Struggling with Berlin's artsy hype
Published: 30 Nov 2012 12:13 GMT+01:00
You know the party has gone on too long if you're reading about it in the New York Times.
Over-hyped in recent years as a hedonistic paradise for artists, Berlin would no longer seem to be the Promised Land for globetrotting bohemians. Why? Because the city apparently makes them too lazy.
That's at least the gist of an article causing a kerfuffle among Berlin's creative expat scene this week by detailing the drunken exploits of a hopeless band from Australia in the German capital.
In his lament, Robert Coleman argues the city is so cheap and such a blast compared to the likes of New York or London that artists, musicians and other creative types are simply unable to create here. Essentially there is no pressure to be successful if you can live life in a drug-induced haze yet still manage to pay your affordable rent.
"There were too few limitations, and we’d lost all motivation and willpower to ever say no," he writes. "Soon our self-imposed five-day-a-week rehearsal routine started to crumble in the face of hangovers, comedowns and various members going AWOL."
While he's hardly the first musician to be undone by drugs and drinking, what's getting people riled here is how Coleman pins much of the blame for his overindulgence firmly on the city he hoped would be a creative oasis for his band.
"One day, while taking a break from staring at a nudist at the Hasenheide [park], I realized that I’d ended up in a kind of artist’s paradox: We had gone to Berlin because of the lifestyle it offered to artists, yet we were coming unstuck by that exact lifestyle. Berlin was ruining us."
As Coleman goes on to describe his band's adolescent antics — including one member getting jailed for massive property damage — it becomes clear why there has been a provincial and pointless Berliner backlash in recent years against arty newcomers in districts like Kreuzberg and Neukölln.
But besides making the mistake of extrapolating his own unproductive existence to all foreign artists living here, Coleman exposes himself as a classic victim of the city's hype, admitting he and his bandmates were nothing more than "creative tourists" on a short stopover to soak up Berlin's cool.
"It seemed that everyone we met was creative-minded and drawn to Berlin for the same reasons we were: to pursue their art. Except that very few of them seemed to have any coming exhibitions or book launches or gigs."
Trustafarians on speed
Of course, had he bothered to lift his head out of the pile of cheap speed he and his buddies were snorting, Coleman might have met some of the working artists who call Berlin home.
These aren't trustafarians from Brooklyn with a six-month pass to Berghain — the local club famous for serving up unending nights of debauchery. And they're certainly not immature Aussies thinking time spent in Berlin will make them the next David Bowie or Nick Cave. No, they're musicians like the Englishman Chris Corner or Peaches from Canada, who both live here permanently because they're inspired by the city.
(And what sort of wimpy rock musicians is Australia turning out these days, if Coleman admits he didn't know how to drink whiskey before coming here? Bon Scott must be rolling over in his grave.)
The Berlin art scene is equally fertile for foreign implants like someone as wildly creative as Iceland's Olafur Eliasson. Yet it also supports literally "underground" talents like the American Erik Smith.
Are there a lot of crap "artists" in Berlin? Undoubtedly there are. But getting upset because someone weaves garments from their own body hair, writes worse than a chimpanzee, or doesn't create anything at all is an even more absurd pastime. These are "lifestyle artists," as this article nicely explains.
Would it be better if such people were working mind-numbing jobs simply to make ends meet in a more expensive city? If they want to come to Berlin to make crappy art and music rather than sit in a call centre cubicle all day, that's fine by me. Bad art never hurt anyone.
With any luck, Coleman's documentation of his tribulations will have the salubrious effect of deterring some of his fellow creative tourists from coming to Berlin simply in the hope it will give their careers an artificial boost.
Besides, everybody knows Leipzig is where the cool kids are moving these days anyway.