"das Leben ist viel länger als man glaubt"
Simply finding your way into some of the galleries in Berlin can be a feat in
itself. No doubt you will be required to negotiate a construction site or two.
You slip on some rubble, fall down a ditch and happen upon a set of stairs inside
a recycling bin leading to a bunker. There you are greeted by what appears to
be a toilet door. Stuck on this somewhat dubious entrance is an envelope with
KUNST scribbled on it. You are getting warmer. Scramble around a bit and you
might be lucky enough to find a bell which, when pushed, allows that same door
to creak open to reveal a space, one supposes, for art. Under the steely surveillance
of a likely-looking gallerist you, the intrepid viewer, may then cop your well-earned
fill. And that's just the mainstream.
authentic culture, diaspora style
You're never sure what you're actually looking at in Berlin. For example, the
so-called 'ancient city' was fabricated c. 1987, and it's likely that yr average
17 c. Schloß (palace) was reconstructed in the 1960s. In the East, anything
left standing after the war which looked remotely old was left to ruin or replaced
by a futuristic egg-carton (until the money ran out). Nothing is what it seems.
The construction sites here are promoted as tourist attractions (as well they
might). There is no centre, and since the wall came down no clearly-defined focal
point for political action. Barely anyone seems to come from Berlin, and if you
were actually born here, you're probably Turkish. Berlin has gone way beyond
such easily palatable terms as 'multicultural.'
Such conditions, as you would expect, signify an identity crisis of epic proportions,
but also an extraordinarily dynamic atmosphere ripe for artistic invention. The
fact, too, that Berlin is separate from the major German art markets of Köln
and Düsseldorf-way out there in the West-means that funding for the arts
is tight (you've heard it all before, huh), but also that 'here on the margins'
(hey, where is that damnable centre?) a siege mentality suitable for a healthy
underground scene prevails.
on the edge, in the middle
When the wall came down, artists from all sides streamed into the eastern part
of Mitte, the district which had previously straddled the wall. Up until about
five years ago, yr average bohemian could live there fairly cheaply until money
and the housing authorities stepped in. Now it's increasingly becoming a tourist
trap and the artists are gradually moving deeper into the former east. Mitte
itself remains an important site for independent and commercial galleries, boasting
about 70 art institutions in the space of about 4 blocks, but it's clear that
the market holds court, despite the abundant rubble and grime. However, Herr
Blank's sensitive antenna managed to track down one bohemian enclave still clinging
to their birthright in Mitte.
The antipodean contingent knew it had stumbled upon some semblance of the nitty-gritty,
when we sloped into a radioberlin opening one evening. To our delight, smoke
mingled happily with art to the accompaniment of some very pleasant sounds indeed,
care of our affable mentor and guide, Mr. Nice. This was definitely casual. Blank
and I went to find out more.
When we arrived to chat to Mr. Nice (a.k.a. Patrick Zollinger), he was mopping
the floor of radioberlin. We were quickly brought up to speed with radioberlin's
recent plumbing triumph-a toilet which no longer explodes to be exact-and it
was clear that all was well with the tribe. I share these banal details to illustrate
that radioberlin's Kunstkonzept is fundamentally involved with the messy necessities
and chaos of life: that thing which, despite arguments to the contrary, never
seems to impinge upon capital 'A' Art. In other words: a guy's gotta think, but
someone's gotta make the coffee. Mr. Nice told us that he found his niche in
this particular game ('Kunst', that is) by becoming a chef and barguy, thus making
himself indispensible. A fine strategy, and one strangely appealing to those
for whom practical details have swiftly become top priority.
NTSR-never the same radiobar
radioberlin's earliest manifestation, from what we could gather, was as the party-machine
called radiobar. The inaugural radiobar happened in 1993 as a small kind-of one-off
backyard bar with cool sounds, cool drinks and 'really big paintings' by Jim
Avignon. All invitations were by word of mouth, as they are to this day. The
Berlinkoktail was invented and quickly became an institution.
This tentative foray into the art/entertainment/atmosphere (or whatever) business
soon revealed the need to find bigger and better premises because, as Patrick
related, "everyone want[ed] to invade us." During the following years
the radiobar team went on to stage unique events (NTSR) at (among other places)
the original (post-reunification) cool clubs in the former east (Friseur, Tresor
and Elektro), the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) in 1994 and 1995, and at the Künstlerhaus
Bethanien exhibition spaces in 1995. The latter involved about 15 groups of artists
("including DJ's and everyone else") using about twelve rooms ("each
one an organic entity"). A personal triumph was a party held on the 34th
floor of the Forum Hotel in Alexanderplatz-the centre of the former East-where
the partygoers posed as visitors to the casino upstairs. Radiobar had become
a "visual-audio living society," a kind of "Lunarpark in an arty-farty
style," as Mr. Nice recalled.
The political/art Aktion wing of radiobar/radioberlin is known as the U-Kunst
Gruppe. In 1997, about thirty artists belonging to the group set up shop at Documenta
X. By day they sought to win new friends at their street stall in Kassel by promising "10
Jeff Koons in 80 Minuten," or "24 Beuys in 90 Minuten" (Mondrian,
Lichenstein, Miro, Van Gogh, Picasso, u.s.w.): every day a new artist, and a
fresh U-Kunst Aktion. By night they implemented their radiobarkonzept in a building
near Documenta central, brandishing their kuratorkiller banner as a challenge
to the ever-increasing elitism and stuffy intellectualism for which Documenta
has come to stand. By all accounts, U-Kunst provided a welcome relief from the
claustrophobia of the inner sanctum.
"Wir haben keine Angst. Kunst ist fucking boring entertainment for rich
Bastards who dont't [sic] know how to spend their money... U-Kunst has nothing
to do with Kunst...U-Kunst ist the virus in the systhem [sic]." (from a
recent ad. in the local rag) U-Kunst is currently doing things in its first 'permanent'
exhibition space, radioberlin, which was founded in 1997. Every week there's
a new show, and they manage to make ends meet without funding, somehow, and with
style. It's a comfortable little nook which is becoming, day by day, every bit
like a general store. And this is Mr. Nice's ultimate dream. But as the girl
says, "Tomorrow ist another day."
-many thanks to Patrick Zollinger (Mr. Nice), Markus Rees (PENTAKLON), all the
artists affiliated with radioberlin, and all those tuned in to the psychic airwaves.