Edgework Artist Profile #2: Peter Cusack

Aral Sea, Peter Cusack

Aral Sea, Peter Cusack

As part of our collaboration with Edgework an artist-led cross-disciplinary journal and store with an emphasis on place, we are running a series of monthly profiles of the artists here on Elsewhere. The second in the series is of Peter Cusack, sound artist and musician:

Sounds from Dangerous Places, Peter Cusack

Sounds from Dangerous Places, Peter Cusack

As a field recordist, sound artist and musician, Peter Cusack has long had an interest in the environment. A member of CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice) at the University of the Arts, London, Cusack initiated the Favourite Sounds Project to discover what people find positive about soundscapes where they live, and Sounds From Dangerous Places (sonic journalism) to investigate major environmental damage in areas such as the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the Azerbaijan oil fields, brown coal mining in Germany and the Czech Republic and the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. 

Berlin Sonic Places, Peter Cusack

Berlin Sonic Places, Peter Cusack

He also produced Vermilion Sounds - the environmental sound program - for ResonanceFM Radio, and was DAAD artist-in-residence in Berlin 2011/12, initiating Berlin Sonic Places that examines relationships between soundscape and urban development. He is currently working on Aral Sea Stories, concerning the disappearance and restoration of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the uses and abuses of water along its vast Central Asian watershed. As well as teaching in Berlin, Peter has also been organising a series of soundwalks in the neighbourhood of Pankow. If you’d like to learn more about Peter and his work, follow the various links below.

Peter Cusack on Edgework
Twitter
Favourite Sounds website




Motzstrasse

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By James Carson:

On a warm autumn night, I ordered a beer at a bar in the Schöneberg district of Berlin. On one of the plasma screens positioned behind the bar, Danny Kaye was duetting with Kermit the Frog. On another, a different coupling was in progress between a half-naked firefighter and a young man with a hunger for a half-naked firefighter. A third screen was advertising forthcoming events: Leather Pride, Halloween, Christmas. Before long, another year would have passed into memory.

In a city freighted with history, Schöneberg carries the weight of the past with a rare delicacy. A few blocks from the bar, the art nouveau U-Bahn station on Wittenbergplatz is a testament to Berlin’s imperial heritage, and to its 19th century transformation from  “a dingy city in a marsh” – as Mark Twain put it – to “ the Chicago of Europe.“

Next to the station, an understated sign displays the names of  Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau and the other prison camps where millions were murdered. Many of them began their hellish journeys at Wittenbergplatz.

Further south, the sandstone city hall of Schöneberg was the location for John F Kennedy’s famous speech, in which – depending on who you believe – the President of the United States may or may not have proclaimed himself to be a jam doughnut.

This well-heeled quarter is an architectural Irish stew. Gründerzeit apartments, sporting preposterously ornate balconies, rub shoulders with plainer post-war facades painted in unexpected flavour combinations of aubergine and custard, beetroot and lime. Modern, glass-fronted hotels share the streets with antique stores, booksellers and sex shops. The famous names attached to Schöneberg are as diverse as the landscape: Helmut Newton, David Bowie, the Brothers Grimm.

It’s in this multifaceted neighbourhood that I found myself on a still, September night. Like many a gay bar from Brisbane to Baltimore, this one had a cross section of clientele: locals and tourists, the handsome and the hopeful, the deluded and the desperate.

A low buzz of conversation – punctuated by the occasional grunt escaping from the darkroom – was overlaid by a soundtrack of Europop. The barman conveyed quiet authority, his burly figure contained by a leather harness that was less of a fashion accessory, more a work of civil engineering.

I was embarking on my second beer when the cops arrived. Two, then four, then half a dozen police officers entered the small bar, and paused to survey the scene. Hello, I thought, it’s somebody's birthday, and I sat back to enjoy the show. I had to hand it to them: they looked the real deal, right down to their off-yellow uniforms and don’t-fuck-with-us expressions.

They fanned out, resting glances on clots of men around the bar. From somewhere, a wolf whistle was followed by a snigger. One of the cops caught my gaze, then released it before heading into the darkroom. The occupants must have thought Christmas had come early.  

Two officers were stationed at the door. One nudged the other and gestured in the direction of the plasma screen, where the firefighter was no longer merely half-naked. The cop’s mate gave a little smirk.

The lights went up, Sophie Ellis-Bextor was cut off in her track and the show began. I looked on as the police did their thing: asking questions, taking names. The years fell away.

During the 1920s, Berlin was a magnet for people in search of the freedom to be themselves. In Motzstrasse, Marlene Dietrich performed at The Eldorado club, where men dressed in lace frocks and called themselves Letty and Countess Marina. A few streets away, Christopher Isherwood chronicled a decade of decadence in the company of Sally Bowles and an assortment of male playmates. Beyond Schöneberg, more than 100 Berlin bars, cafes and clubs welcomed homosexuals, lesbians, transvestites, and any curious souls open to the idea of difference as a way of life.

The new era of tolerance extended to wider society. In print, on the stage and on the cinema screen, gay men and lesbians began to emerge from the shadows. And in medicine, a pioneering physician, Magnus Hirschfeld, attempted a better scientific understanding of homosexuality.

While some regarded Berlin as enlightened, others viewed it as degenerate and perverse. By the beginning of the 1930s more bars were being raided by the police. Names were taken, arrests were made and most bars were closed. A fortunate few, like Christopher Isherwood and Magnus Hirschfeld, escaped the worst. Hirschfeld’s library was an early victim of the Nazi book burning frenzy.

Homosexual men now lived in fear. Affection and affectation became incriminating acts. A gesture or a look could lead to the concentration camp. Once there, inmates were ‘re-educated’, through slave labour, castration and horrific forms of surgical experimentation. Almost two-thirds of the 50,000 homosexual men sent to the prison camps died there.

I approached the barman who was grimly observing the police as they checked ID cards.  “Is it drugs?” I asked, in a low voice. He rewarded me with a look that Berliners hold in special reserve for imbeciles, and nodded towards an ashtray on the bar.

As quickly as they’d arrived, the cops were gone. The soundtrack resumed, accompanied by a chorus of resentment.  

“They made us feel like criminals!” said one aggrieved voice. “Yeah, said another, “You can smoke dick in here, but you get treated like shit for a fucking cigarette!” I’d never answered tobacco’s siren call. It was this that had spared me a brush with the law.

Today, The Eldorado is a supermarket, with a photograph of Marlene Dietrich at the door, and further down the street, the Hirschfeld pharmacy is named in remembrance of an early champion of gay rights. On nearby Nollendorfstrasse, a plaque outside Isherwood’s apartment offers a reminder that these storied streets are where Cabaret was born. And at Nollendorfplatz, a triangle carved in pink marble remembers the homosexual victims of a regime that promised to make Germany great again.

It was business as usual when I returned to the bar the following evening. Except now there was a hand-scrawled note taped to the door:

NO SMOKING – BY ORDER OF THE GOVERNMENT

***
James Carson is a writer from Glasgow. His work has appeared in various magazines, including From Glasgow to Saturn, The Skinny and ExBerliner, and his stories have also been selected for anthologies such as Streets of Berlin, Tip Tap Flat and A Sense of Place.

See the Light: James Turrell in Berlin

James Turrell, Ganzfeld Aural, 2018; © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Dieter and Si Rosenkranz, photo: Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Ganzfeld Aural, 2018; © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Dieter and Si Rosenkranz, photo: Florian Holzherr

By Sara Bellini:

The way we experience space is connected with the way we perceive light. A thick fog, complete darkness, disco lights give a different depth to a place, which in turn influences the way we exist in it and our internal space. Our perception of space and light is what James Turrell has been exploring in his art for the past five decades.

This summer Berlin has the privilege to host two of his site-specific installations, among the many dispersed all over the globe (Roden Crater deserves a read). The first opened at the Jewish Museum in April 2018 and will be open until 30 September this year. “Aural” is part of the Ganzfeld series and consists of a room infused with homogeneous, coloured light. The eye needs time to adjust and the lack of walls or any other object can be disorientating. James Turrell wants to leave you alone with your looking and your awareness of yourself taking in the light. In a space without landmarks, perception is all.

The second installation is located inside a burial chapel in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery, in itself a place of significance in Berlin. Located next to Bertolt Brecht’s house, this graveyard is the burial place of the poet and playwright and of other famous Germans, such as Christa Wolf, Helene Weigel, Hegel and Fichte. It is hidden from the main entrance on the Chausseestraße behind the older Huguenot cemetery, and the bricks of the Humboldt University’s north campus are visible beyond the back wall. The church itself was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was renovated several times before the 2015 reopening. The studio of the architect Nedelykov Moreira has worked with James Turrell to come up with a modern minimal design that wouldn’t distract from the light show.

With ten light programmes that change according to the liturgical calendar and fifteen light moods, James Turrell’s installation works closely with the shades of the sunset. For this reason, and because of the late summer sunsets, the light show has different entry times during the year and is closed in July and August. You find yourself sitting in a place that looks like an anonymous church, gazing at the complementary colours of the lights positioned in the aps, transept, nave, narthex and walls, convincing yourself that the glass of the windows themselves must be stained this or that colour, only to change your mind a light mood later. Then you go out in the fading daylight, you look at the sky and for a moment you have the illusion that the neon have permeated your retina. Subjective perception is all.

***

Both shows have limited access so check tickets availability and opening times:
James Turrell at the Jewish Museum
James Turrell at the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Hermannplatz

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By Mike Hembury:

Sometimes words fail me.

Sometimes I struggle to put a name to even the most commonplace, the most obvious of things.

I don’t think it’s pathological in my case. But there is a word for the condition: dysnomia.

Curiously, Dysnomia is also the name of the Greek goddess of lawlessness, praised by some as the daemon of freedom and rebellion.

***

My first flat in Berlin was on Sonnenallee, almost at the corner of Hermannplatz.

That was back before Sonnenallee turned into Little Damascus.

Don't get me wrong, I like the way it is now. But I liked it back then too. Loud, dirty, unpretentious. The beating scraggy heart of North-Neukölln.

No-one would ever say that Sonnenallee is pretty. No-one can claim that Hermannplatz looks nice.

It has some "art" these days though. There's a statue in the middle of the square that has two golden figures in a pose you could possibly interpret as dancing. It's a crap statue, only serving to make the place look cheaper than it already is.  

When I arrived back then it was a golden October day. I was due to link up with a friend of a friend, a guy called Harald who lived near Hermannplatz. I came out of the arrivals gate and there was this guy beaming at me. Maybe he recognized me from my friend's description, maybe he was just smiling at everyone. It was 1982. There was no email back then, and we hadn't been in contact before.

I said "You must be Hermann."

He just laughed. "Hermann from Haraldplatz?"

I was a little taken aback. "Sure, I guess so. Or not?"

He stretched out his right hand. Long fingernails. A guitarist's hand. "Harald. Easy mistake. Good to meet you."

We took the bus back from the airport. Changed at Zoo and took the U-Bahn to Hermannplatz. Dumped my stuff at his place and I let him guide me down to the Landwehrkanal, where we sat in the garden of Café am Ufer and drank large bowls of milky coffee.

The autumn sun was warm and the sunlight filtered through the orange leaves of the beech trees lining the canal.  

Everything was new except, strangely, Harald.

He had already acquired a familiarity that maybe should have surprised me, but somehow didn't.

We just clicked. He was like the older brother I never had. I was 21, he was 26 or 27. Still a student, driving a taxi, making music and writing poetry like a real Berlin intellectual.

He knew the ropes.

He was part of a posse of draft-dodgers who had fled to West Berlin from Stuttgart on receiving their call-up papers.

After three months of hanging out with Harald's crowd in Berlin I spoke German with a Stuttgart accent.

***

One time he took out his teeth to show me. He had smashed his jaw in a trampolining accident in his teens, and now had a full set of false teeth which he could hook onto a few remaining stumps in his mouth.

He was a heavy smoker, so his teeth had a kind of patinated ivory quality to them, like you see on the keys of pub pianos.

Harald's flat was a dark, first-floor two-roomer in the rear courtyard of a vaguely slummy Berlin tenement. It had an outside toilet and a boiler over the sink for hot water.

When I asked, on the evening of that first day of my new life in Berlin, where he wanted me to sleep, he just pulled the keys out of his pocket and flung them across the table where we were sitting.

"It's all yours. You take the bed. I'll be upstairs with Sabina."

Sabina was his Lebensabschnittsgefährtin - his 'life phase companion', to use the dry jargon of the times.  

***

The October sunshine didn't last. Winter came quickly, with snow in November. I learned to use the Kachelofen - a big, tiled, lignite burning room heater of the type that have now all but disappeared from the city.

If I had to tell you one smell from those years it would be the particular smell of burning lignite - "brown coal" to the locals - in sub-zero air. Preferably alcohol-fuelled, in the three-in-the-morning snow.

Back then I would wake to the sound of the kids on the school playground next door. Put the kettle on for coffee. Take a trip down half a flight of stairs to the little loo in a cupboard on the landing. Come back and fire up the coal burner. Roll a cigarette, drink a coffee and think what a grand life I had.

No, I'm lying. Even with new friends, Berlin can be a tough place. I missed my girlfriend, who was on a student exchange in Paris. I wasn't suited to living alone. Half the time, I didn't know what the fuck I was doing there.

Harald had become a big part of my life though. Big and getting bigger. One time, returning from a trip to England, I literally leaped into his arms, footballer-style. That should perhaps have rung a few bells, but it didn't at the time.

I was ignorant. Unversed in the hearts of men, and ignorant about myself, and the possibilities within me.

So when Harald took the logical step, and put a name to the obvious, and told me that he had fallen in love with me, I was like: "Ok, so now what?"

I remember him raising an eyebrow. Looking at me, with his dark eyes.

"I mean, what do you want me to do with that information?"

I was cool, detached. Hurtful, I guess, because afraid. My English upbringing hadn’t equipped me with the words to deal with such a situation.

"Is it going to change anything?"

"I guess not."

It did change something though. It changed everything.

We ended up in an ill-advised ménage-à-trois with his latest girlfriend, Karin.

It didn't end well, for me at least, though I think they are still together.

What can I say? I was young and stupid, and still had so much to learn.

Our friendship exploded.

We've lived in the same city for 30 years and seen each other maybe twice, accidentally.

Hermannplatz still has a Harald-shaped hole in it, a scar that troubles me sometimes.

I guess sorry is the word I was looking for.   

*** 

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England, and describes himself as a writer, musician, photographer, sailor and environmentalist in no particular order. He is the author of a novel, New Clone City, and writes a regular environmental column for the online journal The Wild Word. He is also a member of Extinction Rebellion, the Dark Mountain Project and the Climate Cultures network. You can find out more about Mike on his website: mikehembury.org.



Imagined Cities: Stories from Berlin and Beyond

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Some familiar faces and new friends are getting together in Berlin on Sunday 5 May for a a literary event at the Sir Savigny Hotel, hosted by Influx Press. Our editor in chief Paul Scraton and contributor to Elsewhere No.01 Gary Budden will be reading, along with Berlin-based writers Donna Stonecipher, Linda Mannheim and Charlotte Wührer.

IMAGINED CITIES: Stories from Berlin and Beyond, is a night of literature exploring urban spaces and how we write them – from the German capital to London and New York – and the event will feature flash fiction, prose poetry, short stories and excerpts from city-based novels. It promises to be a lot of fun and we hope to see our Berlin-based friends there!

Sir Savigny Hotel
Kantstraße 144, Berlin (Google Maps)
7pm – Entry Free
Facebook Event Page


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

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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.