Berlin is the colour of grey, especially in winter. Grey skies. Grey buildings. Grey faces. So what better time to brighten the grey days with a blast of Australian summer sunshine?
In Melbourne the Goethe Institut has just finished its Berlin Dayz arts festival, a showcase of both German and Australian creativity. Rather than look back into German history, the festival’s coordinators decided to look forward to discover what makes both Berlin and Melbourne tick, offering a platform for celebrating and discussing the future of the creative city.
On hand for the two-month party were Ulrich Schreiber, director of Berlin’s international literature festival, slam poet Bas Böttcher, film maker Marco Wilms and many others including Aussie author Jeremy Fisher and poet Hoa Pham. At the festival, Wilms told the audience that ‘Berlin has become the capital of global dreamers. And that is a good thing. Everyone who comes to Berlin in order to find their inner selves will find something, and thus becomes part of the city – a “Berliner”.’
Young Australians have developed an almost obsessive fascination for Berlin, as was seen by their enthusiasm for the festival and -- especially -- the ‘My Berlin Experience’ writing competition. Hundreds of people sent in their personal experiences of, or ideas about, Berlin.
In her submission Jay Weatherburn wrote about kissing her ‘first Berlin Boy’ at midnight under the Brandenburg Gate. Jenelle Templeton recalled crossing half the world to hear the Berlin Philharmonic’s last concert of the season. Detlev Jackson remembered the taste of chamomile tea, made from flowers which grew wild between the cobblestones in his aunt’s East Berlin street. Toby Austin Gooley wrote of being stalked by Marlene Dietrich (after Swiss punks had fed him to many Bloody Marys).
Most surprising was the entry of ‘Berlin’ Liew. Berlin, who is named after the American synth-pop band, has never been to the capital. But he wrote, ‘I slowly fell in love with the idea of Berlin. Friends often showed me colourful photographs of its graffiti-clad walls, developing my appreciation of the city’s mad love for visual expression. I occasionally stumbled upon and devoured articles about Berlin’s cycling culture and vintage flea markets... I am constantly told that I must experience Berlin, first-hand. But to this day, I have not been able to make the trip. Berlin, to me, remains a loose scrapbook of stories, photographs and rather famous rocks collected over the years. Indeed, my whole life has been a personal Berlin experience, one for which I have my name to thank.’
Natalie Mills, a young Melburnian won the competition ‘with a striking poem about the city-in-flux,’ Klaus Krischok, director of the Goethe-Institut Australia told me, adding this is ‘very much how we see Berlin these days.’
Claudia Perren, a dual-national architect and curator who divides her time between Sydney and Berlin, was an especially fascinating festival guest. After the Wall came down, she said grey Berlin came to be ‘made up of an infinity of colours, and every day brought new ones. Berlin experienced a tremendous influx of young people from around the world: creative minds who wanted to make a new beginning in Berlin, who found the freedom there that they missed at home. Berlin was a city of artists and survivalists.’ Perren noted that Berlin has ‘always been a creative metropolis. Money is not important – not because you are expected to have a lot of money, but because hardly anyone has much of it. The crucial things are your positions, your interest, the new, alternatives, exchange and openness.’
The crucial values of openness, tolerance, experimentation and anti-materialism need to be celebrated, both with and without antipodean sunshine.