30.7.15

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

24.7.15

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.



13.7.15

Underground for e.V.er.

"London's not the center of techno anymore. It's definitely in Berlin!!"

This was not your usual hyperbole coming from a tourism board PR rep whose never been clubbing in his or her life. This was coming from my English friend Mel, shouting in my ear in the big techno room at Sisyphos, a 20-year veteran of London's deepest, darkest underground parties, too.

Back when I first moved to Berlin, the clubs here were kinda boring but those days are hard to remember now. You would never have found proper banging techno or house playing in places like Sisyphos.  It was all slow, drugged-out and commercial; the sound of someone limply writhing in Ketamine and glitter (not as cool as it sounds). There weren't any techno openairs like those that Sounds For Berlin, Reclaim the Gorli and so on have been doing.  The temple of bass called Gretchen did not exist and Stattbad hadn't yet started up its Boiler Room sessions.  Even the F*ck Parade used to have half a dozen boring floats.   The shunkel music sound was as inescapable and annoying as that loud ringing noise it left in your ears the next day.

But that's all changed.  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.   Not just in Sisyphos, either.  But it's a good example of a club that has come into its own, blending the surreal elements of Renate with the atmospheric warehouse techno of Berghain and the house music intensity of Wall of Sound into some sort of perfect Berlin all-in-one experience. They even have a massage parlour and a sweet shop.   And a lake.  (The chickens aren't there anymore, though, unfortunately).

It wasn't hard to see why my mate was blown away.

I was relieved that it's not just me who thinks things are improving, here.  Most Berlin promoters used to seem like were only interested in finding a misguided shortcut to glamour and fame.  Now, they're doing parties for a purpose, as a concept, as a protest.  They're doing them to change things now, and more importantly, for a good time.  And they seem less inclined to use the industry's coke-covered credit line to judge how good the night is, instead going by mood on the dancefloor.

My friend and I went outside and stood under the lampshade trees by the lake and she said, "Yeah, I reckon this is what would happen if one of the squat parties in London kept on going on for years. Why don't they do something like this in London, in fact?'

The answer is always the same: the authorities don't let it. At the slightest sign that some group is putting down roots, the government goes into overdrive trying to uproot them, or (if they go legal) forcing a profiteering mindset on them.  It bogs their ideals down with licensing fees and absurd health and safety regulations.  This way, it constantly seals up those untapped veins of creativity in red tape, so only the most obsessive bean-counters can succeed at a game that was created by and for an autonomous and anarchistic elements of society.

"They always have to kill the golden goose, don't they?" Mel lamented.

"Yep, that's England for you."  Insist on the impossible. Slash and burn all your potential for an immediate return on your investment.  Expect more potential to simply arise from the ashes, fully-grown, somewhere down the road without any investment or support. Write off as worthless anything that takes time.  Kill off as a pest anything that is slowly growing toward a more promising future.  You have to wonder how these people raise kids.  You have to wonder how they even raise gardens.  (Or are those all covered in concrete, in anticipation of becoming a fourth runway for Heathrow...?)

How does Berlin avoid this same fate?  In part, it's the history - no one knows what to do with a vast, underpopulated city, so people here get a lot of slack from the officials.  But mostly, it's because the government here concedes the German people's right to direct their own cultural evolution, vis-a-vis the Eingetragener Verein (or e.V. for short).  Germany's  Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch or civil code enshrines the right for its people to create community-interest groups which bring people together in some way.  Any way at all that you can imagine.  If more than seven people with a shared set of ideals and goals get together, they can legally run almost any kind of venue as a non-profit organization - along with all the attendant tax deductions and exemptions that that entails.  Just as long as it brings people together and profit isn't its primary aim.  That's why it's rare to find anything grassroots going on in this city without that mysterious suffix e.V. at the end of its name.  (Schokoladen, Megaspree, RAW Tempel, Supamolly... even Holzmarkt and Kater Blau have an e.V. underlying their existence).  The majority of Berlin's 'squatty' venues rely upon their e.V. status to survive without too much interference from the officials. 

Virtually all of the smaller venues and organizations that fight for Berlin's right (including the right to party) are categorized as e.V....  and one day, any one of them could rise up to be the next counter-cultural complex.   Someone in government seems to know that there are limits to what bureaucracy and capitalism can achieve on their own. And a large segment of Berlin's population is constantly reminding them of that fact! 

4.7.15

Fields of Dreams: A Free Festive Guide for Summer 2015

Fusion?  Sold out.  Burning Man?  Too far out.  Glastonbury & Melt?  Rip-offs.  Boom Festival?  R.I.P. Even though the European festival circuit keeps expanding year on year, the inspiring and revolutionary events that started the trend seem to be a perpetually endangered species.  In this post, I suggest a few authentic underground festivals in Germany and Europe that are still outstripping their overhyped, overpriced competitors for both style and substance.  Follow this guide, and you may still be able to have fun in a field this summer with nothing but a backpack, some hard work and an open mind...

Free teknival crackdown in Czech, 2006
Enter the search terms 'European underground music festival' into Google and you'll get nearly endless results.  So many festivals out there, all claiming to be authentic and eclectic; yet they all seem to blend into one, big generic blur.  They all last three to four days. They all feature a man-made, pop-up hipster enclave that's burst out of some rural backwater that the local authorities have allowed to dry up in the name of austerity.  They all have a main stage featuring the same 'up and coming' viral acts that you'll find on every other festival lineup.  They all have a cultural arena full of overinflated art installations; a marketable line of trademarked clothing/posters/prints no one can afford.  They all have 'wild' afterhours raves in EDM tents where DJs you've never heard of claim to be legends, and legends that you have heard of claim to be 'just like you and me' (even though they're staying in the Rolls Royce field where the trees themselves are draped in velvet ropes).  And they are all sponsored by a major drinks manufacturer... because obviously, two hundred Euros per ticket isn't enough to cover costs.     

It's funny to think that just a decade or two ago, free festivals in all of the European nations were  besieged by high-and-mighty authorities who claimed they'd never stand for this sort of drugged-out debauchery in their land.  But now that those same fields have had dreams of real freedom wrenched from them by the grassroots, they're being re-sown with a prefab freedom that makes money for those same authorities.  If this homogenous European Festivalfranchise is making anyone out there rich, though, it's not you or me, or any of the artists involved.  The solution?  Avoid corporate festivals like the plague and check out one of the following events instead!

Nowhere  
Northern Spain
7-10 July 2015
Considered by some to be Europe's answer to Burning Man, Nowhere is  a cash-free 'arts experiment' that takes place each year in Northern Spain.  It shares the same principles as Black Rock City does (Self-expression, freedom to be yourself, Self-reliance, No commerce, Leave no trace, Participation, Inclusion, Gifting, Co-operation, Community and Immediacy). 
Nowhere is a must if you like the Burning Man ethos, but feel that flying halfway around the planet to take part in it will leave more than a 'trace' of damage on the earth. (Photo from nowhereinspain.wordpress.com) 



Gruenefeld, Germany
17-19 July 2015
It's small and organized by Berlin's own carnivalesque nightlife collective Pynonen.  Whatever mistakes Nation has made over the years, it still gets the loyalty vote from thousands of people in the capital's party scene... and watching the organizers running around like nutters trying to keep it all under control is just part of the fun!  Nation is easily reachable from Berlin, even if getting back is (to use the German term) kind of a 'shit-fight'.   Musically, you'll find the same soulful tech-house and minimal that's played in all Berlin clubs, plus a bit of banging techno and ironic retro tunes on the lakeside stage.  But there's plenty of nature and weird, wonderful decor to explore with your festive friends. NoG tickets start at 82,00 Euros. 

Nation of Gondwana is a must if the weather's great and lots of friends are going... or if you're a day-tripper of the dreamy, psychedelic kind.  Just don't expect any psytrance!
 
Chepstow, UK 
13 - 16 August, 2015
"Are you disenchanted with austerity and consumerism?" asks the website for Green Gathering. You should come to this festival if you believe that getting off the corporate grid is not an end, but a beginning.  Activism, self expression, living holistically and sustainability are the order of the day.  Hippies, anarchists, environmentalists, shamans and other mind expansionists meet up at this family-friendly gathering which features everything from story telling to radical political discussion.
Green Gathering is a must if you're looking for a pop-up slice of utopian, gritty, practical counterculture.  (Photo from GG website)


 East Sussex, UK
11-13 September, 2015, UK
Like Germany's Pyonen, Mischief was born from the underground party scene in its home country (England).  As a result, its organizers seem to have close ties to the crusty festival circuit and urban squat party scene, as well as bringing in a kaleidoscopic array of musicians and artists to showcase every year.  Not only is Mischief dedicated to creativity in all its non-musical forms but the organizers also have their finger firmly pressed to the underground pulse, with everything from Dancehall to drum n' bass to gabba to SP23 playing on their various stages.  "Mischief is a fully independent festival receiving no sponsorship or outside investment" says the website.  I'm just relieved their would-be sponsors aren't sending any riot cops around to shut it down! Tickets from 84 pounds and up... but worth it!
Mischief photo by JustAnotherMagazine

Teknivals and Street Parties
all around Europe
all summer long
For those that like to really rough it, there are less elaborate but well-organized smaller teknivals out there.  They can be found by word of mouth or occasionally by tracking Facebook pages like Teknival Europe.
Teknivals are a must if you're the type of person that plans a chilled drink with your mates, yet somehow wakes up next to a wall of speakers in a field.  (Photo by DuMonde)


Hanfparade is a must if you smoke so much that you can't remember what you're...hang on, what was I saying?
And for a totally free urban celebration, there are about a zillion street parties all around Europe each summer... and 99% of them seem to take place in Berlin.  The best of the bunch are the Hanfparade and Fuck Parade, which I've covered before on this blog.  A new entry this year is the Zug der Liebe which will take place in Berlin on July 25th.

As a street party, Zug der Liebe aims to 'Leave behind all things fatuous, Politically disinterested and focused on consumerism'.  (Sounds like just another day in the life of Unscene!).  Having chatted to one of the organizers at previous free events that he's done, I get the feeling that this gang are pretty emphatic about their beliefs: no to sexism, no to racism, yes to refugees, yes to all sexualities and genders. Yes to a Berlin where people, plants and animals can survive... not just investors.  And, of course, they do like to say 'yes' to free parties!  On July 25th, Zug der Liebe will be broadcasting all the above views with the aid of several mobile rigs and thousands of vocal supporters.  Yeah!

Weather permitting, it should be a pitch perfect blend of Berlin's restless drive towards a better future, and music that has mass appeal without sounding mass-produced.  And since it's coming straight from the underground, ZdL should be a magnet for all the colourful personalities, passions and eccentricities that embody Berlin's growing, post-commerical dance scene.  Hopefully, this includes you!




23.5.15

Preview: Karneval der SubKulturen

Detail of the Koepi's frontage
What's alternative about the Carnival of Cultures?  Everything and nothing.  Every culture that you'll see there - on a float, at a stall or onstage - will be some kind of an alternative to Berlin's indigenous culture.   The jerk chicken and samba bands will seem exotic to some of us for sure.  But then again, there are also parts of India and Africa where eating currywurst and drinking beer with fake raspberry syrup in it may seem exotic. It's all a matter of perspective.

The Karneval der Kulturen (May 22-25) was founded in Berlin in 1996 to combat the growing tide of nationalistic racism in the former East German capital.  Some would say that it also afforded the local prols (chavs) an excellent opportunity to work on their fake tans and get dressed up in pastel colours and bling-bling.  (Many seem to have taken that idea and run with it).

Some of the true minority cultures that are visible on the streets of Berlin (African, Jamaican, Turkish) will feature largely at the KDK though. Balkan and TurPop are two well-represented genres, and YAAM will do its ubiquitous reggae float at the street parade on Sunday

But if you're in the mood for something even more marginal than that, then check out the vast listing for Karneval performances - which will host more than a million people and 4,000 performers - by clicking here. You're bound to find something exotic... by your definitions, anyway! 

On the more 'local' end of the cultural spectrum, the Koepi will be hosting a parade and festival centered of its own.  The Karneval Der Subkulturen will focus on all the marginalized strands of German home-grown cultures: hip hop, punk, doomcore, speedcore and "industrial carnival" will be some of the sounds emananting from the gig space and cellar of the Kreuzberg punk squat located on Koepernickerstrasse.  Subhumanz (a.k.a. Citizen Fish) and Doom are two of the bands that will play... they may ring a bell for English readers of this blog or those of you who are into punk and crust.

A trad Namibian hairdo would fit in on any runway

While Berlin celebrates the exotic cultures that have been imported here from abroad, it is worth remembering that the Senate is continually squeezing alternative culture projects (like the Koepi) out of existence to replace them with something that makes more money.  Talk about stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

There are probably plenty of Germans out there who view Berlin's artists, activists, hedonists, designers, fashionistas and punk buskers as layabouts.  Yet when women in Namibia spend hours putting ochre and mud in their hair, or making elaborate bead trinkets to display, it's taken for granted that they probably aren't thinking about mortgages and unemployment rates (although anything is possible). If you only spare the cultures that generate revenues, you will always end up with a monoculture in the end. That's ethnic food for thought as Berlin heads outdoors this weekend to celebrate the culture of others.

For an African-American view of the Karneval, you can check out this entry by Black Girl in Berlin.   

Visuals at HI World Conference
Hedonist International is holding its third annual conference-festy weekender somewhere between Hamburg, Brandenburg and Berlin.  Sadly it's sold out, but it sounded promising enough for me to give it a plug as an idea for next year.  Yes, these are the same people who give their demonstrations names like 'Wet Dreams'.  They sound fun.  Here's a blurb about the conference from their site:

"Hedonist International was founded in 2006, in order to try and field test politics. It centers [on] action, which can mean a nude group visiting overpriced flats, or demonstrations for freedom and human rights, or doing gramophone concerts in Swiss homes for the elderly."   Each of their World Congresses has three parts - party, action and politics - and the events are ad hoc, freeform, and can discuss everything from gardening and food to drugs to social theory and new forms of direct action.  And of course, there's cool music to go with.

Another weekender happening in the countryside around Berlin is the bass-x-travaganza called Wax Treatment @ Kiekebusch Openair (near. Schoenefeld). It costs 15-25 Euros, lasts two days and features dnb, dub, and all the attendant fringe genres associated with those two things.

Have a great weekend!

6.5.15

Train Strikes: Getting On Board with the GDL


Melodramatic scenes like this are unlikely to occur in Berlin during the strike (the U-Bahn's too crowded for that!)
Germany’s train strike has been happening on and off for 10 months now and yet somehow, it feels like it’s been happening for about 10 years.  Perhaps that’s because the details that we hear about it never seem to change.  Every new strike comes with the same, tired preamble, stating that no progress has been made between the parties hammering out an agreement (about what?  No one really seems to know).  They tell us that the negotiations have been broken off yet again, also for reasons unknown.  Like me, you might be wondering, what's even going on here? 

After reading near-identical reports about the strikes on the Telegraph, BBC, Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Welle, I realized that the world's news outlets aren't doing much to answer that question. Their coverage all follows the same formula: half the article is spent complaining about the disrupted train services, the other half is spent quoting someone from Deutsche Bahn who is either a) criticizing the strikers or b) praising their corporation for being so patient with the strikers.   The train worker's union’s demands - a 5% pay increase and a 2 hour reduction in their working week - sometimes warrant a brief mention, like they're purely incidental. Like they're not at the very epicenter of this whole dispute. Weird. 

So I'm going to lay it out for you straight: Deutsche Bahn's management is greedy, stubborn and apparently, also wealthy enough to buy a media whitewash from every other news outlet in Europe. There. I said it. Now for the evidence.

The demands being made by the train worker's union (GDL or Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer) are pretty modest but Deutsche Bahn (which, incidentally, made 642 million Euros profit after taxes in a single quarter, according to this 2014 report) keeps on refusing to meet them.  Oddly, DB has made no attempt to justify its refusal to play nice.  But then, it doesn't have to. In July 2015 a new collective bargaining law takes effect that will effectively strip GDL of the right to act as a union.  


The new law states that only the largest trade union within a given company will allowed make collective bargaining agreements, from July onward.  So, only unions that represent vast numbers of employees will be able to take action when the bosses refuse to meet their terms.  Unions that represent people doing highly specialized jobs will no longer have the power to do things like go on strike. No wonder the DGL is aggressively pushing their case... while they still can. 

Bike-trains like this are one of the many alternative transportation methods that are used during strikes.
The new law is a sneaky attempt to erode union freedom while still theoretically allowing unions to exist.  By only allowing large unions to strike, the government can cut down on industrial actions overall, while at the same time claiming that they are liberal and democratic and tolerant... just less so than all the other administrations that have existed until now, that's all.  Unions are also prone to corruption when they get too big, so criminalizing smaller ones seems like a sneaky way to ensure that activists quickly adopt the same lowest-common-denominator, might-is-right style of thinking that their corporate bosses can 'work with'.
Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn keeps on returning to the bargaining table with DGL, just to give the public the impression that they are being cooperative.  Yet each time that they do, they tell the DGL that they won't meet their terms until they reduce the demands, as the EDV (the largest train worker's union) has already done. 
Unsurprisingly, the DGL doesn’t like the larger union's terms all that much, and they keep saying 'no'.  (D'you think that might be the reason why they started a new union?)   



What at first seems like a simple pay rise issue turns out to be about a bigger question: what are democratic rights and employment rights worth to a 'business friendly' government?  If the government is eroding the right of employees to freely assemble how and when they choose to, and to represent their own best interests, whose rights will it take away next?  That's the real unanswered question here.  But thanks to some tactful media misdirection, it hasn't even been asked.

As an upside, this whole strike malarkey offers the Berlin expat a little glimpse into the workings of the wonderful world of German employment hierarchies: a place where CEOs of big corporations can refuse a petty pay increases which bring the country to a halt, without giving a single good reason. It seems that 'because I said so' is reason enough.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the DGL is also trying to unionize staff members who aren't yet represented by them... like the cleaners and caterers at DB?  So on top of everything else, the DB is union-busting.  

There’s just no way to put a nice gloss on that now, is there?  Little wonder that Germany's (corporate monopoly-owned) newspapers have chosen to focus on how inconvenient and disruptive their strikes are, instead talking about why they keep on happening. 

So when you read the paper next, you might notice that  half of the column inches devoted to the strike talk about how bad for business it is... how many millions and billions it's costing (none of these figures seem to be attributable to actual, real people, natch).  Is the definition of a good business only how much money it makes?  Or is it also about how that money is spent to make society a better place to live and work? 



I've never heard anyone say that strikes are supposed to be fluffy joyrides of fun for all those involved.  But I don’t think that the journalists who are writing whiny articles about the strikes are really as dumb as they seem.  They're probably just trying to find a way to fill column inches without going into the ugly technicalities and avoid making the chiefs of DB look like… well, chiefs.  (I use the word in its chav-slang sense here). 



But from the unruffled calm that I've witnessed on the trains and tubes around Berlin, it seems like most people understand that the whole conflict is a bit farcical.



Many Berliners are already aware that the labour laws here can force workers to take extraordinary measures, at times.  As of 2013, one in five workers in Germany holds a so called 'mini job' (the German equivalent of a zero hours contract, e.g. a tax-free job without a pension or health benefits). The German government also has yet to implement a basic minimum wage.  Without a legal foundation to work with, it's no wonder that people often turn to strikes during these disputes. It's just amazing that it doesn't happen more often.  With labour laws being as basic as they are in Germany, I have a feeling that no legislation will prevent disputes like this from becoming more common as cost of living rises. 






So that's what's causing all the friction in that massive infrastructure we're all riding each day, in Berlin… We might think we are just riding this latest strike out and biding our time until these two remote parties sort ‘their’ issues out and the strike ends.  But the fact is that we are also being carried with them toward a new and less-shiny future, where employment will be less fair, and all of us less able to change it without breaking the law.  Are we really all aboard for that? 

29.3.15

Rhythms of Resisd@nce: Making Waves by the Pool


If you were passing through the Wiener Strasse area yesterday, you might have noticed that it was not a day for 'business as usual', down at the local pool.  Semi-nude bathers inside the pool clustered by its windowed walls to goggle at a swirling pool of dancers outside on Spreewaldplatz, making waves of the sonic kind... 

Yes, that's right: the Spreewaldplatz was briefly reclaimed by, and for, an underrepresented Berlin demographic: the ravers.  Not just the people who attend raves, but those who organize them as well: living, eating, sleeping and breathing in the liberty that is found in the city's underpopulated, undiscovered nooks and crannies. Around 90% of inner-city Berlin used to be comprised of such nooks & crannies, before the relentless march of commercialization began.  So it may be fair to say that many of the people at yesterday's 'reclaim the Gorli' party embodied the untamed spirit that put Berlin on the map in the first place.

As often reported on this blog, the city's free spirit has been bruised and disfigured by business interests, city officials and others who would prefer to box it up & sell it in some cheesy supermall.  Recently however, the free party scene has been breaking through the limitations imposed on it by the rich and powerful, and refusing to be sidelined in some distant obscure part of town. The reclaim the Gorli party seems to be the latest symptom of that fightback: ravers using their wits to secure a free space in the center, if only for a few hours at a time.   

While it was definitely a party, yesterday's event was a bona fide protest as well.  (At one point, an eminently chilled-sounding organizer responding to an angry dealer, who was ranting about an unfair arrest, by saying 'If you are angry you are welcome').  But the event was a largely non-verbal demand to dismantle the boundaries that prevent so many of us from participating fully in the city's life... psychological and stylistic boundaries, as well as ideological and monetary ones.  Some freedoms just can't be summed up on a placard or a pamphlet, it seems; they need to be exercised.  Being the change can often be as effective as demanding it. 

Things that you might have witnessed at this party included a) people doing Qui-Gong for hours under the trees whilst whistling like birds, b) speeches about racial profiling and refugees rights, c) a proud father dancing with his kid on his shoulders to speedy tekno in a 150-strong crowd d) colourful clothes, hair and banners blowing in the wind, e) a guy in a blond wig strumming a ukelele f) quasi-political speeches in praise of sunshine f) friendly nutters handing out apples and stickers and g) other assorted mash-ups and crossbreeds of scenes that exist above, below, beside and perpendicular to Berlin's mainstream.  Which is either saying something or nothing at all, because I'm not even sure if Berlin has a mainstream... 

The line of riot vans leading up to Spreewaldplatz from Gorlitzer Bahnhof only acted as a trail of breadcrumbs for party diehards to follow to the site, providing better publicity for the party than any flyering campaign could have done.  The police kept a tight rein on the sound though, only allowing the freetekno-playing DJs to increase it increments as the crowd swelled, on what seemed to be a decibel-per-head basis. But as friends were phoned and passers-by encouraged to join in, the music got louder through the day... and the night.

Meanwhile, jaded locals whizzed by without a second glance; some stopped to chat with the party's more extreme characters as easily as they would to a neighbour.  Cautiously curious tourists loitered around the edges, checking out the sub-cultural 'sight' before being gradually sucked in by its sound and movement.  They may not all have been into the music that was playing, but the atmosphere had a special appeal of its own. 

This was the third 'reclaim the Gorli' event that has happened around Goerlitzer Park recently.  There is another one planned for this Sunday afternoon (today). I think it's a great development for Kreuzberg, which is in constant danger of becoming an expensive showcase of itself; a place where tour groups can goggle at street life, on display in a shop window.  Yesterday, those roles seemed to be reversed, with the voyeurs on display in the pool while the street life was free to roam.  When it comes to saving free public spaces, it is usually a case of 'use it or lose it' and organizing democratic parties like these is a great way to use it. 

Only one sour note: the police decision to relocate these demos outside of Gorli's walls seems like a passive-aggressive tactic to ensure that the neighbours will complain about them eventually, due to a lack of sound barriers between locals & the rhythms of resistance.  That hurdle needs to be gotten around eventually - it's not hard to see how the cops may start to use residential noise fears as a reason to silence this political party broadcast.  But in the meantime, you should get down there and help them make some sonic waves of your own... with your feet!