überlin

City of Exiles

by Guest Blogger

EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

Berlin: no man’s land, frontier, a city adrift in the sands of Central Europe. Destroyed, divided and held captive during a century of chaos and upheaval, borderless Berlin has yet remained a city where drifters, dreamers and outsiders can find a place — and finally run free.

In City of Exiles, Stuart Braun evokes the restless spirits that have come and gone from Berlin across the last century, the itinerants who are the source of the Berliner Luft, the special free air that infuses this beguiling metropolis.

Read more about City of Exiles here, attend its launch at Agora, read an excerpt below and, after that, find out how to win a signed copy of the book. 

I needed to get out of
Australia, and Berlin had
long been my Plan B.

It was, I’ll admit, a pretty vague plan. I’d spent some inspired weeks in Berlin in ’96, had often professed love for the city. But I was young then. The years passed. That fabled summer was fading into the mists of my wasted youth.

Yet out of all the cities I had travelled and sometimes lived in, Berlin was the one that gave me hope. It was my promised place — the salve for my savage restlessness.

In Australia, I’d been making documentaries about the Aboriginal people I had met on the streets of inner-city Melbourne. Maybe I was trying to belong, trying to connect with the indigenous history of a land I believed was not really mine.

I was also doing bits of writing but it hadn’t quite clicked since I’d returned from Tokyo—the city I escaped to in the early 2000s, and where I consolidated my career as a journalist and writer. Melbourne was a nice change from my hometown of Sydney. I had many friends in the city. I had found love in Melbourne. But I kept dreaming of escape. I kept dreaming of Berlin.

What was the problem? Hard to say. Australia’s beautiful. It’s supposed to be wild and free. I find it very controlling. Too many rules. And competitive. Stressful. Trying to get ahead. To fulfil the dream of owning a big house — two big houses, preferably.

Melbourne was once a little like Berlin. It was affordable, sort of European, home to many artists. But these days you need a million bucks to live in Melbourne. It started to feel segregated, as my Aboriginal friends who were getting kicked off the streets they call home will confirm. And you had to drive. You sat in traffic a lot with all the people trying to get back to the safety of their big house. I don’t know. I suppose I’d always felt a kind of anxiety in Australia.

It was 2006, and like a good citizen I got a bank loan and bought a house. Mine was off-grid, fitted with a couple of solar panels, the cheapest one bedroom in the state on a dirt road to nowhere. A little cottage in the mountains where I could escape the city, write and build some kind of foundation. It was paradise up there in the rainforest with the kookaburras. A real sanctuary. But I kept thinking that I needed to move to Berlin.

I was making a documentary about the Aboriginal community in the Fitzroy district of Melbourne—the Black Mile that was being recolonised through gentrification — when I decided it was finally time to go. Luckily, my partner Melisa agreed.

It had been 13 years. I could barely remember Berlin. But I had a strong sense of it. As we flew in over the outlying forests and lakes in the autumn of 2009, I felt like I was coming home. People welcomed us into the city, angels on trains and sidewalks showing us the way. After a week in Berlin, I wrote this in my notebook.

In the city where Walter Benjamin and the National Socialist Party were born, a city of great humanity and horror, my companion and I have decided to create history. One is only as good as his and her address, and so our metropolitan moment can now be had, our time on the good strasse where the world has come to meet, merge, emerge. It’s the time of the gypsies and we’ve made it, just, easily, not knowing how, when, where, why, but staying on track, on song, en route to this prehistoric, predestined, preternatural gathering in the land of the goths.

The National Socialist Party was born in Munich (something Berliners are proud of), but what did I know? I was writing crap in a 30-cent exercise book I’d recently purchased in India, about a city I had been in for exactly seven days. But looking at the words again a few years later, I’m struck by the line about the place where the world has come to meet, the words “preternatural gathering”, words that resonated and seemingly inspired me to write this book.

Subconsciously, I knew that I was now living in a city of exiles. I was one of many. I was among people who had nearly all come to Berlin from elsewhere. Some were privileged soul-searchers like me, some came because this long divided and bankrupt city was relatively empty and cheap and gave people the freedom to do their own thing, to make their art. Some were real exiles: refugees from war-torn Sierra Leone; Palestinians who had lost their home forever; Germans who had escaped to a walled, demilitarised city in the 1970s to avoid joining the army; Greeks and Spaniards fleeing austerity and unending deep recession. Oh, and don’t forget the dogs. Many are refugees, like our Spanish street dog who was rescued from certain death. We take him to bars, restaurants, the office, on the train. He’s somehow free here and like many of Berlin’s exiles, he needed to get out of somewhere.

When I wrote those words about the time of the gypsies, I didn’t know what I was saying. But now that I think about it, I wrote those words because I quickly felt that a certain kind of vagabond, of free spirit, was drawn to this city. Maybe I was writing in my notebook about the meeting of another Lost Generation, like the one after the Great War, all those disillusioned souls who wanted to be writers and artists and sometimes ended up in Paris, but also Berlin, as I’ll explain later. Maybe Berlin really was a great open street where the world had come to “meet, merge, emerge”. Maybe Berlin was a place where people try to be poetic.

What will I do in Berlin? I thought. Will I write about the Stasi, or the Wall, or drinking and dancing and going to darkrooms and living on very little and having so much fun and losing my soul like they talked about in all the magazines? Berlin was having another mythological moment; it was the golden 1920s all over. But there was something else about this city, something that hadn’t really been written about.

 

Berlin reminded me of the places in inner Melbourne where my Aboriginal friends had long gathered. They originally came from different tribes across the state, and many ended up in Melbourne after escaping missions, jails and children’s homes in which they’d been imprisoned—often after being stolen from their parents. They gathered in these once working-class streets of Melbourne and set up a meeting place for a displaced generation. They created this place on their own terms, taking back squares and parks for themselves. They were still marginalised of course, and there were drugs, alcohol, fights and police harassment. But there was a freedom, a kind of self-determination that I could identify with, that I was looking for I suppose.

It’s a hazy comparison; but many people had similarly come to Berlin to live on their own terms. It was also a meeting place. Berlin was open to these exiles; it gave them space to build their world from the ground up. Not always. But the potential was there. Like the indigenous people from diverse regions who came to Melbourne and created a pan-Aboriginal identity, a necessary solidarity, Berlin’s global tribes were also getting together. Here you had no family structures to fall back on. You had to work together. Plus there was no corporate money, no big investors or sponsors around. The good money went south to Munich and Frankfurt during the war and wall years and never came back. That’s why all the enterprise — the bars, galleries, clubs, outdoor markets and bookstores — seemed to be independent collaborations. You still don’t see many chains. Meeting people who’d been here a long time, they all talked about this idea of a Berlin family.

As I started to think about Berlin as a sanctuary, and remembered that, in the 1980s, a band of Berlin exiles, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, recorded an old blues song here called “City of Refuge”, I started to realise that people had been coming to Berlin for similar reasons for a long time.

It was 2010, and the American photographer Nan Goldin was in town to promote an exhibition of images taken during her Berlin years in the 1980s and ’90s. She is a legend among some of my friends, and I’d seen her very candid portrayals of the people she knew intimately in Berlin, some dying of AIDS, others living in squats. I attended the retrospective on the day that Goldin delivered a talk, and was struck by the following words:

The best years of my life were here in Berlin. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been looking for a home all my life. The only place I feel myself and comfortable and feel real love for my friends is Berlin.

Goldin had been a runaway since she was a teen, finally escaping to New York before moving to Berlin. She now lives in Paris with her girlfriend. But Berlin remains the only true home she’s ever had.

My father, who, aged 16, fled Hungary as the Red Army put down the 1956 revolution, told me he could live in Berlin as he walked the city for the first time. He says it every time he returns. If only he had the means, he’d move here. But why would he leave the sparkling east coast of Australia for this dark, decrepit city? Sure, the linden trees remind him of his village in Hungary. Yet it’s difficult to say. He just feels good here.

So I had something to write about: this idea of a city of exiles, this place where different kinds of people didn’t necessarily just fit in, but felt good — not always, but in a fundamental way, a way that had long eluded many of them. I read about the Czech-Jewish writer Franz Kafka and his obsession with finding sanctuary in Berlin, the city that remained his mythical escape until his death, his ‘antidote’ to his despised hometown of Prague.

 

Many have come to Berlin and have disliked it, or have just found it okay. They have not had the epiphany that Goldin or Kafka had. Some had little choice in coming to Berlin. Like the French Huguenots, who were escaping religious persecution in the late 1600s. They were offered sanctuary. They couldn’t say no. They helped establish a template for tolerance in Berlin that I will get to later, and which partly explains why Jewish people were so integral to this city until 1933 — the year Hitler came to town from Munich, the year Berlin officially marks as the “destruction of diversity”.

In the 1970s, David Bowie, like the Huguenots, found refuge in Berlin. I shouldn’t mention Bowie. His Berlin story is cooked. I can hear my friends now — no you didn’t, of all the people, in the prologue! But Bowie loved this town because he, like everyone else, could just be a Berliner. He moved around as he pleased. He was taken at face value. “I just can’t express the feeling of freedom I felt there”, he said a little predictably.

But what exactly is this feeling of freedom, and why has it endured? Why this city, built on a sandy swamp, a no man’s land bordering East and West Europe? Why, despite the decades of conflagration, the crushing continental cold?

Hundreds of books have been written about a Berlin that grew up so fast, flowered so brilliantly, that was burnt, divided and held prisoner for half a century. They have inevitably pored over its restive history, its cultural effusions and totalitarian darknesses, its decadence, its ghosts, its secret police.

But as my earlier notebook ranting about preternatural gatherings and the time of the gypsies alluded, I believe that Berlin is Berlin because of its strangers, its wanderers, its many displaced people who have come to build a kind of safe haven. These free-flowing exiles are the source of the freedom so many feel when they come to Berlin — they are the city’s substance in a sense.

I know; I’m making a huge generalisation. But it’s a means for me to explain why, as I walk and bicycle Berlin’s cobbled and increasingly renovated streets, I feel so settled, more than I’ve ever felt before. By trying to understand how this city of exiles came to be, maybe I can also hope to understand the place I left behind, and to one day go back.

HOW TO WIN A SIGNED COPY OF CITY OF EXILES: BERLIN FROM THE OUTSIDE IN

Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this question:

(apart from Bowie, Kafka, Nan Goldin and Nick Cave)
Who do you think is the quintessential Berliner-in-exile?
And why?

Our 2 favourite answers will win a signed copy of City of Exiles.

You have until 6pm on Tuesday 19th May to enter. Good luck!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. Our favourite comments win. Simple as.
4. If you win, we’ll let you know by email and get your postal address.

Win 2 tickets to Torche at Bi Nuu!

by Guest Blogger

by Mike T West.

EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

Sweet Männertag/Vatertag/Christi Himmelfahrt we’ve got another long German weekend coming up. That’s why we’re especially pumped to be giving away two pairs of tickets to see the crushing crushdom of sludge-stoner crushers – Torche!

WITH AN “E”

Formed ten years ago in Miami, Florida, Torche have just released their fourth doom-pop opus, Restarter. The album finds them laying down some of their heaviest material to date and continuing to refine the band’s defiant metal-non-metal attitude.

HOW TO WIN 2 TICKETS FOR TORCHE AT BI NUU ON SATURDAY 16TH MAY:

We are teaming up with Landstreicher Konzerte and giving away two pairs of tickets for Torche’s show at Bi Nuu next Saturday. Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this question:

If you could invent a German public holiday to replace Männertag, what would it be called?

You have until midnight on Tuesday 12th May to enter. GOOD LUCK!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. We will keep a record of each comment in a database and then a random number generator picks the winner.
4. Remember to include your full (real) name and email address, so we can contact you if you win.
5. We will notify the winners via email on Wednesday 13th May.

Giveaway: win 2 tickets to EYEHATEGOD!

by James Glazebrook

EYEHATEGOD

EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

EYEHATEGOD are fucking legends! A cornerstone of the New Orleans metal scene, their caustic fusion of breakneck hardcore and crushing sludge spawned a generation of crusty-ass, iconoclastic riff monsters. Next Monday, the boys from the bayou are back in Berlin, knocking our socks/cocks off at Cassiopeia – and we have 2 pairs of tickets to give away! For a quick education on EYEHATEGOD, watch this stellar short documentary from Noisey, and scroll down to find out how to win two tickets to next week’s show!

HOW TO WIN 2 TICKETS FOR EYEHATEGOD AT CASSIOPEIA ON MONDAY APRIL 13TH (full event details):

Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this question:

(apart from EYEHATEGOD) What’s the best thing ever to come out of New Orleans?

You have until midnight on Friday 10th April to enter. GOOD LUCK!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. We will keep a record of each comment in a database and then a random number generator picks the winner.
4. Remember to include your full (real) name and email address, so we can contact you if you win.
5. We will notify the winner via email on Saturday 11th April.

Raw Material

by James Glazebrook

EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

Jörg Fauser is one of Germany’s most overlooked countercultural icons. He “drank more beer than Bukowski and shot more heroin than William Burroughs”, yet still found time to write Raw Material, a savage satire about the decay of the dreams of the sixties. Originally published in German as Rohstoff, this semi-autobiographical masterpiece was translated into English last year. Find out how to win one of 5 copies we’re giving away, after this excerpt in which our protagonist takes to the Berlin streets for a radical protest, with a pocket full of LSD trips:

The auditorium maximum of the Technical University was packed. That evening’s topic for debate was the forthcoming vote for federal president, which was taking place in Berlin. As ever the list of speakers was endless. Practically no-one was thinking of Heinemann as a candidate. I was standing right at the back of the room amongst the rank and file, taking care not to become separated from Sarah. Sarah was nineteen and reminded me of the Song of Songs: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.” Last summer she’d sent me a photo of herself to Istanbul; she was leaning against a tree in the Englischer Garten in Munich, and when Ede saw it he said, “If there’s anyone who’s going to pull you out of the shit, it’ll be her.” Now she was in Berlin too, and I was determined not to be parted from her again.

The crowd jeered and shouted down a young socialist. It was all part of a ritual in which the leaders of the radicals played at being the Bolshevik bosses, and the students and dropouts in the auditorium the riotous masses of St Petersburg. In truth it was much simpler: the leaders were enthroned on the podium and engaged in high politics, while the rank and file stood below, believing in the historical moment. Skilful direction brought the room to boiling point and at the decisive moment the slogan was uttered: “Onto the streets!”

We were still a tight mass in Hardenbergstrasse, but when we got to America House, where the police lay in wait, the crowd soon dissipated. It struck me that I had twenty LSD trips in my pocket, which I’d swapped for a few of the blocks I’d got off the Turk. As I hurried away I looked around for Sarah. She was behind me, being shoved along rather than moving of her own accord. In the police floodlights and nocturnal glow of Hardenbergstrasse Sarah looked far too beautiful and fragile. I tried to grab her and battle my way out to the side, but those advancing from behind dragged me along with them. Stones were being hurled at America House, but word got around that we were to take the Kurfürstendamm, and so we charged onwards, past Zoo station. Stones were everywhere on the ground; I picked up a couple myself – smooth, grey cobbles. I’d soon forgotten the LSD, and Sarah too. I charged with the crowd. There was the Ku’damm, the colourful façades, the onlookers, the massive vehicles with their water cannons, we were coming from all sides, we were storming. There was Café Kranzler, temple of the bourgeoisie, there were the police, chains of uniformed men that entangled us. No sooner had the echoes of our war cries died down than the first screams of those being beaten by truncheons resounded in the street. I threw a stone, then turned around and saw a policeman charging towards me at full pelt. I dropped the other stone and ducked. The truncheon only hit me as I bent down, a second blow found my arm, and another policeman hauled me off to a patrol car, but let me go when a new troop of assailants broke through and made for Kranzler. Cautiously I stood up again. No one appeared to be watching me. I slipped through a kind of no man’s land to the corner of Joachimsthaler. There were stones everywhere, protesters bent over injured bodies, those arrested held temporarily in wrist locks by the police. I felt cold and thought that our attempt to take the Ku’damm had been a complete farce and would be far better without me. I looked for Sarah and found her at a metro station. I took her in my arms. She was wearing a fur coat and I an old, thick cloth jacket, but through all our winter clothes I could still feel her breasts which bore the promise of springtime.

Via a circuitous route we arrived at the flat near Savignyplatz, where Boleslaw and his girlfriend, Sylvia, were waiting. They’d been living in a commune in Potsdamer Strasse and had now moved into this grand, nine-room apartment belonging to two scientists who worked at Siemens and were trying to find a synthesis between computer science and anarchism. As far as I was concerned, their flat was paradise: an enormous kitchen where everything functioned, a refrigerator filled to the brim, tiled stoves, comfortable sofas and leather armchairs everywhere, pictures hanging from the panelled walls, two bathrooms, two cats, books. I offered them all a trip. Sarah was still together with a friend of Boleslaw’s, an ascetic philosophy student in his seventeenth semester, who lived in a tiny hovel without any hot water in Steglitz. I wanted, of course, to prise her away from him. That night we all took a trip, and in such surroundings I sensed I was coming closer to the world of literature.

I sat with Sarah in Bolesaw and Sylvia’s room. To my mind these were the nicest people I’d come into contact with in Berlin. They were good-looking, they were educated without trumpeting it, they’d travelled widely, and they had artistic leanings without pretending to be artists. Their anarchism was an intellectual provocation, but they, too, had picked up stones in the street, and told the state precisely what they thought of it in court. And one day there was no doubt that this society would give them the space they were asking for. I looked down at myself. I felt like a filthy little drug-dealer from Tophane. I could sense the dirt oozing from my every pore. “2,000 light years from home.” That’s how I perceived myself too. Sarah lit an incense stick. She was so breathtakingly beautiful; how could I imagine that she’d be the one to save me from all this shit? The beauty of the Orient flowed in waves from her face and transformed the wall into the Taj Mahal. Sylvia snuggled up to Boleslaw, who smiled at me. I was sweating. I rolled a joint. That was one thing I could do. Although it was good to be able to do at least something, I felt I’d have to demonstrate a little more if I was going to win over Sarah, Boleslaw and Sylvia. The three of them seemed to be fusing into one, together with the candlelight, the music, the smell of the incense. I was sitting beside them like a lump of frozen spaghetti. I was sitting beside them like a heap of unsellable copies of The Function of the Orgasm. I was back in Istanbul, sitting on the roof, the snow seeping through the walls, the foghorns wailing, the pigeons scrabbling at the holes in the plaster, the schoolchildren below filing into the playground and singing the national anthem. Were I sitting there I could write again. Although I didn’t have my notebooks or a radiograph, this biro would do, this sheet of paper with computer formulae on the back. I started writing.

The following morning Sarah went to fetch her things from Steglitz, and we moved into the maid’s room beside the kitchen. Heinemann was elected president.

HOW TO WIN A COPY OF JÖRG FAUSER’S RAW MATERIAL:

If you were going to take to the streets, what would you protest against?

Our 5 favourite answers will win a copy of Raw Material.

You have until 6pm on Sunday 29th March to enter. Good luck!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. Our favourite comment wins. Simple as.
4. If you win, we’ll let you know by email and get your postal address.

Win tickets to Open Mike Eagle and Homeboy Sandman at Berghain

by James Glazebrook

[EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

Open Mike Eagle and Homeboy Sandman are two of the hottest rappers on the US hip hop circuit, and they’re headed to Berlin! The Swim Team crew member and Stones Throw’s Sandman are part of that amorphous emcee scene which the former likes to call “art rap”. And they’re bringing their intelligent, intense brand of wordplay to Berghain’s little sister venue Kantine next week. Scroll down past Open Mike Eagle’s video for “Dark Comedy Morning Show” to find out how to win a pair of tickets!

Speaking of comedy, Open Mike’s also performed at shows by hilarious people like Matt Besser (UCB) and Paul F. Tompkins because, hey, these dudes are pretty fucking funny too. For proof, just check out his and Homeboy’s appearance on our favourite hip hop podcast, Shots Fired:

HOW TO WIN 2 TICKETS FOR OPEN MIKE EAGLE AND HOMEBOY SANDMAN AT BERGHAIN KANTINE ON MONDAY NOVEMBER 17TH (full event details):

Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this easy question:

Who’s the funniest rapper you can think of? Drop us some lyrics that will make us LOL.

You have until midnight on Thursday 13th November to enter. GOOD LUCK!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. We will keep a record of each comment in a database and then a random number generator picks the winner.
4. Remember to include your full (real) name and email address, so we can contact you if you win.
6. We will notify the winner via email on Friday 14th November.

Win guestlist to Peaches, Ellen Allien and more at SchwuZ!

by James Glazebrook

Peaches by Alexa Vachon

[EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

OUTRAGEOUS LINEUP ALERT! This Friday, Peaches is joined by Ellen Allien, Aerea Negrot and many more awesome artists at SchwuZ. This utter treat of a club night is the 100th edition of London Calling vs. Expatriarch Generations, with a special performance by Ziur AKA Mika Risiko of CRIME fame.

Peaches hand picked Risiko for this showcase as part of the Expatriarch Generations project, which hooks up emerging artists with established acts for personal mentoring, support and career advice. Each month, Berlin Community Radio airs a conversation between the two, like this fascinating discussion between Sasha Perrera (Jahcoozi) and Bella Cuts. We can’t wait to hear the Peaches edition! Or see her live!! Scroll down to win!!!

HOW TO WIN 2 X TICKETS FOR LONDON CALLING VS. EXPATRIARCH GENERATIONS AT SCHWUZ ON FRIDAY OCTOBER 3RD (full event details):

Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this easy question:

(apart from Peaches and Ellen Allien) Who is the fiercest female ever to make music in Berlin?

You have until midnight on Thursday 2nd October to enter. GOOD LUCK!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. We will keep a record of each comment in a database and then a random number generator picks the winner.
4. Remember to include your full (real) name and email address, so we can contact you if you win.
6. We will notify the winner via email on Friday 3rd October.

Win tickets to Death From Above 1979’s sold out Berlin show!

by James Glazebrook

Death From Above 1979

[EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we’re running any open competitions]

Don’t call it a comeback! Just weeks after announcing their first European dates in yearsandyearsandyears, Death From Above 1979‘s Berlin show is already sold out! But never fear, because we have a pair of tickets to give away to see the Canadian noiseniks live at Cassiopeia in October. To get your hands on them, scroll past the first track from their follow-up to 2004’s “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine”, and prepare your eardrums to bleeeeeeeeeeeed.

HOW TO WIN 2 X TICKETS FOR DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 AT CASSIOPEIA ON OCTOBER 13TH:

Just leave us a comment below with the answer to this easy question:

What has been your favourite comeback, musical or otherwise?

You have until 6pm on Wednesday 6th August to enter. GOOD LUCK!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be 18 years or older to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. We will keep a record of each comment in a database and then a random number generator picks the winner.
4. Remember to include your full (real) name and email address, so we can contact you if you win.
6. We will notify the winner via email on Thursday 7th August.