Clean Berne

My Erasmus semester is officially over now. I tried to compare Switzerland to Germany during the stay but only found flaws so far in my native country. When going through the Altstadt of Berne something crossed my mind. Everything is always pitturesque, there are nice buildings and flags in every main road. There is no litter on the street and everything is just like time has stopped inside this inner city. Everything seems in order, wealthy and clean. You can see no trace of poverty or homelessness. It’s like an enormous doll house.

It is like the city tried to wipe out every trace of this flaw. When walking around a main station in any german inner city you would always meet beggars, punks with their dogs and alcoholics sitting on corners of highstreets. But not in Berne. There seems to be only one small square where they assemble but not past these invisible barriers. I was automatically thinking of Barcelona which is known for literally wiping off homeless people off their streets. It is a daily procedure there to clean “las Ramblas” with a water hose in order to dispel those unwanted guests. No tourist should ever see them because the city has to look pretty.

With that knowledge in my mind it really took my interest to know about homeless people in Berne. Sure, there are shelters for the night (as they also exist in Germany) which explains their absence at night but how do they make money and how do they spend their day? While doing an internet research I found articles explaining that begging is prohibited in Bern main station since 2008. Another (Austrian) article explained the problem a litte but came to the conclusion that giving beggars the advice to get social welfare solved everything.

I must admit that I don’t believe that. There is different kinds of begging which can be reduced to two big groups: state citizens who came into need or victims of human traffickers. The second problem got “solved” by a enormous measure taken by the Swiss police but what about homeless swiss people (according to Swiss media). But what about the first group?

Mostly they have to cope with reprisals in everyday life. There are being controlled by the police almost daily, dislodged from the inner city to the outer areas or sometimes even fined for begging. The city reported only the “good deeds to society” they have done when trying to get rid of human traffickers. It is nevertheless neglected what happend to the first group because everything has to look nice and pretty. Poverty does not fit into a rich society.

An Event is all that Counts

In June Art Basel is THE place to be in the art world, at least when it comes to trading this special asset. During the fair huge sales are being made and major works by widely known artist are being shown. It is a place where Art History is being written and the art scene meets.

Just a few weeks ago the most important Art fair for Contemporary Art took place in Basel, Switzerland. Art Basel is being held in two huge fair halls which are being seperated into different sections. One hall features international galleries that are exhibiting on two floors, the second one – Art Unlimited – is reserved for selected artists showing works of art accompanied with scheduled Art talks and discussions. There is a huge program planned to complement the regular fair which consists mostly of booths designed by every exhibiting gallery which the visitors can walk through.

As you see: It is not only looking at art, it is experiencing it. With this rich side-program many visitors are being attracted but it also drives people away from the actual fair hall. There are no Art talks or special events in the first hall, there is only the booths with art shown in high density.

Normally, this is why people come to see the show. At Art Basel there is an opportunity to see works of famous artists but also emerging ones. There is a mixture of generations and styles. If you look closely, you can spot a masterpiece or discover a new talent. The fair garantees with its high application standarts that a certain quality of art is being shown. It is hard to get a booth there at as a gallery but once you’ve made it, the good reputation is sticking to you. Art Basel is also a warrantor of quality somehow (or what is considered quality).

But this is not enough to attract visitors. At this issue of Art Basel it became visible that a side-program is necessary to get people to visit the fair. There were clearly less visitors at the gallery hall than the years before but a majority of visitors at the seperate halls containing “events”. Besides the Art Unlimited-hall there also had been another hall, called “14 rooms”. A project by Kunsthalle Basel and Art Basel, curated by a famous curator featuring Performance Art. By opening doors to each of the rooms individually, the visitors get their own experience of the art shown. It is all about the individual experience.

With the Art Unlimited feature it is almost the same. The visitor can experience art as well by walking through it. It is a bundle of artworks, selected and arranged to give them what they seek: an event. Along with Art mediation through Art talks and guided tours even visitors outside the Art business get addressed.

But it is not only at Art Basel where it becomes noticeable that art shows have to provide a “event”-esque factor to attract visitors. One example is a highly visited art work of Tomas Saraceno at K21 in Düsseldorf which was shown there in the beginning of 2014. The work itself was a kind of spider web spanned underneath the roof of the building which could be mounted by five people at a time. Sitting there in this gigantic web over the area way with a view down onto the entrance hall the art work became a huge attraction. Art has to deliver this individual experience to be worth seeing nowadays.

This could be worrisome for the development of art especially when it is excessively shown at trend-setting institutions such as fairs. The more people seek this character in art other art works might get suppressed and get rejected by the canon of arthistoriography because the audience’s taste also influences it. On the other hand it blocks and competes with the remaining arts as seen at the fair. With less visitors coming to the described first hall, making sales was harder this year than the previous ones. Even exhibitors at another art fair, Liste, in Basel acutalized this during the duration of this satellite fair.

It seems like everything has to be an event nowadays to be worth visiting, even a museum. But what will we do when the events presented are not enough anymore?

„Westside Story“

As I was originally planning to focus this blog on a comparism between Germany and Switzerland, respectively a place to point out swiss behaviour, a blogpost by a fellow student in my cultural studies-class caught my attention. She was writing about a local mall in Berne, called Westside and how odd she was feeling inside because of the architecture. To be honest, I felt the same way. But it was not only that made me feel uncomfortable.

The mall is situated in a rather „bad“ part of Berne („bad“ in terms of a swiss point of view, it would be an average quarter in Germany), outside the city center. This area once was constructed as a big building project in the 70s that aimed to give different classes a place to live. It is a mixture of apartment buildings (in different sizes) and family homes that should have been available for every income. Nowadays the quarter is mainly inhabited by the middle-class, along with students and senior citizens in special retirement homes as rents in Bümpliz are relatively low.

In between the predominitely 70s architecture the mall looks like an alien ship that has recently landed. Its architecture is boxy and enormous compared to the surrounding houses. Different materials are trying to structure the outside, especially with the help of wood and glass. The mall stands in strong contrast to the concrete and tile buildings around it, only a few modernised ones fit the style of Libeskind’s planning.

On the inside everything is enormous and alien, too. With its polished floors, lightflooded hallways and high ceilings, the mall has an extremely posh look which also stands in opposition to what someone would expect in Bümpliz. The architecture promises glamour that the quarter can’t come up with. It exaggarates the gap between high and low-culture, and between rich and poor.

But why would anyone place a building like that built by a famous architect in the middle of nowhere?

The answer is gentrification. Formally known „bad“ parts of cities are undergoing changes in terms of inhabitants, infrastructure and rent level. At first a shopping mall like that may seem like an opportunity to offer citizens an improved infrastructure as well as an enhancement of their quality of living, but the longterm goal of city planning looks different.

With those improved conditions a quarter becomes interesting to different kinds of people. Many houseowners seize the chance to renovate and modernise buildings to lift them to a better standart as well. During this process the old renters have to endure the reconstruction process or move flats. This also makes it possible for landlords to rise the monthly amount of rent significally and get rid of unwanted renters because the old ones are not able to afford their old flat anymore. In this process certain groups of people are leaving a quarter, too, like seniors and students, and others move in. Step by step a quarter changes and develops towards an upper-class quarter whilst surpressing the middle-class.

In Bümpliz especially families with children and rich senior citizens seem to be the targeted new inhabitants because along with the mall a huge pool was built along with flats for seniors. Berne answers to a new trend of families and seniors to prefer living in cities instead of villages.

The new mall therefore is not only a new „place to be“ in Berne, but also a way of restructuring the city without the neighbourhood realising it at first. Slowly the middle-class will vanish from this area to locations offering cheaper rents. What know looks like a knew highlight for Bümpliz is acutally the starting point for restructuring and change. What else would bring Berne to assign a famous architect on a far too huge mall in the middle of “nowere”?

Emoji Dick

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Just recently a classic novel, Moby Dick, had been translated into Emojis (Emoji Dick). These tiny faces/signs/symbols which originated in Japan were used to recreate this whole story. Many small pictures now „narrate“ this novel but still are accompanied by the original text.

The „translation“ can be understood as a rather ironic observation on the use of language and writing nowadays. Emojis made their way into main culture through messaging, mostly via chats and mails. They are/were widely used to express emotions and to give written text on technical devices a human touch. They gave „spoken“ text back the missing facial expression and thus making it easier to understand the subconscious message. Emoticons complemented a text. In this certain case they reanimate an old classic by adapting it to modern times.

One has to know that it took a long time for the translators to make up this text in Emojis. There had been various versions that were rated and commented until one version made it into the book. The task of translating was being taken serious. But why would anyone do such a thing? Why would you pay money to translate a classic into a made-up sign-language?

Maybe because it answers to this modern society in a way that no-one ever did (at least when it comes to translations like these). It is a successful combination of low and high culture and it mirrors everyday life as we try to do the same by typing Emojis into our messages. But there have surely been commercial thoughts behind it as well when choosing a classic. First of all it is a widely known work that many people had to read at school and on the other hand there are no Copyright-payments to be made to the author since the book is old enough and is not touched by law anymore.  This combination of reputation and relatively low costs made an attempt like that possible.

But the success came with the notion that everybody could somehow relate to. We use Emojis everyday. It is a fun way to show that – now that there is a wide range of Emojis – whole stories could be told without typing a single word and thus omitting the usage of language. You don’t have to think of proper grammar or spelling when using a symbol. Sure, the plot is still there, but the unique writing style, the semantic and syntactic variations would have been lost without the original sentences written below.

The comment on this development is the release of „Emoji Dick“. It somehow raises awareness that our use of language is changing through time and technology. Our language-use got simpler – even without Emojis – because languages are shifting constructions that adapt on society. It is focused on speaking/writing English in this globalized world, but Emojis cross these boarders whilst forming a universal sign-language everybody can/could understand.

Poverty amongst students

I read in the news that there more and more students have to go get their food from the so-called “Tafeln” in Germany. These welfare groups give out groceries almost for free to those who are in need. Those groceries mostly have been provided by local supermarkets because they can’t be sold anymore (but still are good to eat).

In order to go home with a bag full of semi-fresh groceries you have to stand in line, pay a low amount of money and proof your poverty by showing a certain ID-card. On one hand this is a good way to make sure less food is going to waste and to help the poor, but on the other hand it is also embarassing for those people in the queue to show openly that they don’t have enough money to live off.

The article also stated that there is to be a “Tafel” established on campus of Münster University (a really well-known university town) since there is a desperate need for it. It honestly didn’t surprise me that students in Germany aren’t always able to make a living. According to a survey the average student makes around 864 Euros a month whilst the poverty rate ranges at 960 Euros. So even with student discounts it is hard to cope with this amount of money.

But the reality looks way different than that. There are a lot students living beneath the average figure stated by the newspaper (since there is a huge gap between incomes). In reality poverty amongst students – especially from working-class families – is common and many would be happy to have those 864 Euros because their families can’t afford a costly course of studies or they can’t even make enough by working part-time.

In theory there also exists a system called “BAföG” to support students in the welfare-state Germany. It was once introduced in the 70s in order to make it possible for working-class children to attend university by giving them a mothly amount of money as a loan. Only half of the money has to be paid back to the state after a few years (without interest). But what sounds like a good way to support students is a highly regulated system which depends on many different factors. It regulates how much a recipient is allowed to work for their maintenance, takes parental income into account and overall forces many into poverty that way.  In theory a student may get a maximum of 670 Euros, but only a small percentage receive that much (e.g. if your parents live off welfare-money). But other than that the average student receives 334 Euros. Even with the allowed amount of money a student can make by working (450 Euros) it doesn’t make living because the system counts on parents to step in.

But what if your parents aren’t able to do so?  The recent event in Münster and the acutal need for facilities giving out food shows that this so-called social security system fails to secure students. It shows that there is a higher need for ways of support and that “BAföG” is not enough to live off.

Society thinks, that it is possible to study without (financial) aid, but it isn’t. There acutally is a rising number of working-class children studying (also encouraged by “BAföG”) but it is far less than children of Academic families attending University. In the statistics this huge number of Academic children compensate those with lower income resulting in the numbers stated in the article.

On one hand everybody gets encouraged by the state to study, to be a citizen with good education who is able to give the state something in return. Every good educated citizen gives the State money, in the form of taxes, reputation and so on. Everybody is human capital to the state. In Germany with its highly export oriented economy it is extremely important to treasure knowledge and support the need to study further.

The german state on the other hand tries to encourage people to study with the help of a 40-year-old system that urgently needs to be updated and levelled to general income. There’s no use of a free educational system if people can’t afford to study or have to drop out because they don’t know how to make ends meet. Students don’t need riches but an amount of money that enables them to live without shame and relying on welfare. Someone who is willing to stand in line on campus with everybody to see really is in need.

Your healthy dinner on Instagram

One of the basic needs of human being is food. It keeps us alive and healthy but also fulfills a social element of society. Food is a reason to come together as well as a everyday life topic. By preparing cake and sharing it we make friends at the office. By having a big dinner we celebrate a special occasion. The Chinese even tend to ask their counterparts if they have already eaten instead of directly asking how they are (this question evolved in a time when people where short on food and thus making this information crucial to know).

In a world where you usually don’t have to worry about an empty stomach, food plays a different role than mere survival. It is also a means for individuals to express themselves. Food considered “good” (healthy, exotic,…) is more likely to be more expensive than food considered “bad” (fast food,…) and by that it becomes an instrument to seperate society. In modern times we know that there is a higher chance to become overweight if one possesses a lower income whereas it is easier to live healthy when earning an higher wage.

On the internet (especially Instagram) it has become popular to take photos of food in order to present them to the community. You can see nicely arranged plates filled with “good” food along with the matching captions and/or comments. People are showing off what they are eating…isn’t that bizzare? The users are telling everybody (who wants to listen) through those pictures that they are somehow living a better life. Food is seperating them from a lower class because “good food” implies also an ability to spend more money on alimentation.

With captions like “healty dinner” and so on, it is made clear, that there is only “good food” on the plate. But why is this so important? It seems like it has become a big trend to eat healthy (which is really good in my opinion) but it also reached a point where it became excessive. There are so many different kinds of “ideal” diets circulating in the modern world which makes it almost impossible to keep track of them. Food has become a new lifestyle. It is not organic alimentation or vegetarism that I am pointing at. I am thinking of trends like “clean eating”, “carbfree” or whatsoever which are mostly undergone just for the sake of losing weight.

So people do not only show off their better income but also their better lifestyle altogether. Especially amongst females it seems like it has become a trend to exhibit every meal they are going to ingest. They are spending time on preparing, arranging and posting food online. They do not only show the world how they’re holding up in their diet, they show their “good” way of living, again seperating themselves from others. They eat “better” than others. They have a better lifestyle. They are fashinable by eating certain foods. And they only know that because they can compare themselves to others by using Instagram.

A Generation of Movers

The film “3 Zimmer/Küche/Bad” (3 Rooms/Kitchen/Bathroom) shows a group of friends in their midtwenties who are always on the move. It caputres them during one year of their lifes: They help each other out when they move from one flat to another and from one relationship to another. During that year they are studying, starting their first jobs or new lifes. They are somehow all standing at a turning-point in their individual lifes.

– There is this one guy who is living alone and is not able to hold a stable relationship (who ends up with a child und soon-to-be wife).

– There is one guy who moves in with his girlfriend (but they end up breaking up and going their own ways living in shared flats again).

– There is one guy living in a shared flat who is palnning on moving in with his long-distance girlfriend (naturally she gives up everything for him and he betrays her).

– There are those two friends sharing an apartment and who in the end they drift apart (with one moving into a single apartment whilst the other one stays on her own).

Somehow their way of living always reflects the personal situation they are in. They have to start over again and again, moving from one flat to another and from one city to another. You can find every living-situation imaginable in the film and it is always changing. From living alone, to shared flats, to couples moving in together.  All this happens in 3 room-flats (as the title implies).

But why are these everyday-life stories so interesting you might ask? Are they that special?

At first sight it might look like it is always about them – this specific group of friends – but it is also a good portrait of the this generation of twenty-somethings. They are always on the move. If something does not suit us anymore it is time to move on/out. An ended relationship equals a new flat, a new career means a bigger flat and so on.

We move from one city to another for the perfect study program. We move away to do various internships only for the sake of chasing after the perfect reference to include into our CV. We are having long distance-relationships because we can’t stay at one place long enough and settle down (which forces us again to be on the move constantly). We leave everything behind to fulfill our personal dreams.

Nowadays we have every option imaginable. We are used to have this luxurious freedom to choose the path of life we are dreaming of. We were raised as a self-confident generation that wants everything and everything at once. We will always be chasing after something because there will always be some piece of our personal puzzle missing. We grew up to be a generation that also has everything. We didn’t revolt against the system, we didn’t have to fight for something like so many generations before us. It seems like we are more self-centered, never fighting for the common good but always for the individual one. This film captures this way of feeling quite perfectly just by picturing a flat-switching group of friends.