6.9.11

Opinion The style is not free, the style is expensive.

R.I.P. Revaler Strasse 99.I visited Revaler Strasse 99 last week and found that it has now become home to a jaw-droppingly tacky chain of openair fast food joints. For those of you who have not been there before, Revaler Strasse 99 is a slice of old school Friedrichshain counterculture; a street that is home to musicians studios, art projects, underground clubs, at least one theatre and more graffiti than you can shake a stick at. Like Tacheles, many of the Revaler Strasse projects are (or used to be) independently run on a non-profit basis.

Recent years have seen the introduction of increasingly featureless and profit-oriented ventures in the street, such as the Revalution Bar and Astra Kulturhaus. And it seems that the agenda to turn Revaler Strasse into the next Simon Dach has taken several strides forward in the past few weeks. Over-lit new doner joints drew an over-dressed, over-intoxicated crowd to its once-blissful dark last Saturday night, when I visited the area. Meanwhile, the RAW Tempel café (once home to the super-friendly Berlin Free City open mic night) also seemed to be closed. Not permanently, I hope...



For all their ghetto-chic stylings, new venues like Astra Kulture Haus, Revalution Bar and Spindler & Klatt across the river, are part of the current trend of de-Berlin-izing Berlin. Looking as if they have been airlifted in from New York or London, they are clearly designed to appeal to a wealthy foreigner's idea of what 'the edgy part of town' should look like.

Part of the problem is that few guidebooks and review sites mention the types of venues that really define Berlin. Underground venues (or whatever you want to call them) are those which epitomize the city's fresh, fearless left-wing energy. Like the artists who frequent them, these venues are fed by an abundance of free space and cheap materials. Hidden away behind a post-industrial facade, the best hang-outs provide a haven for the city's imagination and allow it to blossom. So why do so many city guidebooks neglect these same night spots?

Guardian's Berlin City Guide, for instance, lists its top three clubs as being Berghain, Watergate and Weekend. I agree that these clubs are popular... but then again, so is MacDonalds, and it is far from being the best restaurant in Berlin!


Meanwhile, Time Out's Guide to "Alternative Berlin Nightlife" covers some of the city's best spots, and then marginalizes them by sticking them under an 'alternative' label. In reality they are as authentically Berlin as anything you'll see here, and actively sought out by people who actually live in the city.  What is alternative in Chicago or Birmingham is actually the norm, here.  Many visitors to Berlin make the same mistake. But their misconceptions about what is good to see in Berlin - or what should be good to see - is inadvertently eroding the city's character.

One can see the effect that this has had when visiting venues like Spindler & Klatt, where the underground experience has been sanitized for a more middle-class clientele than actually lives here. Middle classes have only recently established a presence in this city, which was largely poor and working class until the late 2000's.  Strangely enough, economic development isn't really possible when your city is cut in half and at constant threat of war! and the road towards a sustainable economy is much longer than the Senate would like to believe.  Spindler und Klatt is part of the  Mediaspree developments which the Senate cooked up in order to 'solve' the problem of Berlin's poor local economy.  They turfed out people who had established affordable, grassroots businesses along the Spree and replaced them with  elitist corporations who offer similar services at overinflated prices, as well as lots of upscale flats for patrons and employees to live in.  As always, the gentrification model relies on evicting the current culture and replacing it with a more profitable one that is alien to the city. 

Spindler & Klatt is one of many businesses which capitalizes on the mainstream fantasy of an underground city, even as it cannibalizes the culture in which the underground took root. It has bought the rights to a property that was once useful and turned it into a clean, mass-produced underground amusement park. The mainstream fantasy of an underground lifestyle is crowding out the reality, not just here in Berlin, but worldwide.

Berlin is the alternative. If you've come here looking for 'mainstream' in Berlin, then you're in the wrong city.  Munich is only 8 hours away if you want a more mainstream German experience, or a sanitized exported version of what we've got here.

It’s true that the newer and lesser-known nightspots in Berlin are not so easy to find. Nor are they reliably full of people. But you know what? Berghain and Watergate aren’t a surefire bet, either. The cab driver may know the address and the club may be full of people but the bouncer still decides whether you can get in or not... and nobody, but nobody, knows what their criteria are!

Berlin simply doesn’t do guarantees (just like it doesn’t do VIP lounges or bottle service) so you are better off going to the lesser known, cheaper, more out-of-the way places... places that you can find out about on this blog!  Unless of course, you actually are here to see other tourists and hang out with middle-class out-of-towners?  But I doubt that that's the case!

A few of Berlin's permanent residents do go to the newer, more-famous night spots... but the vast majority of punters in those places are newcomers, they don't know about the city's uncharted nightlife territory yet.Or else they've decided that they'd rather have a guaranteed ‘fun night out’ instead of trying something new - something unknown - something truly 'Berlin style'. Am I the only one to see the irony in that?

Post your thoughts below.

2 comments:

  1. Such true words. I could not agree with you more!
    I will miss the real Berlin (Friedrichshain), especially if Media Spree comes through as they envision it.

    ReplyDelete

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...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, activism, social media rights. Other publications that I have written for: OpenDemocracy, Urban Challenger, Siegesaeule, Alternative Berlin and Sensanostra.