Over the past few years, Berlin has been transformed. The city has become a major center for the international production of art and theory, English is firmly entrenched as its second language, and it attracts an unending inflow of newcomers. An informal economy, ample resources of time and space, the intense debates that are said to take place here, and its bohemian aura are still crucial to its attractiveness. But doesn’t Berlin’s allure derive from expectations created by realities of the 1990s and 2000s that no longer exist? In other words, isn’t the fact that these and similar promises are now largely indistinguishable from the rhetoric of the city’s marketing campaigns an indication that the spaces of possibility that opened up in the city after the fall of the Wall have been appropriated by power and the market? Berlin’s altered urban landscape – office architectures, malls, the City Palace now being rebuilt – reveals that it is being remodeled in line with representational and economic criteria, a process that was being planned as others still put their faith in the transgressive potential of parallel “underground” worlds. But glorifying the past will not get us anywhere, nor should we make peace with what seems inevitable. It is time for an assessment without nostalgia or resignation: for a Berlin Update. Berlin paradigmatically illustrates tendencies that add up to a structural transformation of the art world, the academic field, and the general conditions that frame life and work. On the one hand, the trend toward greater flexibility and the neoliberal ascendancy of economic considerations, exemplarily embodied by the local startup scene, have infected other working environments as well. Project-based labor has become integral to how institutions such as museums and universities operate and is beginning to reprogram them. People work from project to project, from grant application to grant application. Long-term budget planning is a thing of the past. What was once conceived as an alternative to the static hierarchies of the institutions and meant to allow for a measure of independence from their mechanisms of influence and allocation has been absorbed and is now starting to erode the cores of the same institutions. These developments prompt us to reassess fundamental questions about the relations between the public sphere, the city, knowledge, and the markets. Susanne von Falkenhausen’s contribution not only notes the irresolute and inconsistent ways in which the museums united under the “roof” of the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) deal with their holdings; she also highlights that the institution is caught in a crisis of self-definition, apparently having lost touch with its collection, its history, and Berlin’s citizens. The discussants in our roundtable conversation with Heike-Karin Föll, Juan Gaitán, Christoph Gurk, and Florian Wüst argue that attempts to tie the work of municipal institutions back in with a public sphere, the polis, are also drowned out by Berlin’s representational aspirations as Germany’s capital. What are the concrete conditions artists and curators face when they work in art institutions in Berlin – and when they work outside of them? And what can they do when their own strategies, which were often predicated on the temporary use of resources and spaces, or the project format, are no longer viable as a counter-model to the hegemony of economic mechanisms and the mounting general pressure to conform to the market’s demands? And what about the settings in which theory is produced, as well as the issues it addresses? A complicated tangle of funding programs has emerged in the universities with their various divisions; meanwhile, a new positivism is on the rise, for example, in parts of visual culture studies and in new lines of inquiry such as neuroaesthetics. In our survey, Alexander García Düttmann, Peter Geimer, Maria Muhle, Frank Ruda, and Barbara Wittmann shed light on the conditions in which theory is produced in Berlin today, both inside the academy and in independent “offsite” venues. One central question is how theory and critique can stand their ground when quantitative approaches increasingly dominate the terrain. But we also wonder, more fundamentally, whether the notion of “theory from Berlin” corresponds to anything real. What, after all, remains of the local in a globally networked (art) world? That is not the least important question an issue of Texte zur Kunst dedicated to a particular geographic place (which is also where this journal has made its home) must address. Paul Feigelfeld’s media-theoretical reflections consider this question of territorialization in light of the exterritoriality of the Internet. The fact that net activists flock to Berlin can be partly traced to a quite concrete factor: The favorable legal situation. This relative freedom, too, is part of Berlin’s promise. Meanwhile, for the galleries that establish themselves here, location is vital: Berlin as a site of artistic and theoretical production is always already one element in a structure of symbolic and economic value enhancement. Isabelle Graw examines this structure, highlighting how the burgeoning art world’s promise of success is tied to its remoteness from the market as well as scrutinizing the bohemian art scene’s tendency to blend into the VIP zone that has formed in recent years. Once we zoom away from the institutions, the diversity, even disparateness, of Berlin’s gallery and project-space scene is evident. Still, there are places that, at least for a while, become something like centers of the Berlin art world. Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, who ran one such venue, the legendary Times bar, which closed in late 2012, subsequently turned to the medium of theater. Philipp Ekardt analyzes this surprising decision, which has little in common with the theatrical aesthetics one would otherwise expect to encounter in Berlin, and discovers a “new pragmatism” in artistic production. Another project that grew out of the North American expat scene is the music label White Material, the subject of Pablo Larios’s contribution. Why techno now? he asks and outlines where the ethos of what is called “working man’s techno” fits into the fabric of Berlin’s international community. In techno and the theater, the present issue thus addresses two lines of creative articulation that look back on local traditions but are now also propelled by structures of global networking and mobility. Josephine Pryde has been a valuable source of advice and inspiring ideas and an astute critic as we designed this issue, and we would like to thank her for many a conversation. We are especially grateful to Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, who contributed photographic series that document Berlin’s nightlife, startup culture, and their own milieu; their images make up a considerable part of the illustrations throughout this issue.
Translation: Gerrit Jackson