Clearing the Air About Berlin

"Berlin shows no clear CO2 reduction trend since 2008."
from Soot Free Cities' clean air report, 2015.

Bagger 288, the world's scariest biggest coal-extracting machine. 

This post isn't about Berlin's underground life but its overground life: trees, crops, water and wildlife (including the exotic and unpredictable species of humans who live here).  What's the one thing that they all depend on?  Air.  

In 2011, Berlin was ranked the city with the best clean air policy in Europe in a Soot Free Cities report.  In the last five years, however, it's fallen to fifth place.  To anyone who's noticed the constant greyish haze on the horizon in recent months, this is probably not such big news.  It is, however, something that you won't hear about in the mass media.  That's why I've decided to write this post and 'clear the air' (pun intended) about it.  

Despite being about as above-ground as you can get, air quality in Berlin still seems to be an underground issue.  Few in the activist scene seem concerned about it.  The Stop A-100 anti-motorway movement touched on it briefly, but that movement seems to be in hiatus now that the motorway is going ahead as planned.  There was a small movement against the expansion of Schoenefeld airport a few years ago, due to pollution concerns, but it seems to have vanished into thin air (sorry - did it again!). 

Maybe that's because the issue of air quality just doesn't stir up as much controversy as things like refugee rights and affordable housing do.  Yet at the same time, it transcends them.  Everyone in Berlin is affected by air quality, or will be in the future.

The declining air quality in Berlin seems to have been affected by three things: official apathy, an increase in cheap flights, and a rise in coal energy in Germany.   

The shortcomings in Berlin's official stance on air pollution are covered in the Soot Free Cities report, the highlights of which are below:

Reduction of Local Emissions: "PM10 has increased at measuring stations with high traffic volumes. Daily limit values were exceeded at some stations in 2014."  Nitrogen is also higher than average.  This suggests an increase in car traffic.  Personally, I've noticed huge traffic jams in my area daily,  on roads that had a very light flow two years ago, so it's easy to see how that could add up to a rise in car pollution. 

Low Emissions Zones: "Berlin's LEZ has led to significant emission reductions. Soot emissions from exhaust pipes decreased by more than 50% and NOx by about 20%."

Clean Public Vehicles: "The bus fleet in Berlin is already completely equipped with diesel particulate filters.  One fourth of the city’s cleaning vehicles today are fuelled with gas. 400 new utility vehicles (garbage vehicles, power sweepers etc.) will possibly use SCR systems or hybrid engines."  Quite a lot of that is in the future, so I guess we'll have to wait for the next report to see how they did. 
Public transport: "The city shows little activities [sic] to expand public transport despite a continuous increase of customers."  (And they're raising the prices).

Cycling: "The expansion of the cycling network [...] was too small compared to the increasing demand..." As anyone cycling past the East Side Gallery or Brandenburger Tor will have noticed!

Air travel wasn't included in the Soot Free Cities report, but the Berlin flight authority has said that air traffic's increased by 77% in the last 11 years.   Call me crazy, but there might just be a connection between that and Berlin's worsening air quality. 

Coal energy is also a huge issue, though.  For one thing, coal stoves are still common in Berlin's old buildings, despite being outlawed in most other metropolises due to air quality concerns. Also, Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Economics recently reported that:

"[While] CO2 emissions steadily fell from 1,051 million metric tons in 1990 to 813 million tons in 2011, in 2012 and 2013, CO2 emissions rose again to 841 million tons. This can largely be attributed to an increase in the use of lignite (coal) for electricity production." 

Coal isn't just bad for the air, it's also a major source of mercury pollution.  Mercury is incredibly toxic to the brain (see Mad Hatter disease) and makes any animal that consumes it unsafe to eat.  (It's because of mercury that salmon and tuna - and whale - are off the menu for most health-conscious people).  So this one isn't just a concern for Asthmatic Berliners.  But at least there is some hope on that front: in 2015 Germany agreed to reduce coal energy usage further to help meet its 2020 CO2 limits. 

In the meantime, readers of this blog who live in Berlin may be interested to know that Vattenfall, which is probably the most visible energy provider in Berlin, relies very heavily on coal.  Vattenfall is currently planning to sell their remaining coal reserves... but that isn't exactly reassuring (the new owner is probably going to want to burn that coal, too!).  There are plenty of alternative energy providers out there though, since Germany is a leader in that field. 

But I'm far from being an expert in this subject, so let me know what you think.  Is Berlin a green city or is it just green-washed?  Share your views in the comments box below!




Art Is The Answer: What Was The Question?

"Berlin is a prime destination on the bargain flight trail for now, and so its art scene is booming... for now.  But that boom obviously can't last forever.  The  forces that attract the world to Berlin - cheap oil, low wages, and the low prices they create - are unsustainable.  But so is the alternative: turning Berlin into a relentlessly gentrified enclave for the world's wealthy, where the prices are too high for artists and other people on low incomes to survive.  The city needs a new model if it's going to hang onto what it has here, and with so many creative minds present, there is a brief window of opportunity for the art scene to help create that.  Is the scene making the most of it?"


Hanfparade 2015 - Video Review

This week, I've been doing a lot of editing work and didn't feel like writing a post, but I have made this very short video about the Hanfparade, the annual weed legalization demo in Berlin.  It happened last Saturday, and all of this footage was shot in Tiergarten.

The theme of the parade was medical marijuana and there were some great costumes, stalls and signs to illustrate the value of using marijuana as a medicine, to make fabrics, and to highlight some of the other practical uses that 'the demon weed' has.  But since this blog's focus is on nightlife, the video shows scenes from the street party at the end of the parade, in Brandenburger Tor.

Hope you enjoy it :-)


Review: Free Openairs Day in Berlin

When: August 1, 2015.

Where: All around Berlin: in the woods, in an abandoned building and a few other sites.

Why: Free Open Airs Day was both a celebration of free open air techno parties in Berlin, and a protest against police repression of open air parties.  For more details about the concept, please see this post. 

Who: There were a number of sound systems involved in Free Open Air Day, but this particular party was done by Zuruck Zu Den Wurzeln (Back to the Roots).  They're a popular party crew which draws hundreds of idealistic Berliners (both indigenous and imported) to dance to techno, psytrance, and tech house in the fields.  Their events are very popular because they're well-organized and can easily beat some of the clubs in the city for the quality of their lights, sound and atmosphere. 

What: Atmosphere-wise, the party was safe, child-friendly, liberal and had a mix of nationalities, races, genders and ages.  The dancefloor was a tight-knit group of friendly nutters, all full of energy and laughter, even if some of them were a bit worse for wear.  About 70 people were there at the start, but many more turned up during the night.

Music-wise, this was one of the most energetic openair parties I've been to in Berlin.  People were flinging themselves around like gypsies to DJ Little Kris who egged them on with a neverending stream of frantic tunes.  His set was a tight mix of new skool & old skool techno, with a touch of psy and hard house thrown in.  He seemed to specialize in finding quirky samples that made people wonder what they were hearing as it made them bounce compulsively on the dancefloor. 

How: do you find out about more stuff like this?  You keep on reading this blog!

Cheers xx


Towing the Party Line II: Tag des Illegalen OpenAirs

Illegal open air party under Warschauer Bruecke
With all the hype about Zug der Liebe last weekend, I almost forgot about this weekend's upcoming dose of mischievous musical mayhem.  A collective of open air party sound systems in the capital has decided to declare this Saturday August 1st 'Illegal Open Airs Day'.

Illegal open air parties used to be considered a 'Berlin thing', probably because they were continuing on the tradition that started with free techno raves in the early 1990s.   The music changed over the years but until 2013, there were still shed loads of illegal open airs in Berlin's parks and disused lots playing house, funk, hip hop and sometimes live acts.  These parties weren't very big, loud or obnoxious - nor were they easy to find - but they were still incredibly popular... some of the more intrepid tourists would come here just to track them down.  But over time, the police became so good at shutting open air parties down that most of the sound systems stopped bothering to go out at all.

Often, the police would close down parties in response to a complaint by one or two bitter old people who had somehow managed to track down the isolated open air site, call the cops and complain that they were being forced to stare at dozens of younger people who were having more fun than they ever got to have, while listening to music that they never liked, in a place where they didn't want to see people or hear music.

Of course, there are whiny old people in every community, but the cops usually know how to deal with them: they take their complaints with a grain of salt.  When Joe Geriatric calls the cops to complain that his neighbour's French bulldog looks a bit psycho, they know better than to race over there with a shotgun and blow its head off.  But when it comes free open air parties, the reaction of the police is much less level-headed.  Every illegal open air that gets a single complaint here gets shut down without discussion.  The cops in Berlin are generally good about giving the sound system time to wind down and pack up, but nonetheless, its obvious they're not giving the party scene an inch.  Their hardline approach seems disproportionate though, since open air parties tend to be crime-free zones. 

In fact, nothing happens at openair parties that you wouldn't find at any licensed public event.  People don't get hurt more often; they are not more intoxicated; the music isn't any louder; no one gets ripped off (which makes illegal open airs better than most licensed events); no property gets damaged because Berliners are pretty good about cleaning up after themselves.  There's usually not even a business nearby, so no one can claim that they're losing customers to the open air party.

It seems that illegal open air parties get closed down for committing purely ideological 'crimes'.  The old people complain because techno isn't their sound; the Senate complains because it thinks that consumers should earn the right to dance; the cops impose limits just to remind the public who's in control.  It's more of a ritual to keep everybody towing the line, than a way of protecting the people - in effect, a way of imposing capitalist and conformist norms.

As the organizers of 'Illegal Open Airs Day' have said on their page: "We do not understand why we can't use a public space (yes, it  belongs to us all) to celebrate our love for electronic music and open-air dance culture".  It's a simple question.  To answer that question, Berlin probably needs to have a debate about free openairs, where the public can come to an agreement on which spaces can be used and how.  But why do that, when you can criminalize people for asking the
question, instead?

"We have piped unto you ever since the first of May, the most pleasant tune of the Agreement of the People, but you have not danced up so roundly as so sprightly a tune deserves..." 

The Levellers c. 1648


Towing the Party Line: Zug Der Liebe, Saturday July 25th

"Peace, joy and pancakes!" 
...thus ran the motto for the Berlin Love Parade.  The Love Parade was founded in 1989 to celebrate DJ Dr. Motte's birthday.  It was originally billed as a protest and had an ambitiously broad range of demands: global disarmament, unity through music and an end to food poverty.  The solution offered to all these problems was simple enough: bring people together to dance, hug and share. Tomorrow, the Zug der Liebe demo & street party will be doing something a bit similar, but it has made some necessary updates to the template that its predecessors created. 

At the time when the first Love Parade happened, its organizers had a glaring example of division, corruption and repression sitting right on the doorstep that it could react to: the German Democratic Republic, lurking darkly behind the Berlin Wall.  Droves of people were coming through the newly opened Wall, and they had been controlled by the state in pretty much every way, for most of their lives.  As pointed out by writer Anna Funder in her book 'Stasiland', even dancing was considered a potential threat in the GDR.  Officials even invented a state-sanctioned dance of their own, the Lipsi, to ensure revellers would remain free from any subversive tendencies:

"The Lipsi step was the East's answer to Elvis and decadent foreign rock n' roll.  it was a dance invented by a committe, a bizarre hipless camel of a thing. In not one of this panoply of gestures do the dancers' hips move."

The repression of the Cold War era was so blatant that it must have been easy for the Love Parade's organizers to decide how to react to it: throw a street party and invite the whole city to join in and go crazy in a frenzy of wiggling hips.  It was an obvious solution to an obvious problem.  The only things that they needed, to break through the boundaries of the old Berlin & usher in the future, were speakers, some decks and a truck.  Simplicity was the beauty of the street party formula, as was the fact that it could be expanded to accommodate millions of people... and eventually, that's how big it got.

By the early 2000's, the memories of Cold War repression had faded and the Love Parade didn't seem to be fighting against anything anymore... but it wasn't fighting for anything that was all that different from what was already available everywhere in the West: consumerism.  Criticisms abounded as the Love Parade slid deeper into the illusory whirl of materialism, with brand name sponsorship deals and major drinks manufacturers setting up stands.  The spectacle included superstar DJs and unattainable dancing babes that drew dodgy blokes from all over the world to ogle (at least, that was what it was like when I went).  The Love Parade had become a demonstration in favour of self-delusion - a key ingredient in the new capitalist world. It was a place where you became another person for a day; a place where Berlin became another city.  But the next day, it went back to being a place where the homeless were harangued by cops, idealistic squatters were evicted and public spaces were sealed up behind privatized gates.

In 2010 the Love Parade did a party in Duisburg which ended in a human stampede, several tragic deaths and dozens of injuries, and the owners of the brand decided to call it quits.  But, like I said at the start of this post, the Zug der Liebe organizers aren't planning to carry on where the  Love Parade left off.  The organizers may have been inspired by the Love Parade's earlier, better years, but their emphasis is firmly on finding tangible ways of helping the community to unite. 

"We want to make a statement as a political demonstration for community, love and empathy," said organizer Jens Schwan in an interview with Berliner Morgenpost.  Jens also seems to be the author of several long, impassioned ideological texts that defend Zug der Liebe's aims on its webpage.  On their Facecrack page, the event's followers debate and chime in with similar texts with shameless abandon.  They may be a bit older than the usual Berlin club kids and they may like to party, but these people are clearly a long way from being burned out or out-of-touch.

The Zug der Liebe's organizers have altered the Love Parade concept in a way that actually stands a chance of challenging some of the the uglier socio-political norms of Berlin in 2015: they've invited several activist and community groups to help them with the organization (see list below).  It seems like an acknowledgement of the fact that Berlin is facing far more multifaceted barriers today than it did in 1989.  There is a much more casual infrastructure of mutual exploitation and suspicion taking shape here that I suspect didn't exist when political tensions dictated the city's mood.  Instead of an overtly watchful regime and a highly visible Wall, Berlin now struggles against psycho-social barriers that are shifting and invisible: racists who assume all refugees are lazy, locals who assume all foreigners are idiots, men who bully women, homophobes who insist queers are demanding 'special treatment' and a government and business community that believes the economy matters more than human health, or the environment.

These assumptions all seem to stem from the same source: the encroachment of free market capitalism. That's clearly the system favoured by the berlin Senate, who will do pretty much anything for a buck.  The rumour that it sold Tacheles (a subcultural mecca in Mitte) to a bank for a dollar might just be a myth, but people are prepared to believe it because, hey: it's totally their style.

Under free market capitalism, keeping people in their homes, cut off from one another, makes total economic sense.  At the most basic, local level, people who are alienated from one another will spend more money than people who are unified in mutual respect and trust.  The same trend is obvious globally: people who fear unrest and persecution fill the coffers of arms manufacturers, buying guns to defend themselves and bombs to pre-emptively attack each other. People who are afraid of having no one to look after them when they're vulnerable fill the coffers of the pharmaceutical, banking and insurance industries.

This new order almost seems like it is the polar opposite of the old order that Berlin lived under, until twenty five years ago; an order in which 'togetherness' was all but mandated by the socialist state.   Perhaps one extreme has led to another; the stifling socialist regime has done a 180 degree turn and become a stifling individualist one.  Berlin urgently needs to find its middle ground if it is going to hang onto the social and cultural advances it has made, since the fall of the Wall.  And in part, those advances were enabled by idealistic, free party people who did things like the Love Parade... and now, the Zug der Liebe (which means The Love Train, in case you were wondering).

Zug der Liebe represents a growing and well-informed Berlin scene of people who believe that they should work together for tangible, long-term changes which help the city, as opposed to making a few flashy, superficial changes that last for one day only.  Some of the networks they are bringing together tomorrow to try and achieve this include:

*C3S (An anti-GEMA copyright agency).  

*Friends of Mauerpark eV, who is dedicated to saving Prenzlauer Berg's famous flea market, green space and the site of Bearpit karaoke.

*Berlin FM- Berlin's only community-funded radio station, and purveyor of cheap fun events for all scenes and ages (they do a pretty wicked late night mix for party people too)

*Schwuz, the oldest gay club in the city, which also hosts some of the freshest, biggest (and still affordable) parties for those in the know, at its sprawling Neukolln base. 

*GleisBeet eV, an urban gardening project

*Tiergarten Tafel eV a pet food charity, supporting homeless pets

*Gangway eV Streetwork Berlin which assists homeless people with outreach in Berlin.

...and of course, assorted openair and community-minded party crews.  For more info about the music, a listing of the 'train' wagons can be found here. 

They also state that they are against the A100, a highway through Berlin which will wipe out even more of our favourite clubs (Salon Zur Wilden Renate and about:blank among them); the TransAtlantic Trade Treaty (which takes us a step closer to a world in which multinational corporations have total control over governments); and that they support giving more aid to Berlin kids who live in disadvantaged areas.

They're particularly focused on persuading the Senate to protect Berlin's many cultural festivals instead of fenangling the regulations in order to bleed them dry as soon as they become a bit popular (e.g. the Fete de la Musique, which was recently re-classified from a festival to a city wide 'concert' in order to enable GEMA to charge more copyright fees.  One-fifth of the Fete's budget is now being hoovered up by GEMA, apparently, even though the majority of artists performing at Fete de la Musique are  unsigned and ad-hoc, and therefore not receiving any financial support from GEMA whatsoever.  Read more about GEMA here.)

"We have no sponsorship, no merchandising," said Jens in his interview.  The organizers want to show that their generation is more than a "hedonistic, apolitical and consumption-horny party crowd."

I wish I could provide you with more direct quotes from the organizers, but I missed their press conference due to a flat tire (!@£$??).  But the above translations will give you the general idea: they're cool, and you should really get down there tomorrow and support 'em!

Zug der Liebe is on Saturday July 25th. Starts 2 p.m. at Frankfurter Tor.


Underground for e.V.er.


"These past few years have been like that boiling-frog analogy, in reverse. Berlin has gradually crept toward a richer convergence of its various dance music styles, but it's done so in such tiny increments that we didn't even realize it was happening.  It was only when I brought my friend Sisyphos that I suddenly felt the heat.  Finally, Berlin is living up to its hype: this scene is in a full-on boil."