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Utopian Discourses Across Cultures

Scenarios in Effective Communication to Citizens and Corporations

Miriam Bait, Marina Brambilla and Valentina Crestani

The term Utopia, coined by Thomas More in 1516, contains an inherent semantic ambiguity: it could be read as eu topos (good place) or ou topos (no place). The authors of this volume analyze this polysemous notion and its fascination for scholars across the centuries, who have developed a variety of visions and ways to explain the «realization» of utopian discourses. The experts in the fields of sociology, political science, economics, computer science, literature and linguistics offer extensive studies about how utopian scenarios are realized in different cultural contexts.

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Sex and the City: Berlin and the Utopia of a New Discursive and Visual Urban Frontier in the Branding of the Creative Place

← 42 | 43 →

Paola Bozzi

Sex and the City: Berlin and the Utopia of a New Discursive and Visual Urban Frontier in the Branding of the Creative Place

1.  Introduction

Arthur Herman coined the term ‘declinism’ to refer to a kind of deep pessimism that sees the West as horribly flawed, in a state of severe decay, and usually teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Herman finds this radical doubt pervasive both today and in the recent past: “We live in an era in which pessimism has become the norm, rather than the exception.” (1997: 2). Herman grounds this theory by citing a considerable range of thinkers who believe that things are getting worse – and getting worse rapidly. For many, the demise of state communism in Central and Eastern Europe tarnished the case for utopia, as attempts to create the perfect society on earth by eliminating poverty, suffering and social injustice, along with establishing the necessary conditions for human flourishing were undertaken in large parts of the world in the twentieth century, and they failed spectacularly.

As the argument goes, the utopian desire to build a better world (and it is often a compelling one) is hubristic and breeds violence, and we are better off without it. In the immediate aftermath of communism’s collapse, liberal Western-style democracy on the economic foundation of free-market capitalism was frequently touted as the only viable global solution to the problems that communism has attempted to eradicate as well as the framework for future developments. What Herman did not consider, however, is the persistence of an opposing tradition of devout optimism. The specters of financial meltdown, international terrorism and the global ecological crisis have since combined to render even this anti-utopian utopia untenable.

Nevertheless, the rush to declare utopia dead is premature. Profound instability, rapid change, the bankruptcy of established systems and ideologies — these are, in fact, precisely the conditions under which the concept of utopia has flourished in the past. The grand old idea and myth of progress still has its adherents, and their views are extremely well represented in the marketplace of signs: utopia remains a tenacious and diverse concept in the human imagination. Reports of the death of utopia have been greatly exaggerated (Saage 1990; Fest 1991; Jacoby 1999; Gray 2007). If anything, the death of utopia is a conceptual pawn in the broader game ← 43 | 44 → of redefining the political and intellectual traditions of the left and right in the post-communist world, as the case of Berlin demonstrates.

2.  Berlin’s Post-Unification

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Berlin in 1989, a decade of intense and rapid urban development took place across the city. Berlin can be considered an atypical and extreme case: it is atypical because of its unique and peculiar history as a divided city in a divided country, and extreme because of the intensity of the urban restructuring processes which unfolded over a short period of time following reunification. The acceleration of history represented by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sudden absorption of East Germany into the capitalist democracy of the Federal Republic of Germany brutally confronted the city with the economic, social, and political challenges faced by many other Western cities over the past several decades. At the same time, Berlin is a fascinating laboratory of urban change that illustrates several (partially interrelated) transitional processes: the transition to a unified city after a history of conflict and division; the transition to a capital city in a nation redefining its national identity; the transition from a socialist to a capitalist city; and the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial or post-Fordist metropolis.

It is precisely because of the peculiar situation of the city that a flurry of practices of place marketing and urban imaging suddenly appeared, with a kind of visibility and intensity rarely witnessed in other (European) cities. In the mid-1990s, visitors to the city’s central areas were greeted with an endless landscape of cranes and construction sites. Equally striking was the highly visible presence of images and texts surrounding the construction sites. Public-private partnerships were set up specifically to market the ‘new Berlin’ to different target groups, including potential investors, tourists and Berliners themselves. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the production of the new buildings in Berlin’s reunified urban environment was also accompanied by the construction of a particular image and meaning. This was part of the political responses to the enormous challenges unleashed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of the city, ranging from responses to the loss of the political status of exception, the retrieved status as capital city, intense economic restructuring and deep social and demographic transformation. Place marketing refers to “the various ways in which public and private agencies — local authorities and local entrepreneurs, often working collaboratively — strive to ‘sell’ the image of a particular geographically-defined place, usually a town or a city, so as to make it attractive to economic enterprises, to tourists and even to inhabitants of that place” (Philo and Kearns 1993: 3). ← 44 | 45 →

More recently, the term ‘place branding’ has become increasingly popular, referring to a process of “forging of associations” between a place and some desirable qualities that resonate with particular target audiences (Kavaratzis and Ashworth 2005). This “forging of associations” can be achieved through physical interventions in the city’s landscape through forms of communication that reference particular aspects of local identity, history, and culture. This is, in essence, “a highly selective process that imposes single-stranded images onto urban diversity and reduces place identity to a constricted and easily packaged ‘urban product’” (Broudehoux 2004: 26). The two terms of ‘place marketing’ and ‘place branding’ are often used interchangeably in both professional and academic literature. In any case, the production and diffusion of images is an absolutely central component because “the process of constructing visually based narratives about the potential of places […] a process of brokering the best metaphor, in ways that will shift or consolidate public sensibilities and invent the possibility for new kinds of place attachments” (Bass Warner and Vale 2001: xv). The image of the city can thus be defined, in a simple way, as having two components: “the physical image of the city — the actual city itself, as it is produced, lived and experienced by people on an everyday basis and represented in a series of visual symbols, physical places, and social characteristics — as well as the rhetorical image of the city — the ‘idea’ or conceptual image of the city as it is imagined and represented in collective consciousness.” (Broudehoux 2004: 26)

In this sense, 2001 marked a turning point in Berlin’s post-unification history. In the wake of the exposure of a large-scale financial scandal involving Berlin’s public authorities, the Grand Coalition, which had ruled the city for a decade, was replaced with the new ‘Red-Red’ coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) and the Left party (PDS, from 2007 renamed Die Linke). During its decades as a walled-in island surrounded by GDR territory, West Berlin was heavily subsidized by the Federal Republic and almost as socialist as the eastern part of the city, which was pampered by the socialist state, but the money dried up after unification. The legacy of this was a huge bureaucracy and an ingrained welfare mentality.

Post-reunification Berlin experienced a dramatic economic downturn. East Berlin’s inefficient industry — a legacy of its former communist times — crumbled, and West Berlin saw an exodus of companies that no longer received the same tax breaks granted while the Wall had isolated the city. Important firms that moved out after 1945, such as Siemens and Deutsche Bank, saw no reason to return. The state of the city’s finances was disastrous and the subsequent restructuring of the local state had a long-term impact on the public services and the welfare of Berliners. More recently, Berlin – not just as a city, but also an autonomous region within the ← 45 | 46 → German federal system – remains heavily supported by the southern regions, which are constitutionally obligated to subsidize the poorer federal states in the north. The consequences of this financial situation are visible as soon as one moves beyond the smart government district around the Brandenburg Gate, or the posh neighborhoods located near the Kurfürstendamm. Signs of poverty are everywhere. One third of children in Berlin are poor. Yet in spite of the lack of financial resources, and the constraints on public spending that the new government inherited, the Red-Red coalition continued, and in some cases even intensified, the place marketing activities that had been developed by its predecessors.

3.  Sex in the City: Utopian Desire

After the failure of the marketing visions of Berlin as an Olympic city and global service metropolis (Wolf 2000), city leaders struggled to find an alternative vision, but did not give up their search for a master narrative. The new mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, began to take a very proactive role in the external promotion of the city and worked to make Berlin’s imagery support its economic promotion. Just before Klaus Wowereit became mayor in 2001, he coined one of his best-known catchphrases “I am gay and that’s just fine” (“Ich bin schwul, und das ist gut so”) delivering this announcement to the party convention (SPD) that nominated him for the capital city’s top job. With his coming out, Wowereit wanted to beat the tabloids to it and prevent them from publishing wild, sensational and fabricated stories about his private life. This move ultimately strengthened his campaign. His election as mayor made Berlin one of three major European cities with an openly gay mayor, along with Paris, whose mayor at the time was Bertrand Delanoë, and Hamburg, whose mayor was Ole von Beust, who also took office in 2001. However, von Beust resigned in 2010 and Delanoë left office in 2014, making Wowereit the only gay mayor of a major European and German city. As the largest city in Germany and a German federal state in its own right, being the mayor of Berlin also made Wowereit a state premier. His openness on the subject helped foster an atmosphere of tolerance in the German mainstream. It also helped Wowereit to become the face of the tolerant, easygoing, and cool Berlin of the twenty-first century. “Wowi”, as he was widely known, was a fashionable, charming mayor with a flamboyant nature and a penchant for rubbing shoulders with artists and celebrities. During his political mandate, he earned a reputation as a hard-working, hard-partying mayor and saw partying and networking as an official part of his job, showing a very human face of socialism.

His big task was to help Berlin avoid the 1990s fate of Washington, DC, which became a bankrupt city with a rich political ghetto. In spite of the nominally ← 46 | 47 → left-wing political leaning of his new government, and despite a rhetorical commitment by the governing coalition to maintain social-democratic principles, including preserving high levels of social security, solidarity and welfare, cuts in public expenditure and administrative reforms were prioritized to create a ‘service-oriented’, ‘competitive’ and ‘business-friendly’ city. These cuts were actually a continuation of the previous government’s policies and the Red-Red coalition did not significantly shift away from urban entrepreneurial strategies.

With unemployment soaring to around 20 percent, Berlin had to reinvent itself. It was Klaus Wowereit who pushed “the visual and discursive urban frontier” (Smith 1996) in the official representation of the city for marketing and branding purposes in order to accrue distinct “collective symbolic capital” (Harvey 2001). In his discussion of the role of culture in urban entrepreneurialism, Harvey stresses the constantly changing, never-ending nature of the search to maintain a monopolistic edge over urban competitors via the appropriation of local culture(s). In order to support Berlin’s transformation into the envisioned European metropolis, local policy-makers had to break away from the negative images associated with the city’s turbulent historical past, and reinvent and spread a new image of the city to three main target groups: (1) investors, visitors, and potential tourists; (2) Germans throughout the Federal Republic; and (3) Berliners themselves. For this reason, the mayor turned to a concept of utopia to keep Berlin unique and particular enough “to maintain a monopolistic edge in an otherwise commodified and often fiercely competitive economy” (Harvey 2001: 396–397). In a country undergoing a process of transition between two political systems, and in a city haunted by the specters of its troubled past searching for economic competitiveness on the global stage, Wowereit dramatized emotional attachments to the daily details of a purposeful way of life for the future imagined city and replaced Berlin’s financial squalor with the beauty and joy of sex, sketching the utopian scenario of a city that “is poor but sexy” [“Berlin ist arm, aber sexy”]. Under this slogan, lack or deficiency is not necessarily negative or deserving of pity. This is much in contrast to the general message from socialists, who work not only to critique the structural causes of poverty but to build a society that one day will abolish exploitation and poverty. Accordingly, nobody would expect a message from the unofficial crown prince of the Social Democrats that poverty is appealing, attractive, and even sexy.

4.  Dreamscape: Selling Propaganda

In The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch argues that utopian desire — which, as the philosopher demonstrates, is ubiquitous and enduring throughout human history and culture — requires the guiding light provided by socialism, which ← 47 | 48 → he calls “the practice of concrete utopia” and “the last chapter of the history of the world” (Bloch 1995: I, 17; 174). He believes in the infallibility of the Marxist analysis of history and society, and its inexorable trajectory towards revolution. His Marxist framework leads him to distrust the emphasis on the processual and open-ended dimension of utopian striving, one which his own work suggests. On the one hand, Bloch seems to acknowledge the fallibility of ideals and the need to mediate between the imagined goal of social change and the flesh-and-blood social reality that approximates this goal. He warns against the “reification of the goal dream” (I, 186), and against the denigration of reality because of its failure to measure up to ideals or dreams: “The dream as such does not realize itself, that is a minus, but flesh and bones are added to it, that is a compensating plus” (I, 187). On the other hand, Bloch also cautions against the opposite problem: the denigration or disregarding of an ideal or dream because of its distance from reality. Bloch may have insisted that Marxist revolutionary theory was the non-negotiable core of his utopian thinking. Yet his omnivorous account of the ubiquity of the utopian moment itself, with its emphasis on the subjective factor of hope, seems to resist being subsumed into a unitary perspective. So much of The Principle of Hope works against Bloch’s own insistence that could be a definitive path to, and an irrefutable definition of, the utopian “Heimat” or homeland “in which no one has been”.

Key Blochian terms such as anticipation, expectancy, the not-yet-conscious, front, and horizon all demonstrate the importance of the processual and temporal dimension of the utopian: it is a future-oriented striving that seeks to attain the unknown by unfolding the possibilities latent within the known. Even where Bloch admits the possibility of a definitive arrival at a utopian goal, a tension remains between the goal as visualized and the goal as achieved. The aporia of fulfilment is about the dialectical relationship between the real and the imagined, about the risks involved in positing a goal: the goal petrifies, becomes static, and loses its connection to the reality towards which it strives. When this happens, the dialectical mediation between them breaks down. In a post-totalitarian age, utopian desire becomes a beginning that is denied an ending, a movement that is cheated of and yet continues to suggest its destination (Bauman 1991: 244; Frank 1979). The intransitivity that defines a movement without a goal captures a key feature of the utopian in its postmodern incarnation. The ‘intransitive’ refuses a definitive formulation of aims or objects, emphasizing instead the need to continuously revise these in an endless process of approximation. The intransitivity of postmodern utopianism stems from its insistence that while a definitive account of the destination is admitted to be impossible, the necessity of continuing the ← 48 | 49 → journey cannot be denied. The object of utopian striving may recede from view or resist formulation, but this does not negate the striving itself.

A central problem identified by critics of utopianism becomes apparent in the contrast between modern transitivity (i.e. the static, potentially totalitarian vision of the end) and post-modern intransitivity: the problem of the relationship of means to ends. From Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (2002) to Ivan Illich (1973), several thinkers have identified the emancipation of means from ends as a key problem of the modern condition. The enlightenment that is to liberate man from myth itself takes on the oppressive qualities of myth; the tools man creates to replace slaves begin to enslave him. In these examples, the means become oppressive when they outgrow or become dissociated from the ends that they were originally developed to attain. The aporetic relationship of means to an end is formulated quite differently by antiutopian thinkers such as John Gray (2007). In the view of antiutopian thinkers, it is the end that is a source of tyranny when it is used to justify any means. From this perspective, the danger of utopia lies in the requirement that the present be sacrificed to the future.

In this sense, Wowereit’s pragmatist approach treated Berlin as an imagined place where specific ways of life reconcile current problems while suspending commitments to many current constraints. His second famous, oft-cited catchphrase was “the negation of a negation”, “the absence of radical evil” (Kateb 1973: 242, 240): the vision of a new land of Cockaigne where money does not matter, but joy is secured, a city that is cool and cheap, drunk and druggie, slightly anarchic and not pompous, penniless for the time being but open, young, and full of ideas with a radiant future — very unique and different, at least, from the rich but saturated and rather boring cities like Munich or Hamburg. It was the semiotician A. J. Greimas who made abundantly clear how the presence of any value in language must invariably produce its negation (Greimas and Courtés 1979: 308–311; Greimas 1983). In this sense, poverty becomes, in Wowereit’s words, an important resource, a sign of distinction and of the arrival of a new “libidinal economy”, to misappropriate a phrase used by Jean-François Lyotard (1993).

Selling utopia is one of the cultural roles of contemporary propaganda. Although this is hardly the obvious purpose of civic advocacy, it is indeed one of its inadvertent effects. The nature of the game requires that civic advertisements convey a yearning for a better world. This is an effective way to reach out to the public. Rarely can the sponsors promise the kind of tangible rewards that come with purchasing a brand and its image. They seek to educate people, encourage them to open their wallets, and often to alter their behavior, each a far more difficult task than simply shaping their choices as consumers. Accordingly, sponsors ← 49 | 50 → strive to connect their messages to the broader utopian impulse or propensity in the public, to imply, and sometimes to show, how they will remedy a wrong, avoid some evil, confirm a value, and so on. Borrowing here from the language of Saint-Simon via Ricoeur, they try “to impassionate society” in order to “move and motivate it” (Ricoeur 1986: 296). Embedded within civic advocacy is that “inner dialectic of utopia, its rational and emotional sides” (Ricoeur 1986: 287). Appeals draw upon an eclectic variety of desires for abundance, community, power, freedom, and peace.

5.  Berlin as a Creative Place

Given the poor state of the city’s public finances, Wowereit’s utopian scenario operated on three levels: (1) as fantasy and escape; (2) as an alternative, a challenge, a reaction to the existent; and (3) as innovation, exploring the possible, a source of extreme novelty. Utopia is simultaneously an ideal, desire, and critique. That ideal is concrete; or, rather, it is expressed in ways that give it specificity, at best making the ideal appear both unique and bold, an aesthetic triumph. It bears a signature: “Utopias are assumed by their authors”, claimed Paul Ricoeur, “whereas ideologies are denied by theirs” (Ricoeur 1986: 2). It was the French philosopher who argued the significance of contemporary life, utopia as fancy, as an alternate to the present power, as the exploration of the possible. Berlin’s carnival of sex referred to an erotic urban paradise ruled by the priority of appetite, a place fascinated with sin and excess, committed to play and indulgence. It presented an alternative realm of existence where people might escape the trials and tribulations of their everyday lives. The new urban regime of stimulation would soon prove to be a much more pleasing mode of governance than the earlier brand of repression, largely due to the fact that it allowed room for play and pleasure, even a modicum of rebellion. Perhaps more striking, Wowereit’s Eros project served, like so much of pop culture, to reinvigorate a world rendered prosaic and dull by the rise of logic and industry.

Urban image construction is “an objective and productive social force, with real material effects, playing an integral role in shaping modern forms of production, consumption, and collective ‘dreamscape’” (Greenberg 2008: 20). “A utopia is not only a dream but a dream that wants to be realized. It directs itself toward reality; it shatters reality” (Ricoeur 1986: 289). Adopted by Berlin’s Red-Red coalition as master narrative of the ‘creative city’ discourse of urban policies and place marketing, utopia invited the audience to journey to a unique ideal place, leaving behind the current troubling details of the present. Berlin as an imagined space for settlement and investment casts the difficult situation in the present as form and type of accomplishment that can replace familiar problems with new ways of life, ← 50 | 51 → and distinguish itself on the global economic stage. In this sense, a special emphasis is put on providing active support (and marketing) to the creative industries or the creative economy (of which cultural production is an important part). The theme of creativity has been adopted as a focus of local economic development policy and as a marketing slogan by many urban policy-makers across the world on the basis of the analysis and police recommendations made by Charles Landry (2000) and Richard Florida (2002).

Initially developed with regard to the cities in the United States, Florida’s main argument is that economic growth and innovation are now driven by the “creative class”, which he divides into the “supercreative core” of professionals “whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content” (ibid., 8) in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, computer programming, education and research, the arts, design and media; and the “creative professionals”, workers in the knowledge-based industries such as business, finance, law, healthcare. In the new “creative economy”, he argues, cities, not nations, compete for highly mobile ‘talent’, meaning that workers can choose the places where they would like to live. The characteristics of a city sought after by the members of the “creative class” are, among others, a vibrant cultural life, and a tolerant and unique atmosphere. The policy implications of this thesis are that urban policies should assist in creating the conditions for attracting the creative classes by supporting the formation of a “creative milieu” “that contains the necessary preconditions in terms of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ infrastructure to generate a flow of ideas and interventions” (Landry 2000: 133). While Florida’s thesis, assumptions, definitions and arguments have been widely criticized by academic studies (Montgomery 2005; Peck 2005; Markusen 2006; Krätke 2010), his ideas have had a spectacular impact on urban policymakers. Berlin’s mayor was no exception, and he began to work to promote Berlin as appealing and “creative” on the basis of the strong growth of the cultural industries in the city.

According to the first comprehensive study of these industries carried out by the Senate Department for Economics in 2005 (which encompassed the sectors of publishing, print media, film and TV production, fashion, design, software and games development, telecommunications, music, advertising, architecture and exhibition arts), this sector has been the fastest growing sector in the city’s economy since the late 1990s, at rates higher than in other German Länder (SenWi 2005). An updated report on Berlin’s cultural economy published in 2008 estimated that by 2006, the sector accounted for 10 percent of the workforce and 21 percent of the city’s GDP (SenWi 2008). Looking more broadly at the growth of knowledge-intensive industries in Berlin, researchers have shown that Berlin has developed ← 51 | 52 → a comparatively strong position at the European and even global level in several subsectors such as media, software and the life sciences (Krätke 2002, 2003, 2004a, 2004b). Krätke argues that Berlin has become an “alpha world media city”, “a center for cultural production and the media industry with a world-wide significance and impact” (Krätke 2003: 618; Krätke and Taylor 2004) on par with Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, Munich and Amsterdam.

Given this, there is a noteworthy discrepancy between Berlin’s rather low position in the global system of strategic economic centers and its leading position in media production of cities around the world. Indeed, Berlin has become a hotbed of cultural innovation not despite of, but perhaps because of its weak economic performance in the conventional sense (Bader and Scharenberg 2010). The growth in cultural industries in Berlin was largely unplanned, facilitated by the availability of affordable working and living spaces, by a tolerant and liberal culture inherited from the 1970s and 1980s, and supplied with preexisting concentrations of cultural producers, artists and networks of alternative culture (e.g. the techno music scene).

As the Berlin Senate became increasingly aware of the role and potential of the cultural industries in the local economy, it began to develop various programs and policy initiatives to support new business startups, and the city produced some globally recognized tech startup successes, including the music sharing service SoundCloud and games company Wooga. It also promoted interfirm networking, and encouraged ‘creative clustering’ in underutilized urban spaces (Ebert and Kunzmann 2007). The targeted sectors included Information and Communication Technologies, film, TV and radio, print and digital media, music, fashion, design, art and architecture. Creative industries have been valued as an economic sector in their own right, as a location factor for (other) knowledge-oriented companies, young creative entrepreneurs and their workers, and as an attraction for (young) urban tourists.

6.  Berlin as the New Neverland

Apart from hard location factors (such as the availability of affordable spaces), the city’s lively club and music scene, gay culture, hedonistic nightlife, multiculturalism and tolerance were increasingly integrated into the mainstream marketing discourse as unique selling points for Berlin. Mayor Wowereit (2006) quoted Florida’s trio of urban virtues, (“technology, talent, and tolerance”) in his inaugural speech to the House of Representatives at the beginning of his second term. In the case of Berlin, this process of symbolic appropriation has been fueled by the media, as illustrated by Time Magazine’s November 16, 2009 headline “Hip Berlin, ← 52 | 53 → Europe’s Capital of Cool”. The combination of a changing policy focus and of changing cultural and consumption practices explains why new sites and spaces have become integrated into the formal representation of the city to the outside world, accompanied by a narrative of ‘creativity’, ‘diversity’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘hipness’. Berlin’s poverty, marginality, and purported misery, which were previously seen as weaknesses, were reimagined in different and interesting ways and promoted as strengths to specific target audiences. If the elitist character of the subculture (e.g. through secretive happenings with restricted access) “fits the self-stylization of the new urban middle-classes” (Bader and Scharenberg 2010: 84–85), then the possession of “subcultural capital” signals status in the form of “hipness” (Thornton 1997), which is based on a constant renegotiation and extension of the boundaries of legitimate culture to include new, previously illegitimate artistic and cultural forms. Gradually, symbols of youth and alternative cultures such as the Love Parade, Christopher Street Day or the Carnival of Cultures were integrated into tourism and place marketing. These urban festivals initially emerged from relatively marginalized groups (techno fans, gays and lesbians, and migrant organizations), but were later officially marketed as part of the desire to present Berlin as a young, tolerant and cosmopolitan city (Kalandides and Lange 2007: 128) The urban voids and wastelands — vacant or abandoned lots that suffered from war damage, Cold War era division, poor planning decisions, demolitions by successive political regimes or deindustrialization — were previously left out of the promotional imagery as signs of desolation and traces of unwanted past. As part of the new Berlin imaginary, these spaces were domesticated by virtue of their utopian innovative temporary potential, and as new playgrounds for artistic production, consumption, creativity, entertainment and leisure for creative pioneers providing a unique selling point for Berlin. The city alongside the river Spree and the canals were turned into a long beach complete with sand, deck chairs, exotic decorations and music or an outdoor swimming pool (Badeschiff), and the abandoned lots were occupied by new bars and clubs, which became particularly popular images of a new German Neverland. Berlin’s rather ordinary, socially mixed neighborhoods (such as Kreuzberg), with their comparatively high concentrations of unemployment and poverty, high proportion of foreign-born or minority background residents (e.g. Turkish, Arabic, Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European) and their authentic as well as alternative and counter-cultural lives, have increasingly been portrayed in marketing campaigns and publications as tourist attractions or potential settings for young creative entrepreneurs. The promotion of ‘cosmopolitanism’ through particular spectacles of identity, such as the Carnival of Cultures or the Turkish Parade, employs markers of ethnicity, ← 53 | 54 → culture, gender, youthfulness, hip and coolness to celebrate cultural particularisms within an imaginary of diversity.

The prioritization of urban tourism and the growing demand from tourists for encounters with remnants from the Nationalist-Socialist and Cold War eras of Berlin has led city marketers to integrate into the promotional imagery historical sites and traces (authentic or purposefully recreated) that were largely left out or even concealed in the marketing discourse of the 1990s. A new ‘memory district’ has emerged in the center of Berlin, which includes the Jewish Museum (opened 2001), the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe (inaugurated in May 2005), and the topography of terror, a site where the unearthed remains of the Gestapo headquarters have been on public display since 1987, and since 2010, a new documentation center provides information on the National-Socialist past. Although the ‘memory district’ was not planned or marketed as such, it gradually evolved as a coherent tourist concept, as stressed by Till (2005: 200). It is a perfectly magical stage of remembrance. The remains of the Wall also slowly transformed from “sites of dispute” to “sites of memory” (Dolff-Bonekämper 2002). In this way, the dark periods of Berlin’s past were reframed within the utopian scenario of a sexy, creative city as a very open interaction with its own history that creates hyper visible space within the city for new ways of thinking.

7.  Conclusions

In this analysis of political and cultural forces behind the slogan heralding a “poor but sexy” Berlin, a surprisingly grim side to paradise is revealed. There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of this process of pushing the discursive and visual urban frontier in Wowereit’s branding strategy: “using a city’s subculture may enhance the city’s symbolic value, but simultaneously undermines the everyday conditions necessary to sustain the creative process itself” (Bader and Scharenberg 2010: 80); reducing interim and small-scale users to a marketing tool for real estate in the city is detrimental to a proper long-term creative city policy. This, in turn, generates resistance on the part of cultural producers and users who are affected by the process, and leads to localized conflicts around the spaces promoted as ‘creative’ in public policies and in official marketing discourse. Kreuzberg, before the fall of the Wall, was already a hub for Berlin’s alternative, multicultural and bohemian scenes, and as such has attracted visitors not only from Berlin, but also from the rest of Germany and abroad since the 1970s (e.g. Iggy Pop and David Bowie). After the fall of the Wall, the district underwent an intensive process of urban renewal, social transformation and, of course, gentrification. There was and is a discrepancy between the mayor’s and senate’s promotional rhetoric of ethnic ← 54 | 55 → diversity and sexy cosmopolitanism on the one hand, (a central element of Berlin’s marketing narrative in the 2000s), and its actual management of ethnic-cultural diversity and inequalities on the other (Kosnick 2009). Finally, the increasingly popular and profitable marketing of memory has normalized the darkest periods of Berlin’s history and passed over in silence the negative consequences of German unification on (East) German society and the failures of the process.


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