Like Home

In our home town of Berlin, Catherine Marshall visits an exhibition that explores notions of place and home through the work of different artists:

In a grand corner apartment block in Berlin’s Mitte near Friedrichstraße, eleven artists with a connection to South America and Berlin have set up temporary home, or ‘Like Home” as the exhibition is titled. It is organised by the project Loop Raum, and the focus of the work is on abstraction, patterning, repetition and colour. Visiting it transported me back to the time of abundant unrenovated spaces in Berlin, where you might come across pop-up exhibitions in unusual places and have the pleasure of discovering the unexpected. Stepping into the the first-floor apartment where the exhibition is held, the space exudes the former grandeur of its Grunderzeit architecture with its high ceilings, intricate stucco and beautiful parquet flooring. At the same time, the rooms are damp and cold in places, the corridors are quite spooky and maze-like and plaster lies exposed with remnants of wallpaper from bygone years. We start to explore.

Carla Guagliardi / "O Lugar do ar" (The place of air)

Carla Guagliardi / "O Lugar do ar" (The place of air)

In the first room, we see a delicate kinetic sculpture of iron rods supported by rubber bands that crisscross the entire room by the Brazilian artist Carla Guagliardi.  A piece called "O Lugar do ar" (The place of air), its structure imposes a new language over the room with its potential to shift and change shape. It's material and formal abstraction is incongruous to the historicist style of the room, yet it reinvents it. It is not solid and fixed, yet it has a strong presence. When we endeavour to make a new city feel like home, we wish to carve out a space for ourselves, both physically and mentally. Due to economic necessity, a transient way of life can also become a permanent state.

We turn the corner down a long corridor where a small drawing by Columbian artist Carlos Silva from his ‘Mazy Drawing’ series hangs. Its overlapping squares of blue ink appear to have been made with a scraping technique. The wall it hangs on carries its own marks: Swathes of white filler on plywood and torn wallpaper edges. The work draws attention to the layers of workmanship and materials of the flat itself. In this show, many of the artworks resonate with the apartment itself, its ghosts and history, making us question who might have lived here. It reminds us also that home is never static, is not just located in place but also in time. 

Carlos Silva / "Mazy Drawing II"

Carlos Silva / "Mazy Drawing II"

Leaving the corridor, Chilean artistGonzalo Reyes Araos’ grid-like “RGB Painting” revels in glitches that might appear on a computer screen, except that this is reproduced here meticulously in paint. It’s as if the romantic landscape genre of the eighteenth century practiced by artists such as Caneletto has been updated. Instead of architectural ruins we have crumbling technology. Have we passed the threshold where our home screens feel more like home than our actual home?

Other works in the show play with optical illusion, geometric forms and seem to want to reach beyond the boundaries possible between four walls or even within the limits of their own frames. Carla Bertone’s colourful painting ‘Turgoxid’ looks as if origami paper has been folded and refolded in a quest to reach the limits imposed by the square, if there are any. Maria Muroz’s “Lemniscata” is a play on the mathematical symbol of an infinity loop. Close up, however the progression of colour through the figure of eight is not so straightforward. New angles and colours become apparent, questioning our own logic.

When you move city or country or live between places then perhaps there is ‘no place like home’. Instead it is something better, a plurality of homes, experiences, memories, friends and origins. We have moved on from Dorothy’s trance-line repetitions of “there is no place like home” as she returns to her Kansas’ origin. We prefer the uncertainty of Oz, and its new possibilities. In ‘Like Home’ I felt these artists might enjoy that notion too.

The exhibition ‘Like Home’ has been extended to July 21 and has been expanded to include an additional fifteen more artists. It can be seen at GLINT, Glinkastraße 17, 10117. The show was originally paired with another project called ‘No Place’ with the joint title ‘No place/ Like Home’

Standing on a windy corner of Ku'damm in Autumn

Emily.jpg

By Emily Richards:

It is six o'clock in the evening and I am waiting for a bus because I chose to miss the last one. Here at Olivaer Platz in Berlin, as the people run out of their offices to jump on buses, speed across lanes in their shiny black BMWs, or swerve on their bikes through traffic in their anxiety to be home, I am unable to move, mesmerised by this autumn evening.  I have passed through this place, one of the busiest in Berlin, at different times and for different reasons for twenty-five years now. Once it was strange to me. Then, it was home. Now it is strange again.

It is not yet dark but there is a haze upon the air, and some of the street-lamps are already glowing silvery-bright. The autumn light turns from gold to a translucent pallor, tinged with the colours of the red, gold and brown leaves swirling in the wind. The flowers on the corner of the Platz, planted in a gesture of beauty amidst noisy traffic, still grow in green profusion, though a dimness is settling over them as evening falls. They are the first to lose their outlines in the twilight; the first to be overlooked as our faces turn towards clocks, mobile phones, LED displays to see if it's hometime yet, so that the longing which has built in us all day can be released like the tension on a trigger.

But I won't be going home just yet. I'm kept here almost against my will by the fading light, by the faces of Berlin that pass me by one by one and look at me for longer than English faces would, on this evening, two days after the general election. In the election, a radical right-wing party gained over a quarter of the vote in parts of Germany, and thirteen percent overall. I look at each person who walks, ambles or hurries past, and their faces look different to me.

I never noticed how misshapen and worn a human face can look. Sagging skin, stooped shoulders, a grimacing mouth; orange blusher scarring the too-pale face of a middle-aged woman who plunges in uncomfortably high shoes to her next appointment. Her head's skewed around awkwardly to pin her mobile phone to her shoulder as she talks into it, gesturing vaguely, staring at nothing. A tall, elderly woman with thinning brown hair and feet too plump for her old black shoes walks as stiffly as if on stilts, slowly raising each foot high above the pavement before grinding it back down. A younger woman with half-shaved head, dressed entirely in black with wide Cossack-style trousers and Russian boots, walks boldly past, but her clothes are dusty, nearly grey in places. A young man ambles in front of me, dark hair closely gelled to his scalp, eyes glued on the tightly-clad bottom of the young, hard-faced woman ahead of him, whose heavy gait is disconcertingly masculine for someone with such a bleached-blonde ponytail and such conventional make-up. Her double chin sags and the lines around her eyes crease as she swings her head round, shouting into her phone. An old man – but surely he's not much older than I am! – with a loose mouth, a white fringe of hair and a red nose stands for minutes in front of a rubbish bin, staring into it, looking for bottles he can take away and turn into money; then he looks around swiftly, bends to the ground and snatches up a fag-end before swinging away, arms flopping wide and uncontrolled in his badly-fitting beige jacket.

There is a sense of dissolution in the air.

The summer dissolves; the outline of the Ku'damm, of its buildings, buses, lamp-posts and cars, seems to dissolve in the haze of this autumn evening, in the rustle and whisper of the leaves moved by the wind. Before my eyes, the safety I once found here dissolves too. The reassuring, orderly security of these middle-class Germans loses its outline in the dusk, their aspirational Wirtschaftswunderland revealing itself as the illusion I should have known it to be. I did know it, really. But the shared illusion was a comfort, and, as such, transcended its own illusory nature to demonstrate its greater truth: that security, beauty and order all matter, and that those who are denied them or have lost them or mistrust them will turn to more dangerous illusions of their own; for example, that rejecting everything outside your own culture and experience will keep you safe. In this way they remove safety for everyone, not least themselves. For what if one day their fellow voters turn to them and say, "But you had a foreign grandparent did you not? You were once kind to a refugee, we hear." Then you too will be cast out. This is what happens. But by then you'll have done your damage, and it will be too late to be sorry.

Yet nonetheless, on this autumn evening, the wind whispers to me that something is stirring, something is afoot, something is changing. And I prefer this in the end. I prefer it, though I don't know what it is, what it will demand of me, what it will do to me.

And now here is my bus. And like all Berliners I might be foolish enough to miss a bus once, but I won't miss it twice. For who knows when the next one will arrive? Who knows when I'll be home.

You can read more from Emily on her blogs The Castle Captures Me and Boring in Berlin.

Printed Matters: NANSEN Magazine

As small independent publishers of a small independent journal, we are always interested in the work of like-minded folk, especially if the subject matter relates to our own investigations of people and place. NANSEN Magazine is a new project from an old friend of ours and tells the story of migrants of all kinds. Their first issue was published yesterday, and we caught up with editor and publisher Vanessa Ellingham to find out more.

Hi Vanessa! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and what inspired this new magazine?

I’m a journalist and editor, originally from Wellington, New Zealand, now living in Berlin. I’ve been here for four years, but before moving to Berlin I lived in Copenhagen for a year with my partner, who’s Danish.

My year in Copenhagen didn’t go very well. I was struggling to settle in, find work, make friends and feeling pretty lonely. One of the things I did was go and volunteer at a refugee camp, where I met other newcomers in a very different situation to myself - for one thing, if I was so fed up I could just move home again, which they absolutely could not. It got me thinking about all the things we had in common as newcomers to Denmark and the solidarity to be found between different kinds of people living far from home but all giving it their best shot.

What is it about the topic of migrants and migration that interested you?

Migration has always been part of human life on earth and it certainly isn’t going to stop. I think the events of 2015 only highlighted the need for us to better understand why people leave home in search of a - hopefully - better life.

I first had the idea for a magazine about migrants a couple of years before the “refugee crisis”, when I was standing in IKEA in Berlin, having just shopped for new furniture in a new country for the second time in a year.

With NANSEN Magazine we want to introduce our readers to all kinds of people on the move and explore the personal experiences of migration that other migrants can relate to and non-migrants probably will, too.

Because migrants aren’t just refugees. We’re also doctors and artists and lovers and diplomats. Some migrants are better known for being movie stars than for their immigration status. But they likely have many shared experiences with other people who’ve upped and left home.

That’s why we focus on one migrant per issue, to go deep into their experiences so that, after reading the magazine, you feel like you’ve really gotten to know that person.

What can we find in issue #1?

Issue 01 centres on Aydin Akin, someone many Berliners will know, although most likely not by name. Aydin is a 78-year-old Turkish-German man who cycles across the city each day, demonstrating for migrant rights.

It’s an endurance protest - his trip takes three hours each way - and he’s been doing it for 12 years. But if you spot Aydin on his bike, decked out with his handwritten protest posters, his two megaphones blasting music and his protest chant, and the annoying whistle he bleats on as he rides, it can be hard to see him as anything other than totally crazy.

Turns out Aydin has some great ideas for how to better welcome newcomers to Berlin and Germany. He’s spent almost 50 years now living in Germany and advocating for equal rights for all of Germany’s migrants. He believes that giving newcomers equal footing from the get-go is the best way to prevent the anger, hate and violence that occurs when people are excluded from the societies they live in. I think Aydin’s someone worth listening to, whether you live in Berlin, Germany or somewhere else.

So Issue 01 is about Aydin and his life in Berlin. But because he’s so focused on others, and the broader migrant community, this issue spins out to explore what it’s like to be a Turk living in Berlin today. We spend a day waiting in line at the Ausländerbehörde, we chart the history of Turkish guest workers in Germany - another large group of migrants who arrived en masse by train, decades before the 2015 “refugee crisis” - we talk about Willkommenskultur and we meet the next generation of Turkish-German Berliners.

What is next for Nansen?

We plan to make future issues of NANSEN about migrants of all kinds living all over the world.

And we promise they won’t all be people working in the area of migration, Aydin just seemed like a great subject to start with. We like to be bold and a little playful - you can expect us to go beyond the melancholy of traditional migration reporting. Because there’s plenty of joy in being a newcomer, too.

But making future issues really depends on how Issue 01 sells. So we’d love to sell you a copy of our mag!

Can you also tell us a little bit about the Give Something Back to Berlin project?

At GSBTB I work in communications. I edit and manage the online magazine, which is by and about Berlin's newcomers.

GSBTB started as one answer to the gentrification taking place in Berlin neighbourhoods like Neukölln, where hip young newcomers were moving in and pushing up the cost of living, to the frustration of the locals, both Germans and other, more established migrants. GSBTB offered a platform for newcomers to be matched up with volunteer opportunities, enabling them to give back to their new home city.

We started with a Facebook post in 2012. Today GSBTB runs many of its own projects, from cooking groups to social meet-ups to art therapy, that support newcomers to get settled in Berlin. At any of our events or projects, you’ll find locals, expats, refugees and people somewhere in-between all mucking in, invested in the idea of doing something good for the city together.

NANSEN Magazine website
NANSEN Magazine on Facebook
Give Something Back To Berlin website

The story of a beach: Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin

Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P014703 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P014703 / Frankl, A. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

By Paul Scraton

Down in the south-west of Berlin, close to the border with Potsdam, is a wide expanse of golden sand. This the Strandbad Wannsee, the city’s most famous beach, and a popular place to escape the heat of the summer in Berlin without leaving the city limits. The story of the Strandbad Wannsee, which has been name-checked in popular show tunes and punk songs, reflects Berlin’s experiences in the 20th century, and especially the years of division, when this beach became the Riviera, the Adriatic and the North Sea of the West Berliners imagination, all rolled into one.

The tale of the Strandbad begins, as so much in Berlin, with the rapid growth following German unification in 1871. From three quarters of a million residents, the city boomed to reach almost two million at the turn of the century, less than thirty years later. The majority of incomers lived in one- or two-room apartments in so-called Mietskaserne (rental barracks), enduring cramped conditions with limited sanitary facilities. It was unsurprising that as soon as the spring weather turned warm people flocked to the lakes and rivers surrounding Berlin.

At the same time, public bathing was technically illegal – Victorian morality was just as pervasive in Wilhelmine Germany as it was on the other side of the North Sea – but soon the numbers were such that the local municipality of Teltow, south of Berlin, bowed to the popular pressure and in 1907 it made a 200m stretch of the Wannsee shoreline open to the public. The Strandbad Wannsee was born, with two separate beaches (one for men, one for women) and a motley collection of ‘facilities’ among the trees, usually housed in tents. By the late 1920s the tents had been replaced by the buildings that remain to this day, designed by Martin Wagner and Richard Ermisch in a simple, functional style known as ‘New Objectivity’.

By the late 1920s, the visitors to the Strandbad Wannsee had access to changing facilities, terraces for sporting and other leisure activities, the beach itself and various culinary offerings, each designed to accommodate tens of thousands of bathers at any one time. But while this corner of the city might have felt like an escape from the city hidden beyond the trees, it could not remain aloof from the turbulent events of the period as Weimar Germany lurched from crisis to crisis and the National Socialists came ever closer to power.

The tension in the city was reflected in the street battles between Nazis, Communists and agents of the state, flaring up dramatically in the working class neighbourhoods of Wedding, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg. Yet another place where such battles occurred was the beach at Wannsee. Planting flags each political grouping would mark out its territory on the sands indicating allegiance by sewing the appropriate patch of identity on bathing costumes. Add to the simmering mix long hot summer’s days and excesses of beer and soon fighting broke out, often involving members of staff and, once the alarm was raised, the authorities.

The man attempting to manage the Strandbad through this period was one Hermann Clajus, a local Social Democratic councillor. After Hitler took power in 1933, Clajus was dismissed from his post and learned that he was about to be arrested. On the 18th March 1933 Hermann Clajus took his own life, and as with the rest of Germany the Strandbad had fallen into Nazi hands. By 1935 Jews were forbidden from bathing at Wannsee, although this regulation and its accompanying signs were removed for the 1936 Olympics, presumably in an attempt to hide overt displays of discrimination from visiting dignitaries. By 1938 Jews were forbidden from bathing in any public baths, open air or otherwise.

After the Second World War, particularly following the building of the Berlin Wall, the Strandbad Wannsee became very important for West Berliners. With sand imported from the West German Baltic coast, it offered a very real sense of escape within the limits of their surrounded city. Most of the lakes and much of the Baltic coast, lying within the territory of the German Democratic Republic, were now off limits, and so Wannsee and the surrounding forests became the only really accessible “countryside” that did not involve a flight, train or autobahn transit through the GDR to West Germany. This sense of longing for a seaside far away, having to ‘make do’ with the beach at Wannsee, was best expressed in the lyrics of West Berlin punk band Die Ärtze’s 1988 single Westerland, which namechecks the Strandbad in its opening line.

The Wall is now long gone, and West Berliners have the choice of many lakes in Brandenburg. They can be on the beach at the Baltic Sea in a couple of hours, but the Strandbad Wannsee retains its popularity, celebrating its centenary in 2007 and designated a cultural heritage site. Its popularity with Berlin’s public is undiminished and approximately a quarter of a million bathers pass through its turnstiles every summer.

About the author: Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and his short essay on crossing borders appears in the latest edition of the journal. He is also the author of Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast (Influx Press) and you can read more of his work on his website www.underagreysky.com.

Swimming in the city and country: Turning - by Jessica J. Lee

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

Read by Paul Scraton:

Early on in the pages of Turning, a swimming memoir about taking a dip in 52 lakes in Berlin and the surrounding Brandenburg countryside, Jessica J. Lee admits to fears and insecurities in the water. This is something I share. I have never been a massive fan of swimming, whether in the sea or the swimming pool, and especially when out of my depth. It has only been in the past couple of years, swimming in some of the very same lakes that Lee visits in this excellent book, that I began to conquer those fears.

It was then that I began to understand what people were talking about when they - like Lee herself - quoted Roger Deakin and his description of the ‘frog’s eye view’. As Lee describes being in the water in Brandenburg, surrounded by the pines and the sky, I can picture it exactly as I have experienced it as well. You do get a different view from the water, a different understanding of place. And that, for me at least, is ultimately the story of this book: as well as personal history sensitively and bravely told, Turning is about a person gaining a feeling for the history and the stories of the places she visits, deepening her knowledge of the geology, ecology, communities and political history of the city she lives in and the surrounding countryside, each time she takes to the water.

As someone who both shares these interests about place in general, and about Berlin and Brandenburg specifically, it is not surprising that I found myself nodding in agreement and recognition as I read. There were other elements of the story that resonated as well: the loneliness of being new in a big city and of building a personal connection to the place by getting to know and to love the landscape, the forests, the suburban S-Bahn lines and the gruff owners of rural snack kiosks.

Lee is an elegant writer; precise in her description, thoughtful in her observation, and most of all interested in the world that surrounds her. This is not always the case when it comes to memoirs, which can sometimes become so tied up in the internal emotions of the writer that there is no space for any exterior, for the world around them, and therefore context to the story they are trying to tell. In Turning, Lee’s personal journey is deeper and richer for the reader because the lakes and their surroundings are characters in the story. As is the weather. As are the seasons. The plan was to explore the 52 lakes over the course of a year, and so Lee was swimming at the height of summer and in the depths of the winter, breaking the ice with a little hammer in order to clear enough room for her to have a swim.

Indeed, one of my favourite lines in the book - one that had me reaching for a pen in order to scribble it down for later - concerned the shifting of the seasons: “It’s all too easy,” Lee writes, “to be sucked under by sadness in the autumn.” I understand that emotion only too well, even if I haven’t (yet) tried a plunge in an autumnal pool to try and alleviate the October blues.

And then, a few pages later, more recognition: “I’ve become divided, stretched across places.” At the very time I was reading this book, I was working on my own project about walking the outskirts of Berlin. One of the motivations for these walks was to try and gain a better understanding of the city I live in a time when my feelings about place, belonging and identity had been thrown into turmoil by referendum results and a series of trips “home” that made me wonder, more than I ever had before, where “home” actually is. I too have felt stretched and divided. The only question, is whether it matters. Each walk, each swim, can help the clarification process.

Walking or swimming. Building our connection and understanding of a place by interacting with the landscape, the history and the people, can be done in different ways. The strength of the book is, I believe, that it not only is a good story very well told, but that it will make readers think about their own places, their own feelings of home and belonging, of their own lakes, forests or city streets, and think a little deeper about them. Jessica J. Lee’s is a trip to the lake well worth taking, inspiring even this reluctant swimmer to reach for his swimming shorts (if not the ice hammer).

Support your local bookshop! Go and get your copy of Turning by Jessica J. Lee there. Meanwhile, here is Jessica's website.

The 2017 Berlin Writing Prize

With a theme like “Home is Elsewhere”, it is no wonder that we wanted to get involved in the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize, presented by our good friends The Reader Berlin, The Circus Hotel and SAND Journal. The prize is a month-long writer’s residency in our home city, where “the winning writer will have undisturbed time to observe, explore and write in one of the world’s most inspiring cities.”

The closing date for submissions is 31 July 2017, the competition is open to published and unpublished writers resident anywhere in the world, and the judges include, award-winning author Irenosen Okojie, author and creative director Michael Salu, SAND editor Florian Duijsens, Katrin Schönig from The Circus Hotel and our very own editor in chief Paul Scraton. The competition is for prose writing (fiction and non-fiction) and there is a maximum word length of 3000 words.

For all the various bits and pieces you need to know about submitting your entry to the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize, please head on over to the competition page on The Reader’s website. There you will find the submissions guidelines, details of the prizes and biographies of the judges.

We’re really excited to read what comes in and to celebrate fresh, original writing and emerging writing talent.
 

Elsewhere editor Paul Scraton on the Papertrail podcast

By Paul Scraton:

I was extremely pleased to be asked to take part in the Papertrail podcast, a fantastic new audio series that invites writers and other artists to chat for a while about some of their favourite books. Because of my own writing, and the theme of our journal, we decided to select three books that are somehow dealing with the idea of place but which also have a special personal connection for me. If you want to find out what they are about, and why they are important to me, then you'll need to have a listen. Thanks to Alex for inviting me, and I hope if it inspires any of you to read these books I am sure you won't regret it.