Who ever said the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?
It is June and I am still in Berlin….contrary to original plans…unsurprisingly. I will be here another two weeks. Various forces conspired so that this emerged as a logical decision. Mainly that Stalker, the Italians, continued to be elusive and that I want to be in London for the last two weeks of June. So Rome has been delayed or cancelled, it’s not quite clear yet. But I’m still leaving Berlin before the World Cup starts…..fortunately or unfortunately I’m not sure….
Meanwhile agreeable things have come out of deciding to stay for a while longer - like skinny dipping in lakes in the gorgeous countryside of the Oderburger region….and the opportunity to help with the documentation stage of the Dolmusch project. Most recently Matthias, one of the core Raumlabor members told me how he is a celebrity with the Turkish kids in his apartment block - the ones who caused mischief around the Dolmsuch ‘Reiseburo’. One of the intentions of the project was to explore ‘multicultural hybrids’ of urban systems (the name ‘Dolmusch’ is derived from the private, informal taxi system in Istanbul). Matthias thinks that this gesture was appreciated by the surrounding immigrant community who are disillusioned by the unidirectional ‘integration’ policy in Germany. In other words ‘integration’ normally means the problem of how to assimilate immigrants into German culture, rather than the possibility of a two-way exchange. This is what the Dolmusch project tried to explore instead…..
It might be interesting to put the project into some context with other Raumlabor projects from the last couple of years: I think the most striking are:
- A giant scaffolding mountain (‘Der Berg’) inside the Palast der Republik, the controversial Communist Parliament building which is in the process of being torn down in order to be replaced by the 17th Century Prussian Palace that stood on the site previously (if the required 80 million euros (?) is ever raised!). The mountain, which climbed from the street through the centre of the building and out through the top, featured a guesthouse where you could spend the night and three different tours up to the top of it. It's amazing to hear about the crazy bureaucratic and technical challenges had to be negotiated in order to realise this project!
- The Hotel Neustadt project, which involved transforming an empty housing block in the East German city of Halle into a hotel for the summer, complete with rooms designed and built from scrap materials (for a grand total of 3 Euros each!) by kids from the city and a series of interactive projects orchestrated by artists from all over the world - skateboard parks, film festivals, espresso bars, massage parlours, mini golf courses..... The festival-like project allowed the area to be completely re-imagined by both residents and visitors. There is now a fabulous, graphically-seductive book that documents the project…
- The ‘KuchenMonument’ – a giant, ephemeral plastic bubble that has been travelling around different cities as a temporary space for events ranging from Christian youth groups to artist discussions to political dinners.
The temporary arts project that takes advantage of the massive amounts of empty space either awaiting reconstruction or in a legal paralysis has assumed central importance in the cultural development of Berlin. The notion of architectural permanence is completely undermined here….and instead the Raumlabor projects explode the potential of the temporary project as a medium for cultural activism and political statements, through which new systems and patterns of inhabitation in the city are imagined. I am so inspired by the almost-absurdity and spirit of their projects! And in the meantime the material that is deconstructed and saved at the end of each project is gradually accumulating in a small village near Poland that we visited this week….in order that it might take on yet another life at some indeterminate point in the future.
......I have also had more time to be an obedient tourist recently. Sure that I was basically numb to the ‘starchitect’ sightseeing after being oblivious to the street of Eisenman/Koolhaas contributions, offended by Potsdamer Platz and only mildly interested in Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, I was secretly relieved to find myself blown away by the Neue Nationalegallerie by Mies van der Rohe. It is stark and serene, and the day that I visited it with John Hart (an Austinite landscape architect also visiting Berlin) it was closed, the deserted concrete landscape around it broken only by the occasional lone skateboarder or cyclist. Inside they were in the process of building an undulating wooden landscape for a Berlin/Tokyo exhibition opening next month...hmmmm...sexy contrast to the rigid form of the building.
John Hart and I enacted the first shadow drawing, a project I have been idly plotting for a while. We traced the shadow of a sculpture in blue chalk in the courtyard and recorded the time next to it and I was thrilled by a video I made of it disappearing and reappearing as the sun went in and out of the clouds….We were amazed to realise that the shadow had moved entirely out of the boundaries of chalk just five minutes later. Ok, so you can’t see it very well in these photos….or in fact in ‘real life’…..the method definitely needs some tuning…
Meanwhile I’m getting nostalgic about the thought of leaving my neighbourhood. This evening in Gorlitzer Park I marvelled again at the wildness of this place… a truly integrative piece of land, full of punks, Turkish women, young families….where an auditorium sits in ruins because the Portuguse stone was unsuited to the German climate and an old railway station covered in grafitti waits for the trains that never arrived there – a place of bent dreams which somehow cracks open space for new ones to brew….