It’s official: artists are Germany’s happiest workers. Once again the esteemed German Institute for Economic Research has come up trumps. To my mind the Institute never fails to provide reams of fascinating analysis on such weighty matters as office kissing etiquette and the emotional effect on civil servants who forgo holidays. Now it has announced that German artists are on Cloud Nine, despite earning less than a church mouse and being almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the average professional.
Income matters hardly a jot to artists, according to the DIW (Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung). The more painters and poets work the happier they are, said the report. Above all, artists’ happiness seems to spring from their independence. ‘More than every third artist is his own boss. Among people in non-artistic professions the ratio is one in ten,’ said Lasse Steiner, one of the authors of the study. ‘Artists draw much greater benefit from their work than from the money they earn.’
I decided to put the DIW’s remarkable findings to the test by speaking to some of Berlin’s happy ‘n’ hard-working artists. My first stop was Kreuzberg; Ground Zero for every aspiring, young creative soul who can’t afford to live in Mitte. Bettina works behind the bar at Bei Schlawinchen, a 24/7 dive in the rapidly-gentrified Graefekiez. A performance artist from Bielefeld, Bettina creates all-night, dance ‘experiences’ with her movie-making partner and their cat Max. ‘Berlin has given me the chance to find my voice,’ she shouted above the noise of the sozzled hipsters and expat layabouts. ‘I can’t imagine anything worse than working in an office or at a supermarket.’
She added, ‘Of course I need this bar job to pay the rent and, sometimes after too many late night shifts, I haven’t the energy for my own creativity but, hey, that’s life. I’m happy.’
Unfortunately a property developer has just bought their Graefekiez building so Bettina needs to find a new apartment-cum-performance space.
Next I crossed over the border to Neukölln; home to every aspiring creative Berliner who can’t afford to live in Kreuzberg. At his kitchen table Matthias worked on a drypoint etching of the city’s nightlife. ‘I feel I am working in the tradition of Max Beckmann,’ he told me, leafing through his expressionistic prints of drinkers, dancers and lovers. ‘Like Beckmann, I try to find the hidden spiritual dimension of my subjects. I value the stimulation of being able to think creatively.’ He went on, ‘Sure, I’m happy. I’m free. You’ll never find me working on the line at Volkswagen.’
When not at Club Maria, Watergate or Tresor, Matthias stacks shelves four evenings a week at his local Netto. He is saving up to rent a stand at the Zeughaus weekend art market.
At Café Einstein -- the archetypal Berlin coffee house and a magnet for the city’s literati–– I met Marianne Coquio, a French poet who grew up in the south of France ‘where the plains rise up to the Larzac plateau’. In contrast with most people she spends her winters shivering in Berlin and summers roasting in Lodève (where she helps out at the Voix de la Méditerranée poetry festival). She told me that Germany makes her happy ‘because last week I heard that there are now one million job vacancies in the country’. Between stanzas she works as a hostess at the Messe convention centre.
Finally further along Kurfürstenstraße, near to the junction with Potsdamer Straße, another young woman – dressed in thigh-high boots and wearing a skirt far too short for the cold weather told me, ‘I am an artist. And I’ll be happy to be in your company. It’s €60 for half-an-hour.’
Proof positive that artists are the Germany’s happiest workers? Perhaps. Or maybe – with the wisdom that comes from lives spent distilling and reflecting on human experience -- artists simply realise that, if they took one of those 1,000,000 real jobs, they’d be really depressed.