‘One Big Arty Party’

Another piece about swinging Berlin, this time in the New York Times.  The author, Adam Fisher, gets carried away! by the fabulousness a little, but we forgive him, because he profiles lots of interesting people.  Excerpts follow:

Berlin, the biggest city in continental Europe by far, has actually been losing its German population for years, but for the last five years… that loss has been more than made up for by an influx of expats. What’s more, they’re settling down: buying funky apartments, starting creative businesses, having precocious children. ”We’re a little overrun,” [Exberliner publisher Nadja] Vancauwenberghe concludes, looking out her window. For a long time, the neighborhood outside, Prenzlauer Berg, boasted a thriving international squat scene. Today the main strip is choked with baby strollers and stylish boutiques.

The expats who are gentrifying Prenzlauer Berg are creative types, the kind of people who don’t necessarily want a standard career. This is perhaps a good thing, since the unemployment rate in Berlin is currently around 20 percent. There may not be many opportunities for regular employment, but there are plenty of good gigs. For musicians, Berlin is an ideal staging ground; its central location makes touring Europe easy and more profitable. For visual artists, it’s all about the city’s cultural wealth. Berlin’s divided legacy means that there are twice the number of museums and art-supporting institutions than usual. Plus there is a long tradition of social tolerance here.


Berlin is undoubtedly fun. The loose liquor laws don’t require bars to close until the last patron has quaffed his last drink, and some club parties can go for the entire weekend. If there is any problem with Berlin, it may be that it’s too free, too wild. ”Rent is cheap, studio space is cheap, but for every artist, there’s also a spot on a guest list,” says Alex Konuk, the half-American, half-German owner of 8MM, a dive bar with an intellectual air. ”So the test here is being able to live up to the creative standards you’ve set for yourself.”


Things are invariably provisional, experimental, cerebral. But what could be a Teutonic bore is leavened with a comic exuberance that is irony-free. There is no better place to enjoy this than at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke Bar in the still-raw neighborhood of Friedrichshain. Monster himself — a k a Ron Rineck, a 32-year-old American expat decked out in a Mohawk, suit and tie — greets you at the door and ushers your party to one of the many soundproof karaoke booths. Rineck has been in Berlin almost since the beginning. His story is one of the weirdest, but it’s also emblematic of how much Berlin has changed, and how much it has stayed the same.

The pleasingly odd websites of some of these creative types featured in the article, such as Toby Dammit and Jessie Evans, are worth a visit.  [H/t: bro]

10 thoughts on “‘One Big Arty Party’

  1. “Berlin, the biggest city in continental Europe by far, …”, someone buy that man a map.
    i’ve heard about americans poor geographical orientation skills but this does take the cake. paris was round about twice to thrice the size of berlin … technically moscow would qualify too, as far continental europe goes btw.

    but of course i’m just a “besserwisser” … and the nyt’s relationship with the realm of the factual is well documented. ; )


  2. No, westernworld,it’s true – technically, Berlin is the “biggest” city in continental Europe. Not only if you define “big” by a city’s geographical dimensions. Even by population, Paris is only three times bigger if you include the so-called “unite urbaine”, its metropolitan region. The city of Paris itself has 2.16 million inhabitants.

    You are of course right insofar as for anybody living in a city or visiting it, this technical difference isn’t felt. The Paris region is perceived as a city of 10 million.


  3. > There is no better place to enjoy this than at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke BarDoesn’t it speak volumes about a city if a karaoke bar is considered a unique and original establishment.P.S. Have you had a look at 8MM‘s photo section? It shows a pool table, a DJ and a few people getting drunk. Got to admire the intellectual air.


  4. >Paris is only three times bigger if you include the so-called “unite urbaine”, its metropolitan region.

    And by this standard Hamburg is bigger and has a higher population than Berlin.


  5. @ psychopompous, thank you for pointing that out i thought it works the same way london does where what is covered by the glc is considered london, and what lies beyond is the commuter-arrondissementsarea. i’d never suspected they only count the inner 20 or so arrondissments.


  6. In this more recent article, the Berlin bureau chef of the very New York Times highlights Munich’s “refinement” and suggests that the city, while “quaint” and “stodgy”, might have the edge over Berlin at the moment because it is more “livable”. The author holds that Munich’s “marriage” of commerce and aesthetics make it a natural for the field of design, whereas “Berlin’s thrift-store, ’80s-inspired counterculture can feel a little flat, monochromatic, even uniform at times.”

    Difficult to figure out, for the uninitiated, to which place to go first. Maybe Hamburg is the real winner and the best choice as a place that is both livable and socially tolerant. And if that’s of any relevance, it’s bigger than Berlin too, as someone pointed out.


  7. @Norbert: As I live in Munich, I can assure you that it’s nice and livable, but a bit boring and, essentially, not exactly a city … more like a giant village. Hamburg as much more cosmopolitan flair about, IMHO.


  8. > westernworld: the nyt’s relationship with the realm of the factual is well documented
    Indeed. Here’s a better written account of Germania’s brave new citizenry, as funny as it is insightful, which we may safely attribute to the lesser amount of air in the author’s head – besides, the guy actually lived here and speaks the locals’ dialect, so it’s not all that surprising that he didn’t deliver a delirious bag o’ wonders.

    Henning Sußebach, ZEITmagazin LEBEN, 08.11.2007 Nr. 46:
    “Der Berliner Stadtteil Prenzlauer Berg ist das Experimentierfeld des neuen Deutschlands. Doch wer nicht ins Raster passt, hat es schwer im Biotop der Schönen und Kreativen”

    The piece is titled “Bionade-Biedermeier” — touché, as it tells all about shallow fizz. Berlin misses the bourgeois middle ground, that as of yet enriches both Munich and particularly Hamburg (where still a lot of things are truly gediegen), providing the humus, all others can thrive on. Hipsters and proles (yes, again!) only carry so far, particularly when their children are mostly not all that creative and precocious, knowaddamean, say no more. But that’s not for fizzy socialism of the bleeding heart, Bionade-supping variety to see. To give due contrast, here’s the result of our southern elite going awry:

    Die Starnberger Republik, Die Zeit, Stephan Lebert und Stefan Willeke, 20.12.2006 Nr. 52:
    “Nirgendwo in Deutschland leben mehr Millionäre als am Starnberger See. Der Staat, das sind sie – auch der Bürgermeister fürchtet ihre Anwälte. Besuch bei der Oberschicht, die lebt, wie es ihr gefällt.”

    A price winning article on the oligarchy ruling over one of the nation’s most beautiful lake – some millionaires, zur Kenntlichkeit entstellt, asked for the Presserat to intervene.


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