November 27, 2012

Do you like this?

A young musician from Melbourne called Robert F. Coleman brought his band to Berlin in April to work on an album. Robert lived with his three bandmates in a shared €500 flat in Neukölln, went to "raves in empty airports" and "parties in empty public swimming pools", watched parents drink beer from XL bottles in a playground ("weird!"), stared at nudists in the park (super-weird!), enjoyed the "best dance music in the world". But alas, all this fun and weirdness destroyed morale in the band and they failed to record an album. Bummer. You can read about this harrowing experience in the New York Times.

After three months of living the Berlin life, Robert realised it was "too easy" here. With no need to "hustle", the young musicians' discipline was eroded by consecutive hangovers and come-downs. Rather than produce art, Robert had consumed fun. Hence, the activities of he and his bandmates seemed limited to the normal behaviour of young men from English-speaking countries: 

A member of our band was incarcerated for 17 hours, receiving a 1,600-euro fine for damage to private property. There were fights and drunken backgammon sessions resulting in heads breaking windows. There were infected arms, cut legs. We were the victims of credit-card fraud, theft and immoral drug dealers.

Immoral drug dealers!

After a romp through every Berlin cliché, the article ends in revelation:

While we were in Berlin, we noticed a growing animosity toward the so-called “EasyJet set” — tourists taking advantage of cheap international flights to join in Berlin’s party scene. Was this why I never met an artist who had a coming exhibition or showing or play? Because they didn’t leave their studios for every party? Because maybe they didn’t want to go out and meet the likes of me?


But what was really going on here?

I don't think Berlin was "ruining" Robert and his band – though the opposite could be argued. I think the problem was a fundamental clash of culture. Robert was an ambitious, young musician who lacked the inner Lebenseinstellung – I cannot think of an appropriate word in English – to be able to enjoy Bohemian Berlin properly without going crazy.

Going back to the 1970s – or maybe even to the 1910s – there has existed a decadent, artistic underground here which has placed little value on "making it" for the sake of making it. The king of decadent Berlin is the "poor but sexy" Lebenskünstler, an archetype who has had a huge influence on culture and nightlife here till this day. The Lebenskünstler cares little about his next record deal or art opening or publishing deal. Instead, life is his art. Only "now" matters and how you can make the most out of each moment. Screw success and any concept of "the future" because for decades Berliners – think of WWII, the Cold War etc. – have felt there is NO tomorrow (and they are right of course - we will all die).

The Lebenskünstler's dilettantish self-expression might have no audience other than his circle of friends or 30 people in some tiny Kleinkunst venue. Or he might just express his sense of existential freedom by taking off his clothes in a public park because it feels good. He feels no guilt due to lack of achievement.

To outsiders like Robert, who come here with rock star fantasies and middleclass dreams of "making it" this is a totally foreign notion. To him – and the rest of Western civilisation – the Lebenskünstler is just a loser. In fact. A loser whose lack of ambition makes the likes of Robert uncomfortable:

All around us, cafes were teeming, the canal banks were lined with people reading, talking and laughing, and the vast parks were brimming with blankets and smoke and sunshine. But no one seemed to be working.

While this disturbing sight is anathema to the work ethic of Robert’s native culture and his dream of becoming the next Bowie, I was a bit cheered up by his article. As someone who came here 15 years ago, I tend to wallow in nostalgia for a time when everything did seem possible, when rents were really low, when beer was even more ridiculously cheap.  For people like me, the Berlin of today appears largely ruined by gentrification, homogenising global trends, mainstream ideas and the relentless quest for profit. And yet, compared to much of the rest of the world, the likes of Robert make it clear that the Lebenskünstler are still alive and kicking: dreamers from around the planet, living in their personal utopia of a life made of 'meaningful experiences', art and creative endeavours and, who, rather than complain that "no one seemed to be working", ask themselves..."Why should I work?"


November 27, 2012

Comments (13)

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More on Berlin artists

An interesting read. For a more cynical but equally gratifying insight into Berlin malaise, check out:

Hans Berlin-blogsky more than 1 years ago


I am a born and bred Berliner. Like quite a few of us, I go away and keep returning. In the phase in which I was still trying to find out what to do with myself (ie a job of sorts), Berlin was a place where it didn't seem to matter much. I enjoyed it, but I also had the feeling, while I'm busy not achieving anything, I'm constantly missing out on all the fun I could be consuming.

"Berlin is not for everyone". Please, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I love the fact that, when I do have some time off, I can walk the streets and smile that noone else seems to be working, either.

But I do have a very busy job. As do so many others. The so-called Lebenskünstler... please, how much work do you think it took to set up tourist attractions like Kater Holzig?

It's true, it is not an easy place for artists. Go to Hamburg, and you will be blown away by the ambition the A-Class Illustrators put on show. You will be motivated to join in, step up a gear, work hard to achieve your dreams, live healthy and all the rest.

The danger to get sucked into meaningless artsy fartsy bullcrap is just as high there as it is here though. The only difference is that people there actually make a name for themselves, while artists here... well. I know plenty that have good, if not great ideas, but they don't get their act together, because...

Berlin is a swamp. It is VERY difficult to hit the ground running in a swamp. But there's others hanging out here, and hey, they like to party. So do I. Why not dance instead of run?

It's a very dangerous road. You really need to know, or figure out exactly what you want, otherwise you will fill your life with slacklines in the park and beers with those funny stickers on it. You'll think you're a Lebenskünstler because you're "just living, maaan".

But you're giving Berlin a bad name. Stahp, goodfornothing, what're you doin, staaahp...

Rob more than 1 years ago

Sad but true

Even though I don't really party I know exactly what this guy is talking about. Was living in London and NYC before Berlin and my productivity has dropped a redicolous amount since moving here.
I think part of the problem is that nobody is doing REALLY cool stuff here so there is nothing to aspire to. Most people I know are (exactly as discribed in the New York Times) artists who don't really do much though. And when they do something, it's free labor.
I'm longing for some healthy competition to drive me forward.

Vanessa more than 1 years ago

Dear Petra

Petra, Berlin isn't for everyone. Just like NYC isn't for everyone. Or Paris. Or Zürich. There's not much money in Berlin, that's one thing, which makes most things so cheap. That also makes it possible for the venues to pay less. I do, however, have plenty of friends in Berlin making music, getting decent fees for their gigs, writing songs released on good labels, and the fact that you didn't make it work probably comes down to your lack of judgment of people. Or perhaps your (lack of) people skills. Maybe you're just not a very talented musician? Either way, if you knew what you were talking about you would acknowledge that there are, in fact, plenty of musicians and writers with considerable talent, ambition and even steady jobs in Berlin. Look inwards, buddy.

Martin more than 1 years ago

get of the kitchen if you cant stand the heat

Dear Australian hipster band members, LEARN TO SAY NO, OR GO !
Enough highly productive artists are able to stand the pressure of immoral drugdealers and the lack of a curfew-

Berlinique BlogBerlin more than 1 years ago

Most fascist cool

I´s be interested to hear what Petra means with 'the most fascist "cool" - care to elaboarte a bit?

Cool more than 1 years ago

Berlin is hopeless

I hustled my ass off in Berlin for months and months trying to get teaching work, editing work, writing work, and gigs as a musician. There were no teaching jobs (very few and far in-between), a pittance of editing jobs (many were students who wanted me to, say, write their Master's thesis for just a few hundred Euros), every single writing gig was free / unpaid internships, and every musician I tried collaborating with turned out to be a FLAKE. Would bail at the last second, not do postering, forget to send me the Mp3s of our rehearsals, decide they wanted to leave town, etc etc...

And I didn't drink, smoke, or party at all. I'm from North America and spent every day trying to make something happen for me. I finally left Berlin after 10 months of despair and getting nowhere. So long as you can collect welfare there and enjoy that vastly-overrated, well-marketed city and you are in your 20s / you're an established artist with a benefactor, I suppose it's a good place to be. But Berlin, in my opinion, is circular flaky bullshit, with the most fascist "cool" that I've ever seen in my life.

However, great coffee, and a perfect transportation system. So there's that.

Petra more than 1 years ago


...and seriously? Even the founders of Tacheles do not lament the passing of that place. It just smelled like urine and beer for the last few years .Good riddance. Plenty of us work non-stop here in Berlin, but I am grateful for every renewal of our party reputation. It brings these kids here, separates them from their money, and sends them back home. I think it's great he came, most of the people in his life just stayed at home, and he is a better man for it.

Yoram Roth more than 1 years ago


I think the main thing our Australian friend is missing is that, living the 'sex, drugs and a bit of rock n' roll on the side when you can be arsed' life is for all intents and purposes pretty much the same experience in Berlin as it is in London, Paris or miscellaneous horrendous provincial town in Europe/North America.

You can certainly argue that Berlin has better options and locations to talk shit and jig around with other wide eyed, sweaty people but that is all subjective really - especially if you think punk and techno are wank.

The real thing that is unique about Berlin is the living on the minimum amount of cash with the most amount of time to get stuff done. You CAN avoid the rat race and create something if you actually have the motivation and ability to do it well. It is conducive to an opus - don't a hindrance.

Having said that the guy from the NYT article was only planning to be here for 3 months. Can anyone honestly say they didn't spend their first 3 months in Berlin taking drugs, staying up all night and fucking people from countries that you hadn't yet fucked someone from? It was like a X-rated Bennetton advert wasn't it, don't lie.

Can't blame the kid for doing that, you can blame him for doing that instead of something else, before moaning about it though.

AJE more than 1 years ago

reality check

i find it incredibly amusing yet sad, that the view of the artist as a floating-along-being-discovered "brand" still exists and is actually being expected in such a widespread mainstream that club-culture and bohemianism seems today.

i do work and live in berlin as a free creative professional and i can safely say, from my surroundings and education, everyone i know, wanting not to end up fulltime waiting tables, work their asses off. so will i as long as i can. partying is secondary. been there done that to last for two lives.

it appears to me, that the author of the nyt article is very young and has no experience with actually working in his field for a living or a very serious approach to his profession. this is not a bad thing per se. it's just surprising, that nyt would pick up on such irrelevance. oh well, it must be the mention of drugs and the hint of an idealised illusion of rebellion.

hellodarkness more than 1 years ago


All the editors are in the park drinking bier.

Yussel more than 1 years ago


Yeah, but it also sounds like the music was not the centre of their lives. Bowie knew to kick the drugs and partying because the music was more important and he wanted to keep contibuting. This guy and his mates sound like so many musicians I've met - hungry for the lifestyle but not the hard graft it takes. Sometimes one has to have a talent for having a talent.

Evolving9 more than 1 years ago


"...the activities of him...?"
Seriously? It's a shame EX Berliner employs no editors.

donnie bob stinkhole more than 1 years ago

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