It’s been a while since I enjoyed this view. Up in Uferhallen watering Dasniya’s plants and letting my eyes rest on this street, the trees, the chimney, home for a long time and spending time here is good for my spirit.
Seen on Uferstraße, Berlin-Wedding parked outside Uferhallen while Dasniya and I were doing veeery slow blockies on foot post-gigantic steamed fish lunch and coma-ed out. A 2003–2005 Buick Park Avenue Ultra, yeah fukken Ultraaaa says so on above the back bumper and triple vents above the front wheel arch and Supercharged! Not a turbo but Americans love their whirring superchargers bolted to V8s — or V6 in this case. Here for the burgundy with a hint of purple deep paint job, wads of chrome especially on the b-pillar, and Those Rims! True early-’00s tuner style and I’m generally not into American cars but shit looks low-key tight. “If I fill up my tank it’ll make me late.”
Hanging out with Dasniya around my old Uferhallen home (and still hers), and getting in some pics ’cos it’s been an age. Heart still belongs to the Hallen and Panke.
Up in Wedding to visit Dasniya for my first bit of Physical and Social non-Distancing in weeks. Steamed fish, potatoes and those weird German favourites, Chicorée in her newly renovated studio with loft bed, loft storage and dividing wall knocked out. We were in a food coma afterwards. A walk – small walk, mostly sit – along my fave canal in Berlin, the Panke, which reminded me I need to go for a ride up its length.
We went and saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and laughed for 2½ hours at the brilliant kinetic absurdity: Tom Cruise, part of the Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton lineage of getting audiences to pay stacks to watch them do mad stunts. We ate chocolate and ice cream and nachos – cinema nachos! – and drunk Sekt. In the Kino. This is Germany and everywhere is drinking erlaubt. Ten years today, ago Dasniya and I met in her Fabrik studio in Uferstraße.
Three different classes with Dasniya Sommer this month in Berlin-Wedding, all on Tuesdays:
- Advanced Kinbaku, Tuesday mornings
February 6, 13, 20, 27, 2018
- Light-Intermediate Shibari, Tuesday evenings
February 6, 13, 20, 27, 2018
- Beginners’ Shibari, Tuesday evenings
February 6, 13, 20, 27, 2018
(Full Disclosure: Kerber Verlag wanted me so much to review this, they chased me down and sent one boxed up via registered post. I also pestered them via email, which is the real truth.)
Wedding. Repping the best Ortsteil and Kiez in Berlin. My home for most of the time I’ve lived here, where I first landed, where I got my mobile phone number, where I made art (when I was disposed to do that), where I still call home, even as I live in the beating heart of gentrification, between Graefe Kiez and Südstern. I will fight anyone who says Wedding isn’t echt Berlin, who says, “Oh, but you must go to Charlottenburg for the real Berlin”, like Wedding isn’t — we all know what you really mean. Marzahn-Hellersdorf might be on the up, but Wedding bleibt. If only it could ditch its uncool neighbour Mitte.
I see a book on Twitter (via Weddingweiser) called Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch — The Photobook and I know it will be mine, and I know I can’t be throwing down mad Euros on every book I see when my reading list is … even Paul in my favourite bookshop won’t touch its full extent without bribes. It’s got Helvetica Neue for the title and Communist Red endsheets, ’cos Volksrepublik Roter Wedding also bleibt — or at least that’s what the best pub in Germany tells me. I haven’t read it; I’m reading it. I read it. One of those usual non-review reviews.
A story of Wedding: When I first was living in Berlin, and I’d answer the question, “Where are you living?” the regular reply to that, by locals who’d been in the city for years, would be, “Oh Wedding. Be careful. It’s rough.” or other variations on the Wrong Side of the Tracks line — it’s outside the Ring, so yeah, wrong side. So I believed them, and exited U-Pankestraße with some apprehension, ’cos it was like being up Sydney Rd in Melbourne on a Friday night before that got gentrified. But then I noticed no one stared or got in my face or even gave a shit I was walking up Badstraße, and that ‘rough’ and ‘be careful’ and ‘not really Berlin’ meant Turkish and immigrant and working class, and about as much home in a city as I’ll ever find.
Another Wedding story: There’s a street off Badstr. called Buttmannstraße. Yes, really, Buttmann. I laughed. We all laugh, we of the former Empire’s colonies, ’cos we all have toilets for brains. I have a dear friend who lives for many years in Buttmannstr. The best pub in the world used to be on Buttmannstr. There should be a superhero called Superbuttmann. Obviously it’d be a porno, like Flesh Gordon, or Sex Trek, or Buttman vs. Superbuttmann. Buttmannstr. is the street that ‘brings down the neighbourhood’, where you see the hard fist of gentrification, forced evictions, police doing high-rotation patrols, rents doubling, locals with nowhere to go, who’ve called Wedding their home from the time it was the arse-end of Berlin, getting the boot.
Buttmannstr. officially isn’t in Wedding. The 2001 Bezirksgebietsreform hewed off the eastern half and renamed it Gesundbrunnen. Everyone still calls it Wedding; it’s going to take more than an administrative ‘reform’ to change that. Berlin-Wedding: Das Fotobuch properly takes Wedding in its former fullness, from Bornholmer Brücke (otherwise known as Böse Brücke) — where East and West Berlin first opened on November 9th, 1989 — all the way west to the edge of Flughafen Tegel. Wedding, where Marlene Dietrich performed when Buttmannstr. was the Queen of north Berlin.
I turn through the pages and sections, portraits of retired workers propping up their local bar, of parents and their children, portraits of Wedding-ers at home, and there’s Anna and Wolfgang Dumkow, in their beautiful Wiesenburg apartment, surrounded by art, looking unfathomably stylish. Each of the eighteen chapters or parts is by a different photographer from Ostkreuz-Agentur (skewed about 2:1 men:women ratio, yes, youse all know me, I count), so each chapter is a story, separate from the others, telling a particular theme without being beholden to an overarching narrative or curatorial aesthetic. Yes, it’s about Wedding, but it is not attempting a comprehensive or definitive appraisal; it is a moment shaped by the suburb’s past and its impending future.
And Wedding is a strange, unremarkable suburb, there’s scant imposing or singular architecture, the streets are a mix of congested thoroughfares banked by post-war Neubau — like all of Berlin, it’s missing teeth, more so than other districts, having been one of the main industry districts, and on the receiving end of heavy bombardment — of Kiez and Viertel with names like Afrikanisches Viertel (memorialising Germany’s colonial history), Brüsseler Kiez, tree-lined residential side-streets broken by old factories, and on two sides bounded by massive railway lines and the Westhafen canal port. There’s history here that’s uniquely Berlin and Wedding, but little of this remains immediately evident. In its absence, it’s one of the quieter parts of Berlin, where people carry on ordinary lives — even if they are artists.
So I’m reading this book and part of me is delighted to see my home represented like this, and part of me wonders why this book exists at all. Perhaps because Julia Boek and Axel Völcker also delight in this rather mundane cul-de-sac. But who’s it for, then? Wedding doesn’t have the punk and techno history of Kreuzberg, certainly not the cataclysmic history of Potsdamer Platz, Bowie and Iggy Pop didn’t live in Wedding, if there’s a suburb of Berlin which history seemed to have passed by, it’s Wedding.
It’s a suburb worth considering though. Barely 50% are of German origin — I have no idea what that means, I suppose germano-German, white German, though these kind of demographic descriptors slide into insalubrious fantasies of nationhood and ethnicity — almost 1 in 5 are Turkish German, and more than 1 in 20 Afro-German. It’s been a suburb of migration for its entire history, and only in the last few years has it been the site of the gentrification-type migration. One of the photo essays is called Black Wedding, a group of Cameroon-Germans who export cars, church on Sunday, family portraits at home and in the park. Another is of empty mosques. The introduction tells us Wedding has the greatest number of Mosques of any district in Berlin.
I’m going to jump into criticism here, all staccato like. My first criticism comes back to the imbalanced ratio of men to women photographers. I think here of Susan Sontag’s On Photography, where she says, “Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events.” She also talks about — and I can’t find the quote here — the artlessness and naïvety of the amateur as more natural, more real, and therefore an essentialist resistance to the artificiality of the professional photographer. I was thinking of this looking at some of the essays, street photography shot without looking through the lens, as though this method in itself conferred a higher value to the work. I just thought they looked kinda crap, and had images in my head of tourist bros one-hand running and gunning their multi-thousand euro DSLRs, taking without asking. I contrast this with the family portraits, where the photographer set up an impromptu studio in a paediatric clinic, and asked her subjects, “What is your greatest wish?” And the answer so often was, “A better life for my children.” Asking and receiving. This is the Wedding I recognise, and when Mutti Merkel and other lost white Germans clamour multiculturalism and integration have failed, I say, this is Germany, and these are Germans.
There’s a photo in one of the empty mosques series where you can see a sliver of curtain. These spaces are absent of people, but were they not, then the absence would be women. Behind that curtain, that’s where the women go. An absence doubled. There are portraits of the Imam at the end, all male, by the photographer, also male. How a man can move through these spaces and streets — if they can at all — is very different from a woman. It’s like the reportage on Afghanistan I’ve been reading for years, only half told because of this absence. I feel tired and embarrassed to endlessly, year after year, book after book, movie, TV show, exhibition, cycling, motorsport, always, always hammering and banging on about representation. Fucking women. Where the fuck are we? Is one woman for every two men equality? Does 30% somehow read as half? And what does it mean that in a suburb where half the locals aren’t “of German origin” that almost all the photographers have hella German names? If I ask myself, “Do I spend too much time thinking about and asking these questions,” is it because they don’t?
Is this book harmless?
Sandwiched in-between Black Wedding, Artists, and In the Mecca of Berlin, is Gentrification of Wedding. Rent has more than doubled since I first arrived, pushing tripled. People let out rooms for a week what I would pay for a whole apartment for a month. And it’s on their coffee tables this book is more properly at home, irrespective of how the artists involved might want to hold a middle finger at them. As artists, we serve as the shock troops of gentrification, softening up the area before the front arrives. And when it does — which for Wedding is now — we’re pushed out and on to the next place. When I lived in Uferhallen, I photographed it constantly. I loved that I could be there, a former tram and bus depot in the middle of the city, now half turning to fields every summer, foxes and wildlife moving in. So I understand how Julia Bock and Axel Völcker could also feel the same about their Wedding, and want to share this. Yet once shared, it becomes commodity, serves interests other than, and in the present climate opposed to, the Wedding they call home.
Moving abruptly onto my other criticism, then. The English translations are a little shaky, a little word-for-word literal from German.
Like an anthology of short stories, some photographers I like, others I don’t, others leave me indifferent. This is both an affinity with a visual aesthetic as well as with what this makes explicit about how they see the world. If I flick through the pages, does it give me a feeling for Wedding? There are a number of photographers who remove entirely people from the milieu. Is this an intentional theme, or a habit of the photographers of the agency? A lot of them work for press, and there’s a strong thread of reportage in their work. I recognise people and places, and recognise Wedding, yet simultaneously, I see very little of Wedding here. I see photographers who use Wedding as an abrasive to rub up against, but it could be anywhere, Kreuzberg, Hamburg, Düsseldorf — the architecture often gives it away as German, but it could easily be Footscray or any of the other poor suburbs I’ve seen go through what Wedding presently is. They photograph Wedding but do not see it, they level it out, and some of the work is frankly lazy and pedestrian. Others, like Dorothee Deiss — I keep coming back to her photographs in the paediatric clinic — could go anywhere, her studio portraits against a plain background would always look like the place they came from. I would be far less critical were all the photographers to have her sensitivity and skill.
I show it to my Wedding friends though, “Hey, look at what I got, it’s our Kiez!” strange book for an odd ’burb.
Everything Dasniya Sommer in May, in Berlin, Lyon, Bremen, performances, and workshops, and the première of her new performance, next Friday May 18th at Sophiensæale.
Dear Friends, Bondagisti, Theateristi and Dancers,
a bunch of performances in Berlin, Bremen, and Lyon this month, plus Tuesday mornings Shibari Technique in Haus Sommer.
As always, you can read all about this on my blog. In the meantime:
- Bondage Duell, with Silke Schönfleisch at Sophiensæle, May 18, 19, 21
- Nun on the Moon, at European Lab, Lyon, May 25
- Der besuch der verknallten Dame, with Das Helmi, at Theater Bremen, May 28
- Tuesday mornings Shibari Technique, in Uferhallen, Berlin-Wedding May 9, 23, 30
- Private & Group Lessons
Enjoy the arrival of spring’s sun!
1. Bondage Duell, with Silke Schönfleisch, at Sophiensæle
A 178cm tall ballerina and a 114cm small female government official on a tricycle appear on the scene. An uneven fight. The weapons: rope, muscular bodies and a thirst for adrenaline. Using classical dance means and Japanese bondage techniques, Bondage Duell examines physical and social patterns of bonding, empowerment and constraint. A place where cruelty and freedom, fun and curiosity lie closely together.
Dance: Silke Schönfleisch
Choreography & Dance: Dasniya Sommer,
A production by haus sommer in coproduction with Grenzenlos Kultur Theaterfestival and SOPHIENSÆLE. Photo © Holger Rudolph
2. Nun on the Moon, at European Lab, Lyon
Featuring the interactive contributions of a selection of unique and pioneering artists, the Nuit Immersive will be a night like no other. No seats or popcorn-holders, no stages or “fourth walls”, the Nuit Immersive will instead plunge you the public into the heart of the creative process and invite you to move around and explore this interactive performance as best you see fit. Advanced warning: here, the sign clearly states “PLEASE DO TOUCH”!
3. Der besuch der verknallten Dame, Das Helmi & Theater HORA at Theater Bremen
4. Tuesday Mornings Shibari Technique in May
The workshop focusses on traditional Shibari technique, basic and intermediate level. Inspired by my teachers Osada Steve, Kamijoo Saki, Arisue Go, Tamandua Ropë. We start with the basics and security principles. Learning initial knots and floor work patterns with a partner. When these principles are set, we approach complex figures and suspension technique step by step.
Dates: Tuesdays, May 9th, 23rd, 30th, 2017 (No class on the 16th!)
Costs: 20 Euro per person
10 class card 160 €
@ Uferhallen Kulturwerkstatt – Wedding. Uferstrasse 8, 13357 Berlin. Entrance B
More info: Shibari Technique Morning Classes
Please call when you are in the court yard, in case you don’t find it, or the door is locked: + 49 174 393 70 49.
5. Private & Group Lessons
Of course it’s always possible to arrange another time for private and group workshops, sessions, choreographing ropes for performances, and other long-planned or spontaneous ideas. Drop me a line!
Recent adventures make their way to my blog, perfect for a spring weekend afternoon of reading and pictures.
Cross-posting this from Dasniya’s blog. The rather brutal and exceptional shibari / kinbaku-ist Tamandua, whom Dasniya and I met in Stockholm, and who now lives in Berlin is organising a Kinbaku Study Group at Haus Sommer in Uferhallen, Berlin-Wedding. I’ve seen photos of him tying Dasniya, and Dasniya’s talked with me a lot about his work. I think he’s doing some of the most interesting — and probably most sadistic — rope work in Berlin. More info on his tumblr.
Starting up: Regular kinbaku study group
Now looking for people in Berlin interested in joining a small kinbaku/shibari study group starting beginning of May.
This is a good opportunity to learn focused together with other students and where your personal development can be followed and taken properly into account during the process.
Lessons will take place in the evening every second week. See dates below. For each class opportunity there will be a different theme to get the chance to get a familiar with the broad spectrum of ties and approaches to kinbaku that exsist out there. During these weeks we will be touching on topics such as plenty pattern and shape learning, controling a body and being controled as a body in ropes, communication, aesthetics, technical problem solving, rope handling and treating and other nerdy content.
Participants should be of level advanced beginner or intermediate at the start of the course. And yes, we will also be getting into working with suspension points when the level for that is met.
You can attend with somebody you know already but it’s great if you are also comfortable with switching and coupling up with other students taking the course. Whatever you feel fine with.
It is possible to sign up for 3 or 6 classes at a time. It is adviced to not skip more than one class in a row since the idea is for the classes to be progressional.
May: 4, 18 (Thurs), 31 (Wed)
June: 14, 28 (Wed)
July: 12 (Wed)
3x3h classes: 120 per person
6x3h classes: 200 per person
Location is close to Pankstrasse in Wedding.
Email email@example.com to register
Everything from Dasniya Sommer in one hit, cos there’s so much:
- Tuesday Morning Shibari Technique Classes in Berlin, April 3, 10, 17, 24
- Das Helmi: Gulliveras Reise, Oldenburgisches Staatstheater, première March 30th
- Das Helmi: Große Vögel, Kleine Vögel, Oldenburgisches Staatstheater, April 1st
- Tamandua Ropë Kinbaku Workshop: Adding Gravity, Berlin, March 19th
Dasniya’s in Oldenburg with Das Helmi working on a new performance with the Staatstheater ensemble, a “progressive feminist science-fiction soft-porno project with puppets and people”. Yes, I am going, I mean come on, sci-fi feminist porno puppets? I’ve seen the Helmis more than any other theatre or dance company and they’re banging. Plus they’re re-staging Große Vögel, Kleine Vögel there, though I’ve seen that three or four times already. I reckon it’s their best work.
While Dasniya’s away the brilliant and quite sadistic Tamandua is teaching a Kinbaku workshop in Uferhallen. If you can pony up for it, his tying is worth it. And then it’s April, so more of Dasniya’s Tuesday morning classes.
All of that and more on Dasniya’s blog. Get to it!