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Struggling with Berlin's artsy hype

The Local · 30 Nov 2012, 12:13

Published: 30 Nov 2012 12:13 GMT+01:00

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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.

Story continues below…

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.

Marc Young



The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:08 November 30, 2012 by BLAKE IT UP!
With enough research, one could write a book on the topic.

I'm from Los Angeles and live in Berlin since 2001 -I was living in New York before then... long story.

True, Berlin is slow compared to other EU cities and it is filled with more than enough artists. But, to be successful in Berlin one should find out who is who and work their way up the ladder rather than across the bar or whatever else gets them high. Don't get me wrong, you can meet get some good connections at parties, but unfortunately some crews are tighter than others and one can only really get a good connect once the others define you as a artist, rather than a tourist coming to party and make money on the side.

One thing I should say is that it really requires discipline and persistence to make it. They say if you make it in New York you make it anywhere... I like to think if you can make it in Berlin you make it anywhere because there's so many "lazy" traps.

If I would give a tip, I'd say "Think of Berlin as your home and practice room -you can't really make money sitting around practicing -but you'll get better." Basically, work in Berlin and tour in a more artist supported country -like France.

Berlin, for me, is for creation and testing your creations.
17:34 November 30, 2012 by StoutViking
Perhaps it is only my own pessimistic outlook on the world, but... I have this imaginary scene in my head, set in Berlin some 30 years from now:

An elderly couple is walking down the street. The man suddenly has a heart attack / stroke and he falls down. The woman starts to scream frantically "Is there a doctor in here?!". A crowd of arch-hipsters gathers around them and go:

Hipster 1: "No, I'm an artist".

Hipster 2: "I'm a DJ".

Hipster 3: "I'm a designer".

Hipster 4: "I'm a photographer". (And snaps a shot).

Hipster 5: "I'm so underground you haven't heard of my profession yet...!".
17:34 November 30, 2012 by chris berlin
haha, blaming the great offers and big choice of happenings in Berlin for being too distracted for investing some discipline for your career is so weird. It would be like I blame a big supermarket for getting fat because it offers too many kinds of tasty chocolate...

Again this is just an overestimated subective report of a guy who blames others for his misfortune and who is not wise enough to follow a plan. If you look at the start-up scene, Berlin has risen to be the most successful place in Europe. There are 5 start-ups per day and investors - also google - bring millions of euros to berlin. I know many hard working creative people who do not party much but who earn so much money but have no time to spend it... (I would take some ;)
21:14 November 30, 2012 by The-ex-pat
Just because you are sensitive and no one understands you, does not make you an artist............
21:12 December 3, 2012 by Clarissa Smith
Oh well, what is art? I feel like it has something in common with socialism -- you cannot define it clearly. It happened often in my life, that people kinda were patting my shoulders and called me an "artist". And I felt like, "Get outa here!" Because I dislike that tag. It's nothing but a cliche and I don't wanna be tagged with cliches. People who see 'art' like sort of ideology or religion make me run away. You Muses serve me or scram!

I am a jazz musician and especially love to tag myself a green or ecological jazz musician. Call me "unplugged" and then pat my shoulder and I feel flattered indeed. That's a real value!

Okay, who has a **gettin'-too-lazy** problem here in Berlin? How about little health check? I mean, depression is not uncommon in Winter. So, if you have difficulties getting out of bed, this is not specifically an 'artists' problem. Plus, Berlin is much closer the North Pole than New York. The New Yorkite skin probably makes more vitamin D than the Berliner.

Whatsoever, living on 'art' is almost impossible anyway. Building your life on art is like building on quicksand. No, I don't play that kinda lottery. To have my shoulders patted and be called an 'artist' or what? But in case you have the guts to dare it, why not prefer Berlin? Apartments dirt-cheap here, so why risk it elsewhere? Many of those who get by here wouldn't make it elsewhere. It's not always the best musician who make it, so the Muses probably appreciate the easy conditions in Berlin. ;o)
00:02 December 6, 2012 by IchBinKönig
Sounds like a Berlin based site just upped its cred with Talented young artist. Maybe there is a post-peaches renaissance in the making? I hope so. I mean I love Peaches, but in 2013, come on.

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