A Tour in Berlin, Neukölln and some thoughts on gentrification and art mediation
by Eva Liedtjens
Berlin – Neukölln is famous – infamous, in fact. It is a changing, fascinating district full of diverse people, problems and potential – potential for possible conflict, but also for learning from each other.
During our last meeting in Berlin in April 2014, we had the chance to discover this multicultural neighbourhood with a guided tour organized by the organization Kultur bewegt e.V. (i.e. Culture moves association), an organisation engaged with intercultural educational work with youngsters and adults in Berlin. Our two guides, two young women who grew up in Neukölln, showed us places where we explored the diversity of cultures living together in this neighbourhood. Together we heard stories about and gained unexpected insights into places where the social life of this neighbourhood is happening: schools, churches, backyard mosques, restaurants, bars, and the streets …
Next to the multi-faced artsy coffee place, that is fashion shop and gallery at the same time, one can find a closed down restaurant, which had to stop serving the famous Hartz 4 pizza, as the owner could not afford the rising rent. These are glimpses of stories, which lie behind the aspects of gentrification. Stories where the term culture moves gains a slightly different connotation. Yes, culture is in constant movement, which can be enriching, but in this game called “gentrification”, there are winners and losers – if new people come, others have to leave. Following the migrants students came, which were soon to be joined by coffee places, bars, bio markets, latte’s with soja, and macs on the laps of the stylish hipsters: Introducing a new lifestyle, a lifestyle that costs. The district is an example of gentrification, almost straight from the textbook. Young galleries, project spaces, and art everywhere … and the citizens?
The city tour project of Kultur bewegt e. V. is an interesting example of their work to foster the cultural exchange and the empowerment of people from diverse backgrounds living together as equals. The organization offers city walks in the neighbourhoods of Neukölln and Wedding. The tours are guided and designed by inhabitants of these districts themselves. Hereby the organisation tries to enable a new gaze towards the citizens’ own environment through discovering the urban space with a new perspective. By discovering and mediating the impressions of their own neighbourhood, the project aims to increase the citizen`s interest in the history and culture of their living spaces and sets out to create awareness of historical and current processes of change.
The mediation of the noteworthy characteristics of everyday life, but also the temporary usage of urban space for art exhibits are important aspects in the city tours of Kultur bewegt e.V. As such, they also offer special tours during the art festival 48 Stunden Neukölln. The festival, like Kultur bewegt e.V., tries to involve all groups of society, no matter age, cultural background, or social status. As such, it wants to prove the potential of art as catalyst and communication tool.
As the idea of the learning partnership “Contemporary Art for Everyone” underlines the importance of integration and participation as methods of mediation. The mediation of art becomes important if we are willing and able to include “everyone” in it. It is not just that art should be available to everyone, but rather that art should or could be “mediated” by everyone. If one integrates “everyone” into the mediation, if one learns about public places and the small stories behind them, and if we let “everyone” speak up and guide, one can build real bridges.
Eva Liedtjens is a freelance art historian and art mediator and joined the meeting of CAfE in April 2014 in Berlin.
Photos by Jan Koberlik and ZZZ.