouflage and combat look, a kind of superficial contemplation on a historical, martial, and political legacy. The perfect anti-idyll had apparently been found. Borrowing on the feeling of exile that David Bowie, Iggy Pop, or Depeche Mode had found in Berlin of the seventies and early eighties, the grey misery and leaden severity of the reunified city was considered to be "inspiring" and "up to date." Whether in the pop songs of Norwegian bands such as Briskeby or the novels of Norman Ohler, Berlin - and especially the cheerily post-modern East Berlin - was turning up everywhere as a location steeped in aura. Due to a dialectic twist of the zeitgeist, the anti-idyll had become the new idyll. The zeitgeist of the late nineties and the new millennium had found its place.

David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed

While Berlin conquered its status as cosmopolitan city, the territories outside Berlin were deemed provincial. This redefinition already sounded reactionary and demonic back in 1923, when Oswald Spengler was busy producing his myths of decline: "Instead of a world, a city, a point at which the entire life of whole countries collects while the rest dries out; instead of a mature people at one with the earth, there is a new nomad, a parasite, the big city dweller, the pure man of deeds lacking in tradition and emerging in a formlessly fluctuating mass, irreligious, intelligent, infertile, with a deep aversion to farming folk (…) and thus a tremendous step towards the inorganic, towards the end."

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