Inkonsequent in Berlin: Golden Gate’s Reimund Maria Spitzer on Bar 25 and Gentrification
ou folks might recall that I wrote a feature story for Resident Advisor a couple of months ago that provided a sketch of the circumstances around the Luna Land Party in Spreepark Plänterwald. The story was mostly about the bizarre history of Spreepark itself and the rising tension between the Berlin institution, Bar 25, and the American promoter, minimoo, that organized the party there. But another important part of the story was the gentrification going on in Berlin’s entertainment districts, particularly the way that urban redevelopment projects like Mediaspree were putting pressure on Berlin’s nightclubs. This pressure had put Bar 25 in the position of announcing its “final” closure for at least four years running; each time, somewhat miraculously, they managed to extend their lease for a bit longer. This fall, however, the bar was closed for good. A few days after my story was published on RA, YouTube video began to surface showing Bar 25’s premises, empty and razed to the ground. After years of holding massive closing parties and then reappearing in the spring, it seemed that people needed some visual evidence that Bar 25 was really gone.
But Bar 25 isn’t the only bar / club in that area that has been under pressure. Maria am Ostbahnhof is still nearby, on property that is constantly at risk of being sold out from under them (UPDATE: See comments below). Berghain is just on the other side of the Ostbahnhof train station, seeming to be doing well financially, but still dealing with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood around them. Watergate is just down the river at the Oberbaumbrücke. Then there’s Tresor across the river as well as the smaller semi-outdoor bar, Kiki Blofeld. (UPDATE: See the comments below; Maria am Ostbahnhof will be closing at the end of May, and Kiki Blofeld seems to be on the way out—although their website claims that they’ll still be around for the 2011 summer season.)
And there’s also Golden Gate, a club located in a set of rooms under the S-bahn train tracks near the Jannowitzbrücke S-bahn/U-bahn stop. The club is featured along other 2000-era techno clubs in Tobias Rapp’s “Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno and The EasyJet Set” (2009/10; German/English), but it distinguishes itself by being in many ways more local. The clientele tends to be mostly German and primarily Berlin natives (and Brandenburgers, although I’m not going to enter the controversy about whether they count as Berliners); they are a bit younger than Bar 25 or Berghain patrons, averaging from late teens to late 20s; and the booking policy tends to focus more on local Berlin DJs who play harder forms of techno, tech-house, and minimal (and breakbeat at times). In the shadow of Bar 25, Berghain, Tresor, and so on, GG is a place that is often overlooked by the techno-tourists that come to Berlin…and that is partially what allows it to feel more “authentically Berlin” than its neighbors.
Just a few days ago, I received an interesting email from the manager of GG, Reimund Maria Spitzer. Like most clubs, GG maintains a mailing list that announces upcoming bookings at the club. What is different is that Rei always includes an opening paragraph that provides an impressionistic take on his immediate lifeworld, including the club, the neighborhood, the city, the weather, the people on the street, and so on. It’s an evocative slice of everyday life that sits in stark contrast with the kind of exciting parties that these e-mails are supposed to represent. Maybe it’s a parody of the often vapid “copy” that opens most of these club promotion/booking e-mails, which most readers skip anyway and go straight to the list of dates and DJs. Maybe it’s a serious attempt to capture the atmosphere of the club and of daily life around GG when it’s not nighttime and filled with clubbers. In any case, his last email provided a great snapshot of techno-tourism in the aftermath of Bar 25 as well as ongoing gentrification. The email’s subject header read, “Inkonsequent.”
The light is here, but the colors are missing. The smell of the earth seeps through the fence surrounding the park where tourists no longer gather [i.e., Bar 25]; in the end, they come anyways, even though there’s nothing left. When the tourists stay away, it’s over; that’s when a place is done for good. That is the keystone of gentrification. Sometimes, a few of them stand at the wooden wall, where a sign reads, “The Bar is dead,” (via FindingBerlin) and take photos or just stand there, perplexed—much like they used to do in front of the Berlin Wall. The ground reeks of earth and I’m no longer as jealous as I was earlier of those people who have scampered off to the tropics and now sit on a beach, snickering at fools like us. I have to squint, because the sun is gleaming and one can see grey dust on the grass and everywhere else and I head into one of those supermarkets, smiling cheerfully, in order to address my perspiration. You see, I always perspire more the moment it gets warmer. Time and time again, I plan to boycott any product with a stupid name, but nonetheless I end up with a deodorant roller called “Fresh Active.” And there still isn’t a Facebook page where one can go and complain about these asinine names, so I’m left alone to my inconsequence and head home, perplexed.
(Reimund Maria Spitzer, Golden Gate, March 4, 2011)
There are a lot of great things about this, most of which involve comparisons and parallel constructions that reframe the tourism attached to the former Bar 25. Here are a few points:
- Snickering at fools: Rei starts with a humorous glance at those tourists hanging out in front of Bar 25’s grave, but he soon points out that there are also Berliners who are tourists, off in the tropics, snickering at those who remain in Berlin during the winter. In a way, this points to how both tourists and locals can have reasons to feel smug and to make fun of those who they see as clueless or uninformed. (UPDATE: A commenter below points out that the “Berliners in the tropics” mentioned by Rei are actually the former owners of Bar 25, who have moved to Kolkata to re-open their club.)
- Perplexity: One of the clearest parallels in this paragraph is the repeated use of ratlos, a term that I’ve translated here as “perplexed.” The more literal translation would be “without counsel” or “without advice,” but the primary meaning is more about not knowing what to do, to be at a loss, baffled, stymied, stumped, puzzled, helpless, and so on. And so it’s interesting to see Rei use the term to describe the tourists in front of Bar 25 and himself coming out of the supermarket, having failed to find a non-stupid deodorant: they all find themselves perplexed, with their desires frustrated and a lingering sense of complaint, loss, or injustice.
- Tourism at a loss: Rei also compares the tourists in front of the remains of Bar 25 to those tourists who linger in front of the remains of the Berlin Wall. In both cases, there is a sense that something happened here, but these ruins are all that remain. This leaves the tourist with the problem of what to do with these ruins—or, rather, what to do in the presence of these ruins. A lot of tourism scholarship tends to cast tourism in terms of desires and perception (the “tourist gaze” of Urry or the “tourist experience” of Ryan), but Rei’s description re-frames tourism as a problem: a problem of what to do with your presence, in the presence of things that are only traces of previous events. In this sense, the behaviors of the tourists—taking pictures, pacing back and forth, just standing there—are all efforts to figure out what to do with the ruins of something that was meaningful, attractive, desirable, or at least titillating.
[p.s. Here is the original German version, in case you’re interested:]
Das Licht ist da aber es fehlen noch die Farben. Der Geruch der Erde dringt durch den Zaun, der den Park umgibt, wo nicht mal mehr Touristen sind; die kommen immer zuletzt, auch wenn sonst keiner mehr da ist. Wenn die Touristen ausbleiben, ist es vorbei, dann ist eine Gegend endgültig hinüber. Das ist der Schlussstein der Gentrifizierung. Manchmal stehen welche am Holzwall, auf dem steht ‘die Bar ist tot’ und machen Fotos oder stehen ratlos herum so wie sie früher vor der Mauer standen und Fotos machten. Die Erde riecht nach Erde und ich bin nicht mehr so neidisch wie noch vor kurzem auf die Leute, die die Biege gemacht haben in die Tropen und die da jetzt am Strand sitzen und unsereinen heimlich auslachen. Blinzeln muss ich, weil die Sonne gleißt und man sieht den grauen Staub auf dem Gras und überall sonst und betrete frohgemut lächelnd einen dieser Supermärkte, um meinen Ausdünstungen abzuhelfen. Die nehmen nämlich zu, sobald es wärmer wird. Immer wieder nehme ich mir vor, Produkte mit bescheuerten Namen zu boykottieren, kaufe dann aber doch einen Deoroller, der sich ‘fresh active’ nennt. Und es gibt nicht mal eine facebook Seite, auf der man sich über diesen dämlichen Namen beschweren kann und ich bleibe allein mit meiner Inkonsequenz und ratlos zurück.
(Reimund Maria Spitzer, Golden Gate, 4. März, 2011)