Berlingo: May Day

As published in Siegesauele, May 2015 edition.

May 1st is a time when the spirit of change grabs us. Across Europe, people used to celebrate the day by lighting bonfires to magnify the sun’s life force. From Beltane to Walpurgisnacht, modern versions of these same celebrations embody a pre-Christian tradition of burning out the old, bad energies of winter to make way for new ones in spring. As manmade systems slowly replaced nature as the governing force in our lives, these too were added to the list of things that people yearn to regenerate. Eventually, May 1st was even chosen as International Workers’ Day to symbolize the ongoing struggle for equality between the haves and the have-nots.  

That may be why authorities tend to pour cold water on the May Day spirit: they’re afraid that they may get chucked on the fire to make way for something new. That seems to be what happened in Berlin on May 1, 1987 when police brutally clamped down on a peaceful street party in Kreuzberg. People who had gone out for a day of fun with friends and family found themselves fighting off the police side by side, instead. Together, they drove the police out of the area and blocked the streets with burning vehicles. The next day, the Man came back for what seemed to be a revenge attack, randomly arresting and injuring hundreds in the process. People from the Kreuzberg queer scene also got caught up in the action raging on Oranienstrasse, as gay bars sheltering radicals were targeted with tear gas. Like many that day, they were confronted with tangible evidence that the police and government could snuff out Kreuzberg’s laissez-faire lifestyle at anytime. It was a wake-up call.

The lines between all sectors of Kreuzberg’s society were broken down that day, but the ensuing chaos freed them up to react in a creative, unexpected way to the pressures they faced. As a result, the 1987 riots left Kreuzberg more feisty and fearless, setting the stage for an annual feud over who gets control of its streets. That feud still gets resurrected every May Day, yet the issue is far from being decided. Maybe that’s because the modern May Day celebrations tend to divide the community whereas in 1987, it united them.

Today, May Day is divided into two events: the Myfest street party and the Revolutionary May demo. The people who attend each event seem to feel that their choice best captures the spirit of the day; that it alone can give them the transformative experience that they seek. Yet both events share the same roots.  Both existed in some form before 1987, but were only able to make drastic change happen after they had been combined, and combusted. They differ in their approaches to achieving change: Revolutionary May is black-clad, ideological and unafraid of confronting authority, whereas Myfest is creative, colourful and unafraid of having fun. Yet the same old yearning for change drives them both.  

In 1987, the boundaries between revelers, revolutionaries and many other groups were burned down and rebuilt, clearing the way for a more integrated identity for Kreuzberg. There is little chance of that happening again while they are kept apart; it’s having a lit match and a pile of wood but never putting the two together. 

Party Report: Openair Party at Canteatro 23.04.2011

Republishing this early party report that I wrote about the venue now known as Kosmonaut... it's so bad, it's almost good again.  (Almost)

"I have just come home from the worst party that I have ever been to in Berlin.

"The night started well enough, with a visit to a chilled openair party by ZMF, somewhere in Neukolln. In retrospect I would have been better off staying there. However, I was tired from a day in the sun and decided to leave for home. On my way back I got a second wind, and spontaneously decided to drop in at another open-air party called "Why?" in Friedrichshain with some friends. (The party was in fact in Lichtenberg but I suspect the promoters lied about the area in order to justify charging higher prices).

"We arrived at the party only to find that the punters were being fleeced for nine euros on the door.  Nine Euros??? My friends and I gasped. With prices like that, we expected to find ourselves in the next Berghain when we passed through its hallowed gates. Instead, we got was a low-rent version of Morlox: a car park party with a few under-decorated sheds.

"Now don't get me wrong, I love Morlox!  But a huge part of its ramshackle appeal is that it has ramshackle prices to match its style.  You never pay more than a fiver to get in, even on a big night.  And if you did, you'd be going in without yours truly!  So "Why" would I pay nearly a tenner for this place?  We never found out; instead, our sky high expectations experienced a swift crash landing.

"The open-air bit of the club was as I said, a car park, complete with lines on the ground and oil stains.  There wasn't any music out there at all.  On either side of it were a couple of small, craptastic buildings - basically, two sets of walls and roofs around two small, craptastic dancefloors. So technically, the openair was not even an openair at all: it was a shed party next to a car park. 

"Dancers driven by a desperate need to justify the absurd entrance fee had crammed themselves into the first shed, making it impossible to dance in. The second shed had more space but the music was so much more boring, you could see why people were steering clear of it. 

"And the fun did not end there. On top of the aforementioned 'Friedrichshain prices', we also had to shell out a whopping 1 euro bottle pfand on our drinks. That's the highest pfand of any club in all of Friedrichshain (and in case you'd forgotten, we weren't in Friedrichshain, we were in Lichtenberg).  We could not get this euro back unless we presented an easy-to-lose scrap of paper alongside our empty bottles. Such a system seemed kind of unjustifiable in a party where every bag was searched on the way in, and the only bottles being returned were ones paid for on-site.  It was a blatant money-making scam, like the entrance price. 

"After what seemed like an eternity of asking ourselves "Why" the party organizers were so determined to make our lives hell, a dubstep/drum n bass room suddenly opened in the basement at about 2:00 a.m., giving us new territory to explore. The music and atmosphere down there were great but alas, it did not last long. Shortly after we entered the basement room an angry little man came up to me and demanded that I check my bag in the garderobe. And guess what? The garderobe was expensive too! What a surprise. I refused, and the man made some threatening gestures, then stormed off.

"Later, we tried to leave the dubstep room but were stopped by an equally hostile female staff member, who had taken it upon herself to barricade the door leading out of the basement.  "Why?" Maybe she just didn't want another one of their valued customers to flee. Eventually one of her cohorts restrained her long enough for us to leg it in the opposite direction.

"We later found out that, apparently, the dubstep party downstairs was part of a separate event, and the staff at the "openair" did not want people sneaking back and forth from one party to the next, without paying twice.  Which kind of makes you wonder why they didn't just lock the door leading between the two parties.

"By this point I was totally fed up with The Little Open-Air Of Horrors and left to go home. But the fun was nowhere near being over.  Back outside, I found out my bike had been smashed up in while I was having 'fun' inside. Maybe it was a psycho member of staff, or maybe it was just another embittered punter venting his anger at being taken for a ride.  Either way, I blame the organizers, who went well out of their way to create a bad atmosphere.

"Why" pay to go to a party like this when you could stay at home and beat your face with a dead fish for free? It's cheaper and more fun!"

Please note that the above club isn't actually managed by Kosmonaut, which is a much newer venue, albeit one which seems to have a very similar policy towards its guests!    


Time to Dance.

From the "Time To Dance" series by streetartist SOBR

Here in Berlin, it's always "Time to Dance"... even if you're just waiting at the tram stop at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, and even if you're eyeing your bank account's minus-balance on a graffiti-covered cash machine screen at midnight.  After all, just because the party's ended doesn't mean your buzz has to.

The season when it becomes most evident that the beat never stops in Berlin is in the summer, when a series of street parties and festivals acts the main stage, turning the swollen ranks of the clubbing network into mere after-party and pre-party stop-offs on the way back to the great urban outdoors.   

And now that we've gotten past the most over-hyped outdoor parade of the year (not naming any names here but it rhymes with "barnacle of vultures." Sort of. If you're drunk.) it's time for the REAL outdoor party season to begin. From now on, the only place to be, assuming you're not lying prone in the openair section of some club, is a festival, street party or parade.  Here are the best ones I've been to... I hope that you'll try them and make you feel the same way!

Zuruck Zu Den Wurzeln Festival, June 9th-12th

This festival was meant to take place in Berlin, but due to authorization probs it is now taking place near the Baltic Sea... but I've included it anyway since it should be good.  This 'secret forest' party by Berlin's longest-running, still-active free party crew should be fun, silly, beautiful and hard in equal measures.  Expect chillout, techno and psy music of all stripes.  Also, expect a family-style welcome from the crew.  And expect to not want to leave! At 85.00 Euros per camping ticket for 4 days it's pretty reasonably priced too.

Fete de la Musique/Fete de la Nuit, June 21-22nd

Fete de la Musique is a festival concept that Berlin pinched from Paris and Lille, but Berlin seems to do it just as well as its French rivals do. Basically FdlM is a one-day open-air concert on the longest day of the year that sprawls across much of the city.  Or, to be more precise, it is a series of small concerts, most of which are free,  and most of which happen in the streets.  The areas where the air will be thickest with tunage will be Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain (of course), but musicians can be found all around the city.  Check the Fete's official lineup for exact locations and times.

At night on June 21st, many clubs throw open their doors and let people in for free - an event that's known as "Fete de la Nuit."  It's an unmissable chance to sample some of the night spots that you've never seen before in Berlin. 

WARNING: It's so not a good idea to show up to any party on this night without your I.D., no matter how old you may think you look.  This not-so-young writer found out the hard way that Berlin's bouncers are even more anal careful about ensuring that you meet their anal high & exacting standards during the Fete de la Nuit!

Freqs of Nature, July 7th-12th

The experimental art & music festival seems to act as an annual meet-up for everyone from the 'fringe' communities across Germany. Although it does help if you're into psychedelia and/or dream of living in a yurt, the hardcore free festival and freetekno people seem to love Freqs just as much as the hippies do.  It's a great place to expand your horizons in whichever way you want: emotional, physical, psychological or, erm, chemical.  

Christopher Street Day, July 23rd.

Berlin's gay pride event is usually about free love but this year's parade is going to be more about tough love.  'Thanks for Nothing' reads the subtitle on the web page for CSD 2016.  Apparently, 2016 will be a time for the "end of gratitude for breadcrumbs."  Damn [the] straight it will!  But hang on, is the super-commercial CSD finally getting some of its radical fighting spirit back?!  Go there if you wanna find out. If nothing else, you'll find yourself in some good company (see below). And that's always something to be thankful for.

Hemp Parade (Hanfparade), August 13th.

This parade is for all those with a need for weed so, unsurprisingly, the majority of Berlin is usually there.  The motto this year will be "Legalization is in the air!"  Not many visitors to Berlin realize it, but the city already has a very liberal attitude regarding Mary Jane. Here, personal use and possession have been effectively decriminalized.  Many venues allow smoking on the premises and you can carry up to 5 grams without risking arrest, I think (as a non-smoker I can never recall the maximum carrying amount).  Not to mention the fact that Germany's already a 'green' nation in the ecological sense, so hemp is also well loved due to its being one of the greenest crops (fast growth rates, high  resistance to pests, versatile applications as an alternative food and medical product, what more could you want?).  With the first legal Amsterdam style head shop soon to be opened (maybe) the Hemp Parade organizers have good reason to smell the legalization in the air.  Even if you don't smell it you'll still catch a huge whiff of the fragrant herb everywhere you go, either on August 13th or any other day!

Silent Climate Parade, August 27th 

At the Silent Parade you 'rent' wireless headphones (a returnable deposit is needed) and dance down the streets of central Berlin as DJ's broadcast live sets to you over the airwaves.  The objective?  To call attention to the issue of climate change, using the surreal spectacle of a mass of people, silently 'avin it large.  The parade is one part flashmob, one part party, and several parts protest.

The aim of the Silent Climate Parade is to create an event where you can have fun and send a serious political message about climate change at the same time.  My only question there would be, "Send a message to whom?"  The world's tiny political and corporate elite only ever achieve anything with the help of the 6 billion or so 'little' people.  Maybe then, the message that could create the biggest change in the world would be one that we digest and act upon ourselves. 

It would be great to see this year's parade focus more on demonstrating to others how they can make change happen, instead of always expecting others to do it for them.  Taking part in direct actions, like those which recently blocked carbon intensive industries world wide during Break Free 2016, is one way to do this.

But that aside, I find it hard to fault this parade.  Young they may be, but the parade's organizers are so full of idealistic energy that I can't blame them for not knowing exactly what to do with it all.

Fuck Parade, August-September ???

In theory, the Fuck Parade is an anti-gentrification protest. In practice, it tends to be more like a mobile occupation that anyone's welcome to join in, as long as they have a no-holds-barred attitude and don't intend swipe the land that the party stands on, like your average property speculator does.  Despite having no real manifesto, or even because of that, Fuck Parade still attracts a radical left wing set that practices what it preaches (vegan, freetekno, egalitarian, etc.).  You can feel a kind of well-worn, anything goes freedom in the air at this parade that to me, beats anything that I've felt at the majority of Berlin protests so far.  It may be a party first and foremost but, even without the aid droning speeches, stale slogans and so on, the Fuck Parade manages to feel like it's advancing a real cause, which would be us.

The exact date is usually announced about a week in advance, so follow the group's page for stay up to date. 

Got any more cool open air events to recommend?  Feel free to send them our way!  In the meantime enjoy the sun... and the rain... and whatever else comes.  Who cares?  It's summer. 


Reclaim The Street Party!

While I was in England recently, I heard that some anarchists in London were putting on a Fuck Parade on May the 1st (see video above).  Now, anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm well into Berlin's annual Fuck Parade.  So it seemed like good news to hear that, some time last year, London's black bloc anarchists decided to swipe the idea of using a techno parade as a way of challenging gentrification, and named the event after Berlin's infamous street party.  So far, so good...

But after watching the video of the London Fuck Parade, it seemed that the similarity between the two events didn't go much further than the fact that they share a name.  The Berlin version of Fuck Parade is big and radical and hard, but it's also madcap fun.  It has a stated set of politics but anyone's allowed to participate in any way that they want, as long as they're passionate about the harder musical styles being played - gabba, jungle, hard techno and acid tek. It celebrates underground creativity at the same time as it challenges the system. 

In theory, I suppose that anybody was allowed to participate in the London version of Fuck Parade too... but the definition of 'anybody' and 'participate' seem to have been heavily predetermined by the a rather restrictive self-perception. The main images that the organizers have featured on their website depict revelers that are clad in black, angry and standing around or smashing things.  As for it being a 'parade', well, there's little celebratory or creative action in evidence.  The participants in the video seem almost unsure what to do in the absence of a bad guy to attack.

I know it's early days for London's Fuck Parade, but so far, it strikes me as being pretty far from the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) that the original Fuck Parade, Reclaim the Streets and myriad other anarchist street parties have aimed for in their events.  As veteran London street activist John Jordan writes,

"A T.A.Z. is a liberated area 'of land, time or imagination' where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life."

The background of the Fuck Parade

When Berlin's Fuck Parade started, its aim was more or less to reclaim the revolutionary, liberating power of street parties from the Love Parade (1989-2003), which had more or less become shackled by its own branding and hype, by that time. 

But the Love Parade, in its own turn, also began its life as an embodiment of practical anarchy via the street party.  With people spontaneously turning them into a giant dancefloor without authorities' approval, it was a sort of TAZ.  At first.  Whatever it wanted to achieve, it simply enacted in the empty streetsAuthor and ex-Parade-goer Wolfgang Sterneck affirms this when he writes:

"I wished that the 'acid sound' pumping straight out of the speakers at a Love Parade party would flow through the streets every day. An endless rhythmic beat, instead of the urban barrage of noise that otherwise surrounds us. And, at the same time, people stepping out of the proverbial line instead of going to work every day, stony-faced, to serve as a cog in a giant machine.  This was undoubtedly a psychedelic vision, but it was also the image of a social utopia that became—at least at certain moments—a reality, without those dancing being aware of this potential."

Populism turns to conformism...

By the end of the 1990s, though, the Love Parade was dragging the revolutionary aspects of partying in the streets to a halt. It had reduced the phenomenon of free, open air parties to a series of static cliches: topless hot bods with bright hair and piercings, gyrating in mindless enthusiasm until the music stopped... at which point, business as usual was ruthlessly resumed.

Anybody could partake of a 'rave' without adding anything valuable & lasting to the scene... unless you count cash as being 'valuable and lasting,' which few people in the underground party culture did. As the principle of selling to the lowest common denominator for the maximum profits was applied to the rave scene, its ideals mutated.  It went from being androgynous to being about "sex sells".  The participants went from getting high to attain 'peace love and unity', to getting mashed up in order to shrug off any sense of personal responsibility. 

But luckily, by then the original spirit of the Love Parade had already been transmitted across Berlin and Europe, and other people had started enacting their idea of what street life should be like on the streets without waiting for permission.  Another expression of the street party's anarchic undertones could be found in the UK-based Reclaim the Streets movement (1995-2002).  I highly recommend watch the film that RTS made about itself here for a brilliant, first-hand view of the movement as it unfolded.

"Unlike regular carnivals and parades, RTS never asked for permission, leaving the event open to the possible and impossible, turning the world on its head in true carnival spirit." From the website for Beautiful Trouble, a handbook for creative activism.

Anarchism turns to conformism.

It's hard to see any trace of the carnival in the images from London's Fuck Parade, or indeed many of the faceless black block style events that typify anarchism these days.  The anger evident in the video is very understandable - London's property speculation situation is truly fucked up - but the group behind the event seems to have spent so long in a negative headspace that they are unable to enact "the impossible" and "turn the world on its head", even when they've reclaimed the streets.  The question of what to do with the space they've taken seems to have been left unaddressed, yet it's the only one that really deserves any anarchist's energy and time.

Because, as Sterneck points out, the vacuum that is left once an immediate threat has been removed cannot be filled with negation alone:

"In the long run, the Fuck Parade would've become a pure negation of the Love Parade that was always also dependent on it, thus becoming uninteresting in the process," he writes.  "Over the years, the Fuckparade managed to become an independent event that no longer made reference to the Love Parade, but instead pursued its own course for a long time. For all intents and purposes, it was even closer to the original ideals of the Love Parade in certain respects than the Love Parade itself."

This may be what happens to the London Fuck Parade - eventually - if it chooses to expand beyond a mere negation of gentrification.  But the black bloc approach is too limited to allow that, a kind of self-imposed quarantine that limits the whole movement to a narrow band of style and expression.  Black block is a tactic that only works effectively when it's part of a vast and varied network of action tactics.  As a standalone approach it just lacks any reason to exist. 

If the people behind London's Fuck Parade really believed in 'people power' then maybe they should use their 15 seconds of fame to send a message to the people instead of a message from the people - a message of inclusion, involvement and freedom. Seizing spaces for your community's diversity to flourish for free is one thing, but embodying that diversity is also a big a step in validating its continued existence.  After all, how can anybody else have faith in the value of street culture if the people that are demonstrating for it don't even think it's worth the risk, time and energy to engage in?

To be fair though, even when street parties are fun and hugely successful (as in the case of Reclaim the Streets or the Zug der Liebe in 2015) the same debate always arises; people always ask, "Are these parties really capable of making lasting changes?  Are they radical enough?"

I reckon the best change that these parties can achieve is to spark off a deeper transformation in each person that makes them question and change reality, that they can away and apply to the rest of their lives.  The change doesn't have to happen at a parade, just as long as the parade acts as a catalyst.

The balance between rebellion and revelry has to be pretty damn near perfect for an excited mass of people to create a temporary autonomous space; it usually has to happen intuitively and without rules.  I am not sure what anyone can do individually to help attain that balance, apart from being true to themselves.  What seems clear, though, is that spending too much time playing up for the cameras and trying to scare The Man, the way that they seem to be doing at the London FuPA, drains energy that could be better used elsewhere.

Taken by Jens Hohmann © the clubmap

It may seem like I'm picking on London's Fuck Parade, and I kind of am. But that's because it is not an isolated example of this tendency to turn everything into a symbol of a cause, at the expense of the actual cause.  Almost all anarchist groups these days - whether they're from London, Berlin or Prague - seem to be succumbing to this trend to hide their best side under a faceless mask, sidelining the very individuality that they claim to defend, and all in the name of "the cause". Too many left-wing activists these days in general seem to believe that relentless negation of a negative can have a positive effect. That's a fallacy.

Maybe it's because almost all of the world's most colourful, beautiful and fun countercultural trappings have now been absorbed into the capitalist system - in much the same way that Berlin's Love Parade was.  Transformed into shallow accessories.  Today, almost anybody can walk into a mall, hand over a wad of cash and transform themselves magically into a skinhead, hippy, goth, raver, or anarchist without bucking the system in any valuable or lasting way.  Anyone can buy a Banksy print to hang on their wall.  Anybody can wear a Che Guevera shirt without being called on to act on their beliefs.  Perhaps the organizers of the Fuck Parade in London have decided that the only way to be truly countercultural is to leave out all the parts of revolution that could conceivably be commodified... all the fun, style, diversity and pleasure. That just leaves the bare bones of a culture behind, wherein lies nothing to defend at all.

But, hang on: doesn't one have to believe that capitalism actually "owns" all of the countercultural symbols it's appropriated, in order to shun them in the first place?  The big brands never created any of those symbols. We did. The people did. No corporate marketing campaign can give them meaning, only people can with their belief.  To reject all that one enjoys and creates on the basis that it is 'a product of the system' and can potentially be 'sold out' is to buy into the worst lie of all: the lie of ownership.
It's great that London's anarchist scene wants to reclaim the streets, the same way that Berlin does as often as possible each summer.  Before it can do that, though, it needs to reclaim the idea that the street - along with all of its culture, music, style and life - has always belonged to the people. And it has to believe that no amount of money can take that away. To quote John Jordan (again),

"Corporations may have all the power in the world, but they lack the ability to have crazy, non-rational, creative ideas - lateral thinking and imagination are tools which corporate culture can never really develop, despite the slick aesthetics of advertising and the irrationality of the financial markets, corporations are fixed in a linear strategy of growth and accumulation. They are super tankers moving in straight lines - we are shoals of small fish darting under the waves and changing direction with the flick of a tail." 


Preview: Partying in the Present (In)Tense

Apparently there's a part of your mind that doesn't register time, only experiences.  Its point of view is recorded in pure emotion... a state where people seem frozen in time with sounds drawn out for eternity.  I feel like that's the part of my mind that comes out to play whenever I'm at a party, so this entry is going to be dedicated to places where it would feel at home, this weekend. 

Tonight, there's The Long Now, an Atonal-inspired 30-hour closing party at Kraftwerk Berlin (which is the big industrial hall space above Tresor).

The blurb for the event describes this as "a place for the enduring present. A space in which time itself can unfold, where the sense of time can take uncharted paths and even depart".  Well, having been to the last Atonal, I can confirm that it is a pretty apt description of the type of music that they play there.  It's a bit like watching a Bill Viola video through your ears. 

You'll want to wear your comfy clothes to this party, 'cause they expect you to take it lying down: "Beds are provided and sleeping over is recommended!" says the RA event blurb for the surreal sundowner, starting at 18:18 tonight.  At the very least, that makes it a pretty cool place to bring the sex-istentialist you met at the Radialsystem Maerzmuzik festival. 

Later on tonight, Oscillate at About Blank will feature a DJ who is connected to two of my Berlin lieblingslabels (a compound word that I just invented).   DJ Eomac of Stroboscopic Artefacts and Killekill plays us some subconscious, eternity-surfing stuff... but with some fluffy, dance-able acid thrown in for good measure.

Check out Eomac at  Oscillate from midnight tonight.
On Sunday night Ancient Methods (or Asian Meth Heads, as I like to call him) is playing at Berghain.  Go there if you want to feel like you've gone to some sort of underground party bunker on the set of the film Donnie Darko.

Asian Meth -- I mean Ancient Methods, has the most killer samples of any DJ that I have ever heard, cut an queued to fit his neurotically dark style like an Exacto knife. There's a pretty steady techno bass running through all that he plays too.

But by far the best thing about him is his biography on Resident Advisor.  Other DJ's  will obsessively tell us about how many underground parties they've played and how many big names they've rubbed shoulders with, or even what colour of skinny jeans they like to wear... all the while avoiding telling you what actual style of music they play. Ancient Methods is more straightforward than that, with a bio that simply reads:

He's also a DJ who makes you feel like time has stopped.  The last time I saw him, he played a "2-hour" set that lasted for around 6 hours in Tresor's basement, to a womyn-dominated crowd.  (Anybody who claims that chicks don't dig the harder tunes obviously was not present there.)

We all know that the party has to end eventually but the feeling is what keeps it going while it lasts... and any of the above parties will give you a little piece of that.



Breaking With the Easyjet Set

Do you live in Berlin?  Yes?  

Well, then let me guess: you're probably an underemployed, liberal artist of some kind.  You probably eat local, organically-grown, fair trade products.  You almost definitely always return your bottles for the pfand (deposit).  Your flat's energy probably comes from a renewable source.  You presumably cycle from A to B, using public transport whenever you can (because, let's face it, it's all you can afford).  

In other words, you don't use up that much carbon every year. So surely, you can afford to take a flight some place warm every now and then.  Right?

Er, wrong.

The assumption that flying a few times a year isn't such a bad carbon 'expense' is one that many people - myself included - are guilty of making. Until recently, I used to fly about once or twice a year from one European city to another.  But more and more people I know have been flying transatlantically at the drop of a hat, so I started to wonder if I should do the same.  First, though, I sat down, did the math to find out what the CO2 damage would be.  Here's what I learned:

* A return trip from New York City to Berlin causes as much damage as putting 2 or 3 tons* of CO2 per person into the air, per flight.

* On average, each person in Berlin produces about 6 tons of CO2** per year

So as it turns out, taking a single transatlantic trip would do just as much damage to the Earth as I would normally do in half a year of life in Berlin.  That's like consuming 40% more of everything that I use per year: 40% more Bratwursts, Sternis, Pall Malls, spare parts for my Diamant, hairspray, glitter, black tights, slippers, smartphone batteries, Geisha fans, fizzy water, taxis, recycling, composting, etc.  

To put it into perspective, try to imagine how much it would cost in Euros to pay for 40% more of everything that you use in a year.  I'm guessing, a lot more than a return flight to New York would cost…

But short haul flights aren't scot-free either.  If anything, they're worse.  Because of the lower altitudes, the planes on short haul flights use more than twice as much fuel as long-haul flights.  So roughly speaking, seven hours of flying around Europe (like a return trip to Majorca) would use up as much CO2 as a return flight to New York. 

Hard to associate the CO2 cost with the actual cost when all of the flights are so cheap.  The reason why flights are so cheap?  Because the industry has successfully lobbied and bribed its way out of paying any fuel taxes, since the idea of CO2 taxation was first invented.  Basically, the people who run our trains, coaches, boats and buses and electric cars pay more in the way of carbon tax than the airlines do.  Added to which, many airlines get subsidized cheap fuel at a time when everyone else pays the market rates.  If they can afford to sell us cheap flights, its only because their own operating costs are unrealistically, some would say criminally low.  

The airlines are getting a free pass to pollute at a time when everyone else is scrimping and saving to minimize their carbon footprint, including you.  And they’re passing their tendency to evade the consequences on to their consumers.

When you buy a flight, you don't just get an unrealistic price; you get an even less realistic advertising campaign to go with it.  Planes are pictured soaring through clean, blue skies, over gorgeous natural landscapes, utterly undefiled by air pollution and polluting industries, like oil.  But getting there costs just €24.99!   

Airline companies almost make it easier to fly away, chasing the elusive dream of some cleaner, fresher land that evaporates like contrail the second you land on its soot-choked tarmac.  They sell an escapist fantasy and we keep buying, because we choose to believe the ads and the prices, rather than the evidence before our own eyes.  But however much money cheap flights save us, we'll be paying for them in other ways soon enough.  We already are, in the form of floods, droughts, heatwaves and fires.

With 2015 being the hottest year on record, and the second winter in a row with no snow staying on the ground in Berlin, more and more people that I meet are saying, "I know climate change is real, but what can I do to stop it?" Here's a simple answer for you, ready made: don't do anything. Just stop doing something.  Stop flying.  Or at the very least, stop flying as much as you do right now.  As far as saving the planet, the future and everything goes, it's the least strenuous act of heroism a person could ever make. 

The world's richest 5% who can afford to fly hold a large part of the climate future in their hands
But I've noticed that a lot of what makes my peers in Berlin fly is social pressure.  When I tell them that I'm taking the train or bus to travel, they stare at me like I'm just too dimwitted to fly.  It gets worse when I tell them that I love traveling around Europe the "backwards" way, on trains and buses and bikes.  The irony that built into the term "Easyjet set" seems to have eluded these people: they take serious pride in the superiority that traveling by air supposedly grants them.  But does getting places faster means that you're somehow more advanced, or profiting more from the travel experience?  I don't think so. 

Air travel minimizes your exposure to other people, the landscape, and the reality of the place you're in.  In a plane, you never have the option of changing your plans or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air... if there is any of that left, after your plane has just passed by.  Maybe that's why biggest air travel junkies that I've met are also the ones who are least aware of the damage that flying causes: because they don't travel as far outside of the plane as some people do.  The climate-controlled interior of the plane seals them off from the damage and shoots them past it, all at the same time.  But if the Easyjet Set and I were all in the same boat (or hitchhiking the same car) they'd be swapping tales with me about their mad treks across the land instead of turning their noses up at it.  And why not?  Getting there is a part of the adventure.

Air travel puts up a barrier between fellow travelers, adding a tier to separate people who are headed the same way.  And, if the masses of backpackers that I've seen, forlornly tapping on their smartphones all alone are any indication, that has deprived them of the best part of the experience: the unexpected friendships that can only arise when you're faced with a long journey, and nothing better to do than to chat to the person next to you.

For more tips how to get down to the 4 ton annual CO2 limit that Shrink That Footprint recommends, check out their website.  

* The actual CO2 released is less than that but, "When aviation fuel is burned at high altitude make emissions from aeroplanes nearly four times as damaging as those at ground level."  Guardian Environmental Editor, John Vidal

*Based on Berlin.de's figure of 21 million tons of CO2 for the entire city per year


New Kids on the Black Bloc

Plateau Gallery @ The Greenhouse Berlin

Greenhouse Berlin
Neglected urban spaces seem to capture a large part of the Berlin aesthetic.  That's why the city's endless, derelict stretches are such a huge attraction in and of themselves.  They don't need signposts or missions statements - no, those would just get in the way.  Instead, they speak to us through a special feeling: like you've just reached the final frontier in the last undeveloped European city.  Like there's still something undefined that you can reach for beyond the unyielding bricks and cement, existing only to be experienced.  Like the terms haven't been created yet to describe what lies out there...

That's why I'm uplifted to hear that more and more DIY, multipurpose event spaces are cropping up on the outskirts of the city, and opting to keep the city's left-wing, activist ethics alive.  There's a part of the modern Berlin soul that you can only you capture by giving people a place and a time to explore, experiment and leave their own mark without any pre-judgement.  Unfortunately, many people who come here are too busy leaving their trademark around town to let that happen.  But the thing about the underground wellspring is, when you block off one outlet, another one pops up somewhere else.  And the fact that that a lot of those are still popping up tells me that the current here is still going strong. 


La Casa. (U-Bahn: Louis Lewin Strasse)

La Casa has established itself as a makeshift Antifa HQ and freewheeling drop-in center for activists, refugees, music lovers, street artists... basically, the kind of people that you and I would be happy to call "locals". If you want to get a taste of what the place is like firsthand, read on...

La Casa's party space by night.  And probably by day too.

Streetart... in Marzahn?!  Yes this really is happening!
Tonight, La Casa's partying Marzahn hard techno-style, courtesy of the Druzba collective.  As well as dark, ceiling-dripping technothey'll also be laying on "fresh fruit, decorations from Leipzig and live lighting."  All at low, low prices - surely the biggest perk of partying on the outskirts of town.  For a sample of the sort of music they'll be bashing out, check out this mix by Princess-o-mat of the 'Procrastinators United' label  (probably 99% of Berliners could be signed on to that one).


The Greenhouse Berlin (U-Bahn Hermanstrasse)

The Greenhouse is a green beehive near the south end of Tempelhof that has "more than 200 artists’ studios dedicated to different forms of music, arts, design and multimedia."  It hosts everything from alternative fashion shows to art installations to theatre and parties. 

Tonight, it's hosting an art exhibition in it's 8th story Plateau Gallery (pictured top), which starts at 8 p.m.


Mensch Meier (Landsberger Allee S-Bahn)

Can't not mention the Mensch!  I've already written a bit about them here and here.  Tonight, they'll be doing an Artists in Action event that comes complete with, "Kino, Kabarett, Konzert + Kunstinstallation + Workshops".  That's just a direct quote from their website, but I feel that it translates pretty well into English, too.

And finally, here's one just for the clubbers...

WEYDE in Schöneweide (Tram 17,27 or 37)

According to the Berlin Ist Techno website, Weyde was designed by Berghain's architectural firm.  But from what I've seen so far, their music policy is already a tad more diverse than that.  At the very least, they'll throw a bit of Goa and psy into the mix alongside the banging techno.  

The 1000-capacity club will eventually comprise three floors: on the rooftop, by the riverside and a cave floor indoors for those who like to shun the daylight.  But tonight you can get a sneak preview at their weekly event called... "Weyde".

Just like many of their more centrally-located predecessors, the venues above are made up of vast spaces: sprawling factories with adjacent vacant lots and rivers and towering brickwork canvases for walls.  Sure, they might be a wee bit further out than most of us are used to going but, come spring, the trek will be just another excuse to catch a breeze on a long, balmy night.  

So why not be the first and check them out now?