Once upon a time there was a beautiful country called West Berlin. It was in East Germany, but somehow it belonged to West Germany and somehow it didn’t. In East Germany it was called the independent political unit West Berlin, de facto the suburb was the third German state. He issued his own postage stamps and his own identity cards. There was neither conscription nor curfew, but extremely cheap apartments and many subsidies, especially for artists or people who would like to be some.
While the political boundaries between the old Nazis and the draftsman who had moved in from West Germany had been running since the mid-1960s, as the publisher Klaus Wagenbach once put it, in the 1970s a democratic Anything Goes in everyday life and going out developed. Triggered by the 1968 revolt and influenced by the punk movement from 1977 onwards, »dream zones« formed which offered an imaginative minority »space for feelings of unreality«, as the artist Wolfgang Müller writes in his standard work »Subculture Westberlin 1979-1989«.
In late West Berlin, it was a matter of good form for the artist and bohemian types to always have a “project” at the start: They played in a band, wrote a book, made short films, worked on a magazine, painted pictures, performed or performed everything alternates, mostly in a “collective”. In retrospect, subcultural West Berlin was a big, exciting youth center. Very free and left. And you didn’t get up until about 3 p.m. – when the eternal evening was approaching again.
The atmosphere was very attractive for people who were looking for aesthetic or political adventures and who wanted to try them out. They didn’t just come from West Germany. In 1987 Danielle de Picciotto arrived. She had studied art and fashion in New York and wanted to visit a friend for two weeks. Because she liked the Wim Wenders film “Sky over Berlin” very much. Your friend lived in a shared flat on a 500 square meter factory floor. She cut the hair of interesting people who came to the flat. There were musicians from underground bands like Einstürzende Neubauten or Crime & The City Solution, the scene from Nick Cave, who also came by himself. “Everyone was incredibly cool and looked dangerous,” she recalls, “I had never seen people question everything so mercilessly.” She felt “as if I had arrived at an anarchist school for the initiated,” she writes in her book “The Herene Art of Rebellion”, in which she traces the late history of the dream city West Berlin and its transformation into the new old capital – as a graphic novel, but with a lot of text.
Because Picciotto stayed longer than two weeks, more precisely: until today. For understandable reasons of fascination. “The city seemed frozen in a deep slumber in which the past was felt more clearly than the present.” And then she is told that this morbid city is not dangerous because criminals “have difficulty escaping because of the wall”. among other things with the effect that women could be out and about alone at night without any problems. “I was amazed: Cheap rents, support for artists and not having to be afraid … It sounded like paradise.” Because in New York “rape, murder, assault and shootings were the order of the day (…) and the rents of the abandoned shacks extremely high even then. “
In West Berlin the art of cost reduction reigned: »Since nobody had any money, homemade gifts were common and mix tapes were very popular. When you were in love, you would visit friends with good vinyl collections and spend afternoons copying your favorite tracks onto a cassette. ”Or you made films on Super 8, which was not only a lot cheaper than VHS video, but also easier to edit had: “So snipped, cut, burned, painted and scratched all of their films as a competition, which spread a diverse art film scene in the city that could be seen in clubs, small galleries and off-cinemas.”
Because there wasn’t that much dancing in the late 80s, going out didn’t have to be practical. It was based on a kind of romantic pirate style: the men wore three-piece suits and pointed cowboy boots, the women wore ruffled skirts, fishnet tights and bodices. In addition, hairstyles that should look like they weren’t, but homemade, which they often were. “Everyone looked bold and easily addicted to drugs,” writes Picciotto, who, as a trained fashion designer, began to experiment with sportswear and to organize alternative fashion shows. This was more art than business for her – she earned her money in the trendy pubs and cafés behind the counter and at the cash register of clubs.
At the Turbine Club she met one of the operators: Matthias Roeingh, who later became Dr. Moth called. In the summer of 1989, the two of them launched the Love Parade, registered on the Ku’damm as a demonstration “for peace, joy, pancakes”. The special thing was: there was only music, no speeches. 150 people came and danced, at first a little stiff and shy, then more joyfully, on the streets of Berlin, “the city of the troubled past,” as Picciotto puts it.
Before that, she had been in London with Roeingh to dance to acid house, the latest musical trend. It had become clear to them “that we were in the future”. That was not an exaggeration, because this music consisted only of rhythm. One danced differently too – »Before it was more controlled with hanging hands, looking down. Now we threw up our arms and danced with ecstatic movements. ”It was also better not to put on make-up, because otherwise everything would run on your face; an “androgynous look took hold in which all genders wore similar things. Wide camouflage pants, sneakers and sweatshirts became hip. “
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Berlin became the new wonderland for going out, full of empty, abandoned or abandoned rooms and halls that you just had to discover and occupy in order to celebrate parties. This story has been told many times, preferably by Felix Denk and Sven van Thülen in the book »Der Klang der Familie«, published in 2014. Picciotto gives it a slightly different accent because it emphasizes the experiences of applied feminism in nightlife, by introducing many exposed women as DJs, managers or designers.
Before techno really got going, Picciotto sang in a wild post-punk band called Space Cowboys; Roeingh had played in one of the noise bands that appeared at the West Berlin festival »Geniale Dilletanten« in 1981, as did the later famous techno DJ Westbam. The most stimulating bands were Einstürzende Neubauten and Tödliche Doris. The festival poster actually said »Dilletanten«, the spelling error turned out to be programmatic: the music was disheveled and brutal because the musicians couldn’t or wouldn’t make normal music or both. There was still singing, and it was mostly pathetic and preaching.
The new music techno was also brutal in sound, but friendly to the people. Not so drunk, but fueled by the “love drug” ecstasy. Whoever had it in there just had to like his fellow human beings. There was no longer any need to “dance the doom” as Blixa Bargeld once sang, the flirtatiously conjured nuclear war had failed to materialize. Now there was supposedly eternal peace – but in the area of collapsed real socialism there was mass unemployment.
You can read Picciotto’s beautifully designed and narrated graphic novel like a kind of textbook on the gentrification of West and East Berlin. It makes it clear how the practices of doing it yourself and organizing yourself, about which every self-respecting left group raves politically to this day, were practiced in the doom and gloom of post-punk, in order to then be commercialized in the sporty hedonism of techno. The Love Parade grew from year to year and new clubs, brands and agencies could be established with it. And it didn’t cost the up-and-coming techno-entrepreneurs a penny – the city paid the costs for rubbish disposal, police, fire brigade and paramedics, because the Love Parade was registered as a demonstration, which, however, seemed stranger to those involved. Because while the promoter and journalist Jürgen Laarmann believed at the time that he could proclaim the “raving society”, the business relationships between the party makers and the cigarette and beverage companies normalized. Internet companies didn’t exist yet.
At first the parties were illegal and secret, then everyone suddenly knew them. Techno was minimalist music with a minimal program, which Picciotto sums up as follows: “It was about the joy, the adventure and the possibility of organizing an evening independently, without any discotheque owner.”
Danielle de Picciotto: The serene art of rebellion. Walde + Graf, 200 pp., Hardcover, € 19.95.