I'm guilty. What's my crime? Writing this sentence: “This ramshackle Neukölln watering hole (the name translates into Fox and Magpie) has a large hidden basement club in the back and hosts live bands and parties several nights a week.”
A few years ago this sentence was published in the Easyjet inflight magazine and apparently it had a devastating impact on this noble cellar establishment named after a classic duo of German children's television. As the owner Robin Schellenberg mournfully recounted in a taz article last week: “On the day of publication, herds of people showed up with the magazine in their hand... the customer base changed completely, suddenly people arrived by taxi and wanted to pay by credit card.” Reading this, I imagine gaggles of shrieking Essex girls in tight skirts and heels trying to navigate the rickety steps to the basement club. After all, Essex girls have a right to discover exciting new Sinti jazz bands, too, don't they?
In the taz article, Schellenberg explains how the same thing happened again with a mention on the Lonely Planet website. But the understanding people at the LP offices were happy to unpublish the recommendation.
When the Easyjet magazine came out, I received an email from someone at the club complaining not only about the recommendation but also expressing outrage at the translation of Fuchs and Elster into something that sounded like an English pub. “We just wanted to open up a living room for our friends,” the emailer whined.
“Why did you fucking put a sign on the door then?” I felt like screaming. Why did you open a bar at all? Why do you have a website and two Facebook pages with a combined total of more than 6,000 friends, when all you wanted to do was open a living room?
Of course, Fuchs und Elster is a business like any other, and Mr. Schellenberg is scared his regulars will stay away and that the regular profits they provide will evaporate. He's not stupid: selling booze is one of the most lucrative games in town and Weserstraße is in that sweet spot at the moment: lots of people coming in, but not yet so sold-out and commercial as to frighten off the alternative-minded masses who enjoy ratty sofas and Django Reinhardt wannabes on iffy sound systems (which I myself confess to liking). Make hay while the sun shines! Make your fortune before Neukölln become Prenzlauer Berg II and sleep-deprived parents start calling the cops.
What really gets me is this guy's holier-than-thou efforts to censor the web in an attempt to remain fake underground and indie. He would have done well as a cultural monitor in one totalitarian system or other.
The newspaper article ends with the Fox and Magpie impresario hoping that travel guide writers do their recommending with more sensitivity: “It would be nice if this process could be shaped together. It is a sign of respect to ask the bar operators their opinion.” And maybe some kickbacks for journalists who don't write about them? Yes, I've heard real-life stories about that as well...
I feel like assembling an entire planeload of credit card bearing lager louts and marching them down Weserstraße to enjoy a night at the Fox and Magpie. They deserve it.