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.
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!