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”?