translocality

Feeling Alien in Germany: Bureaucracy and the Thresholds of Belonging


The trash collectors in Berlin have an excellent sense of humor.

The trash collectors in Berlin have an excellent sense of humor.

Nothing makes you feel quite as alien and precarious as waiting in an immigration office, especially as you wait for a Beamter/in (clerk, officer) to make a decision about your future in Germany—based, it seems, primarily on their current mood and digestive health. And yet, one of my interviewees once claimed that she never felt more at home in Berlin than when she was at the Ausländerbehörde (immigration office), the Bürgeramt (citizen’s registration office), or the Finanzamt (finance and revenue office). And she has a point: when the process is successful, there is a sense of satisfaction and membership that you can get from interfacing with the behemoth that is German bureaucracy. But, as a foreigner in a foreign land, you remain at the mercy of this bureaucracy and the many people that work in it, and that sometimes means that your experience is far more alienating than welcoming.

Much of my research here on so-called “techno tourism” and music-related migration to Berlin has revealed the ways in which recently-arrived people manage to feel at home here, even before they have spent enough time to “integrate” culturally. But my recent experiences with Germany’s Ausländerbehörde has reminded me of how fragile this sense of being “at home” can be (more…)

Touristen Fisten: Themes and Images in Berliner Anti-Tourism / Anti-Gentrification Discourses


Somewhere near Erkstrasse and Sonnenallee in Neukölln.

My Berlin research files are organized under a number of folders, including one for “Tourism Debates” and another one for “Gentrification Debates.” These days, I’m thinking I need to merge these two folders, since the debates have become increasingly intertwined (and often hopelessly confused). In a recent opinion article in Die Zeit online, entitled, “Burn the Tourists” (“Touristen anzünden”), David Hugendick complains that left-political anti-gentrification discourse has taken an ironically xenophobic turn by harnessing anti-tourist (and, more broadly, anti-foreigner) sentiment. Of course, this article is almost interchangeable with a wide range of opinion pieces that have been appearing in mainstream German-language newspapers in the last while, part of a larger (and older) pattern in Berlin of countering critical voices from the left by associating them with violent tactics and contrarian positions.

In any case, although it is debatable whether (more…)

Happy Calendar-Reboot!


Despite having just flown back from Canada two days ago, I’m already back into the nocturnal rhythms of Berlin. In fact, I used jet-lag to my advantage: I got home in the early morning, slept during the day, got up at 8pm, and then got ready for a night at Watergate (the Vakant + Dumb Unit label night). And then, the same routine the next day for the Final Friday night at Panorama Bar, with Margaret Dygas, Cassy, and Dinky (and Matthew Styles). Now, I’m making use of a brief pocket of quiet while my houseguest sleeps to post this message. In a couple of hours, we’ll have dinner, count down to midnight at a friend’s house, nap until 6am, and then head out to the insane Silvester party at Berghain/Panoramabar. The line-up features primarily the nightclub’s resident DJs, but there are also a few guests (e.g., Soundstream, Deetron) and even a few surprises (i.e., Andrew Butler of Hercules and Love Affair). The whole thing runs from Saturday midnight until late Monday, and will require a couple of cycles of dance+go home+nap+eat+dance.

It’s been interesting to see how the massive influx of tourists has impacted Berlin’s nightlife in these past days. Thursday night at Watergate involved a ridiculously long line (for a Thursday) and a crowd that seemed to be primarily populated by tourists (including tourists from other parts of Germany, mind you). I made the acquaintance of two guys from Munich, one from Beirut (Lebanon), one from Chile, and several American ex-pats (now living in Berlin). And, of course, there were French- and Italian-speakers everywhere, mostly making themselves noticeable because they can’t seem to resist the temptation to try to jump the queue for the door, the bathrooms, the bar, etc.

Friday at Panoramabar was similar but different: there were tons of tourists in the queue for the door, but proportionally less of them seemed to make it in—or, rather, only certain kinds of tourists seemed to make it past the bouncers. The queue was insanely long when we arrived around 1am (which was admittedly far too early for Berliners and part of the reason why the proportion of tourists was so high), running all the way back to where the taxis were. The wait would probably be 1.5-2 hours. I was with 3 friends, so I left two of them at the back of the line, and then I went to the door with one of my friends and approached the door. Since I’ve been something of a regular at the place, I was relatively confident that I could walk directly to the door and the doormen would wave me in, but I was less certain that I could bring in 3 other people. So, my strategy was to approach the door with one other person, and then ask if I could bring in two more people. As I expected, the doorman Andrej saw me and waved me in. “A quick question,” I said in German, “I still have two other friends stuck at the back of the line. Could I bring them in with me?” “Only two?” he said, sternly. “Yes, yes. Just two more people.” “OK, fine.” And, with that, I ran back to the far end of the line, picked up my other 2 friends, and went in. The rest of the night was too long and crazy to relate here, but suffice it to say that I met a lot of locals, non-local Germans, local ex-pats, frequent visitors, and tourists.

OK, time to go gird my loins! I have a lot of hard work ahead of me.

The Techno Jet-Set: Tourism, Mobility, and Money in Berlin’s EDM Scenes


Yes, there's a company dedicated to techno tourism. In fact, there are several. This was taken at the FLY BerMuDa party in early November, 2011

As I was conducting an interview a couple of nights ago, I realized that I didn’t have a publicly-accessible and easily-readable description of my current research project on so-called “techno-tourism.” If you read my article on the Spreepark party in Resident Advisor last fall, you probably already have an idea of what this project is about: the waves of travelers coming to Berlin for its nightlife scenes, many of them enjoying a kind of international mobility that used to be the exclusive domain of wealthy “jet-set” elites. The framing of my project is pretty much directly indebted to Tobias Rapp’s book (Lost and Sound: Berlin, Techno und the Easy Jet Set, 2010) and his coining of the word “EasyJetSet,” which highlights the similarities to and differences from an earlier era of luxury “jet-setter” tourism.

There’s a lot to be said about this project, about the earlier research that has been done on tourism, the economic and social factors, and so on, but here’s a concise summary of the most relevant points. (more…)

Checking in from Berlin


My name in graffiti on a mail box

I think that's my name as a graffiti tag, on some sort of electrical box on Sonnenallee in Neukölln.

OK, OK. I know that it’s been a while since I’ve checked in on here (since Grenada!) but here’s what I’ve been up to in the past month or so:

  • Travel to and from Grenada
  • Attempt to sell off most of my furniture and my car
  • Get my !@#$ing PhD diploma and attend Convocation with my parents
  • Pack my entire life into boxes, load it into a U-Haul truck while some guy yells at us about blocking the alleyway, and then drive it 8 hours to Canada
  • Store most of my crap at my parents’ place and try to shove the remaining articles into 3 pieces of luggage
  • Remind Canada’s bureaucracy of my continuing existence
  • Spend a week in Toronto seeing friends, visiting old haunts, and having meetings at my alma mater
  • Spend about 20 hours in 3 flights taking me from my hometown to Berlin-town. Screaming babies were a bonus feature
  • Eat roasted chicken from City Chicken (Neukölln) and get plastered on wine and Sekt before finally crashing on my friend’s floor
  • Make a deposit at my Hauptmieterin’s (sublessor) bank account and retrieve the keys to my apartment
  • Schlep my numerous bags to my new apartment and settle in
  • Begin the long process of announcing my presence to the German bureaucracy
  • Struggle endlessly to unlock my iPhone 4 so I can use a reasonably-priced German SIM card
  • Re-stock the kitchen
  • Oversee repairs to the bathroom of my new apartment, which seems to involve plaster and sweaty men (not the sexy kind)
  • Orchestrate and attend reunions with overlapping circles of friends (and attempt not to alienate anyone in the process)
  • Sleep, eventually.

And now I’m in Berlin. (more…)

Suggestions Needed: Berlin, Summer of 2010 tracks


Perhaps it’s too late for your hazy memories, but: what were your tracks of the summer of 2010? Much like the project I started last year, I’m planning to put together a DJ mix that reflects the sounds of my recent trip to Berlin. This is primarily directed at folks who were in Berlin last summer and were hearing the same tracks I was, but I’m still happy to have suggestions to people who were partying elsewhere. If you were hearing a track all over the place during the summer, post it in the comments! Here’s my preliminary list:

  • The Gathering. “In My System (Jeff K System Mix).” Silver Network. [Marc Schneider & Jan Krueger played the fuck outta this track that summer]
  • Axel Boman. “Purple Drank.” Pampa. [“I woke up with your name on my lipsssss…”]
  • Laserkraft 3D. “Nein Mann.” Sme Music. [OK, not really; this wasn’t on any of the dancefloors where I went, but the track made the rounds of all of the Berlin party kids]
  • Akabu. “Another World (Andre Lodemann Mix).” Z Records. [I could be wrong, but I believe there’s a bit of Debussy’s La Mer on here.]
  • Kink. “E79.” Ovum.
  • Maya Jane Coles. “What They Say.” RealTone Records. [Apparently, the vocal sample is from a DJ Sneak track]
  • DJ Koze. “Blume der Nacht.” Pampa. [As featured on Superpitcher’s amazing RA Podcast]
  • Davide Squillace. “The Other Side of the Bed.” Desolat.
  • (more…)

Inconvenience and the Privilege of the Local DJ


Somewhere in Revaler Straße 99, someone is very pleased with himself

In this post, I want to make the somewhat counter-intuitive argument that there are some privileges to being a local DJ. In so doing, I’ll also explore how the privliges of being local intersect in surprising ways with vinyl/digital debates and ideas about expertise, labor, artistic value, authenticity, and so on. More broadly, I’ll be making some arguments about how privilege works in Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scenes and why this should make us re-think how we understand our commitment to the values of inclusiveness and equality that are part of the history of EDM scenes (if sometimes in contradictory ways). You might ask why I use the term “privilege” here instead of “advantage” or “benefit.” This is because the notion of privilege helps give me clarity about how the ease or difficulty of doing something can say something about the uneven distribution of access, opportunity, and resources in society. I’ll come back to privilege in a moment, but let’s begin first with brighter side of local-ness. (more…)