Archive for the ‘gentrification’ Tag

Berlin’s visitors (part 2)

I first visited Berlin a few years ago, and, like so many people, I was struck by how many people pass through the city, attracted by its aura of easy-going coolness. Some are tourists, some are artists,some are backpackers who appreciate the low cost of living, some are academics…Berlin is like a nodal point in the flows of people in and around Europe: most people, at some point, travel to Berlin and fall in love with something about the city.

Like so many, after i visited, I wanted to return, and did so this month. I was struck all over again by Berlin’s coolness and relaxed creativity, but I also thought that something had changed. There is now a more noticeable sense of tension in relation to the many visitors who flow in and out of Berlin. This manifests in various ways. Local residents told me that there is a lot of tension in gentrifying areas, where bars and backpacker hostels have opened up, with residents repeatedly calling the police to complain about noise. Individuals running the various walking tours around Berlin neighbourhoods report that locals often make angry or aggressive comments as they pass by (and this happened to the ‘street art walking tour’ that I went on, as we walked through Kreuzberg). Visitors, whether tourists or outside investors snapping up cheap property, are seen as key contributors to the gentrification process, which results in rents going up for locals and communities either fragmenting or being displaced. there is perhaps a little less warmth towards visitors in some areas than there might have been a few years ago, especially in those areas where gentrification is actively underway.

There’s lots more to say in relation to the complexities of what’s happening in Berlin, but it’s interesting here to look at the various visual traces of the tensions around ambivalence (or sometimes even antagonism) towards those who visit Berlin.

Here’s a tour group, being introduced to the enormous Victor Ash mural in Kreuzberg. The guide was earnestly explaining to the tourists that having this mural on the building will increase the building’s value.

tour

All around Berlin, you can find these stickers, revisions of the ‘I heart Berlin’ (or New York or London or wherever) tourist cliché. They read ‘Berlin Doesn’t Love You’. These ones are located right next to the Victor Ash mural, a site at which almost every walking tour will visit.

doesnt

Another sign of the ways tourists make problematic incursions into the city: property investors buy up all or most of the apartments in a building and rent them to tourists/ short-term visitors. The names of individuals next to entry bells disappear; instead all you can see here are the agency codes for each apartment. Previous residents will have been bought out; any community within the building has been destroyed.

flats

And here’s a beautiful building in Kreuzberg: the one with ‘DACH’ rollered onto its roof (which is funny because ‘dach’ means ‘roof’ in German. It is dilapidated and empty right now but has been bought by a foreign investor and will be turned into a boutique hotel:

hotel

As part of the investor’s control of the space, the facade is now rented to approved advertisers, whose ads are taped on to the outer hoardings, with tape proclaiming that unauthorised additions will lead to prosecution. Sigh.

reclaim

At the same time, of course, since spaces can never be entirely tied down in the way the company obviously hope, various individuals have added tags and other ‘unauthorised’ images. You can see a pasted-up poster that speaks of ‘reclaiming our city’ and you can see a lot of these political posters, protest slogans and anti-gentrification graffiti around the city. So, like all cities, Berlin is in flux, undergoing change. But the ways in which it is resisting and contesting those changes are writ large on the surfaces of the city.

Berlin’s visitors (part 1)

As mentioned in the previous post, I have been in Berlin recently. I spent ten days there researching a bit of what’s happening in the street art scene there, with a particular interest in the ways that neighbourhoods associated with street art are starting to change: this can be called gentrification, and such a term certainly covers some of what’s going on, but there are also other features to the social changes taking place (one of which is called ‘touristification’, and more on that another time).

It’s three years since I was last in Berlin, and much has changed, while other aspects were pleasurably familiar. In 2010 I was struck by how many artists from outside Berlin visited, drawn to its creative scene, and sometimes stayed on, becoming more than a visitor.

Anyway, during my visit there, ‘residence’ was a frequently occurring theme: who lived in which neighbourhood, for how long, what made someone a ‘real Berliner’, and what effects the many thousands of visitors per year have on Berlin’s identity, income, and atmosphere. I felt very conscious of my visitor-status there, and a little more uncomfortably self-conscious than in the past.

But the conflicts and tensions around Berlin’s many tourists and visitors is a topic for a later post. For now, here are some of the works left by Berlin’s recent visitors to its streets.

Here’s a piece by Alice Pasquini (with addition!) on the Oberbaumbrucke:

alice

Dscreet and Reka, in the Haus Schwartzenberg courtyard:

dscreet

Same location, lovely piece by Cake:

cake

And Roa, on Schonhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg:

roa

I’ll write more about the tensions around ‘visiting Berlin’ later….

The Shocks of the New (apologies to Robert Hughes)

It’s always pleasant to be able to revisit places for street art and to be able to see, over the years, how favourite artists are evolving (hopefully). As mentioned in the last post, I was able to see a show by Miss.Tic, an artist whose work I’ve enjoyed for many years. I also went back to several locations that had featured a lot of street artworks in the past – around Belleville, for example, or in parts of the Marais, or near the Canal St Martin – and was rewarded by some interesting new works. here are some of them…..

And some artists whose work I had seen in Berlin in 2010 (Prost, Alias and others) seem to have been visiting recently, and they have put work up, in clusters, all around different parts of Paris:

Every new discovery brings with it a little jolt of pleasure. To walk around a corner and see a beautifully constructed artwork, or to catch a glimpse of something high up on the rooftops – anyone who appreciates street art will be well acquainted with these experiences. But ‘newness’ can also bring shocks that are not quite so pleasurable. For example, as I mentioned, I went to Belleville, a hilly, hectically multicultural part of Paris that is home to Paris Free Walls in the rue Denoyez (which feels rather like Hosier Lane, for anyone reading this in Melbourne). Paris Free Walls organises walls for artists to paint and collaborate on. Here’s a great one, featuring the work of Dode Shillinglaw and Ben Slow on rue Amelot:

Belleville is also close to Le Mur (The Wall), the curated ex-billboard space that features a regular turnover of artists, some well-known, some new.

Here’s what was on Le Mur when I went to see it:

Sounds all good, right? Spaces with a regular turnover of work, some legal, some illegal, street art happily existing within a local community….

And, yes, that’s so, except that when I went to see La Forge, an area that had housed the studios of some fantastic street artists and had displayed some amazing work within its spaces, it was clear that nothing should be taken for granted when street art is concerned (something that I do know, but had forgotten). Two years ago, I visited La Forge, and spent a fascinating few hours with Jean Faucheur and with L’Atlas, both really interesting artists. On this occasion, the gate appeared locked, there was no sign of any access to the studios, and the open space at the front looked semi-derelict, with a whole row of cars parked in it. In addition, there was this:

This is a ‘Permet de Construire’ (Construction Permit), indicating that the site is to be developed. Well, if the housing that results provides accommodation for people in need, then all well and good, I guess. But I;m not sure it will – my suspicion is rather that this is one instance of a dynamic we have seen in cities many times before (Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fitzroy in Melbourne, the East End of London). Street art is part of what establishes an area as an interesting, vibrant district; gentrification ensues. There’s a vast amount of academic literature on gentrification (and the connection between it and street art is one of the issues my new research will study), but it’s summed up nicely by this stencil, seen when I was in Stokes Croft (an area clearly on the verge of gentrification) in Bristol the other week…

Nothing stays the same on the street; that’s part of its pleasures (unlike museums, which exist more to preserve, or freeze, culture). But sometimes the newness brings little chills with it, especially those moments when you imagine you can see a whole neighbourhood beginning to change. Given that street art is associated as much with rising rents, the exclusion of artists who can’t pay those rising rents, merchandising, ‘hipsterdom’, and commerce as it is with any kind of pure creativity (if such a thing exists), then these moments, imaginary or not, should give us pause.

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