Scales of Sharing: Berlin – Katowice, Shared Cities Diaries #5

What happens when a fan of inclusive cities, consumer of exhibitions, publications on architecture & urban planning and one of the authors of Shared Cities: Creative Momentum project feels the politics of the region kicks in?

by Milota Sidorová, Program Manager, Shared Cities: Creative Momentum, Goethe-Institut

I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times during the past year somebody has approached me with: “So you work in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary – are you the one with populists in the government?” or “Your people really don´t like immigrants, do they?” Or even better “Are you the next Brexit?” Sometimes I get these “questions” with genuine curiosity, black humor and sometimes with a portion of embarrassment. If you live in Central Europe and have at least a minimal access to Facebook, you must sense them too.

Ok, but shouldn’t I be talking about cultural project, sharing and architecture? This is politics, you may argue. True, but we do live “in the politics”, so I am actually talking about me or you, your friends or families from these countries. I am talking about increased mobility, changing lifestyle in our cities we experience and specific emotions we infuse daily. As one of the authors of this project exploring aspects of sharing in cities, let me show you, how all of that got into my recent business trip between Berlin and Katowice…

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Berlin, Nov 30, 9:06 am

I am arriving to Berlin by a comfortable night-train. The train is called Metropol and connects Budapest and Berlin via Bratislava, Prague, Dresden. For years it has been called Avala and used to stretch down to Belgrade. Not long time ago a decision has been made to cut the line in Budapest. Belgrade connection has on its own separate line (using the same trails though). Departing Prague, waking up in majestic multilayered Berlin, main railway station – Hauptbahnhof. I feel positively overwhelmed by the hub that tens perhaps thousands of thousands people share every single day. I find it amazing to have our own version of the Orient Express, this strong central European piece of infrastructure. The train is runs every 2 hours and connects 5 out of 7 project cities, 5 capitals of Shared Cities: Creative Momentum project. You could easily say this project is based around the train.

Stunning morning at the Hauptbahnhof, © #mwalker

I am coming to Berlin to meet clever people from partner organizations: reSITE, Vysoká Škola Výtvarných Umení, KUNSTrePUBLIK, Česká Centra and Association of Belgrade Architects to brainstorm how to display aspects of sharing in our project – with the help of the EU (of course). Shared Cities: Creative Momentum goes on for another two years, but we have to start to work on the exhibition now. This is our first workshop on that topic. We spend two days in one of the most prestigious galleries in Berlin. While we enjoy beautiful views into the heart of Tiergarten, we envision what formats of exhibition we can do and whether we can go beyond usual suspects of cultural, wealthy educated consumers of gallery spaces. Next days, external critics mostly from Western Europe come and ask us the same questions: “What point on sharing do you take? But wait, what about your polarized region? What about your transfer from communism until now, when we experience different social and political influences?” They mention contradiction of sharing and shared economy, populism and suggest to tell the story of the place where we live.

Dang. The modernist space and beautiful setting of the gallery might confuse my sentinels for few hours, but here we get the same notion again. We will have to deal with something wider than architecture in cultural project. Definitely regional. The need for this narrative is clearly here.

 

Debate during SCCM exhibition workshop, Berlin, Akademie Der Kunste, Charlie Koolhaas, Lukas Feireiss, Jaroslav Andel, ©Milota Sidorová

On route Berlin-Krakow, Dec 1st, 06:06 am

Unfortunately there is no train connecting Berlin and Katowice, the city where I am heading to carry on my project tour. I take an expensive taxi to balance the cheap, early morning flight. The Turkish driver barely speaks English. He has been living here for twenty years. My sleepy brain kicks in (always amazing me) and we are able to discuss gentrification and rising living costs in decent German. “Schöne Reise”, the man shakes my hand and likewise I wish the best for his wife who has recently lost her job. RyanAir flies Berlin-Krakow. I have been avoiding it for as long as I could, as the services mostly equal services of public transport in Bratislava. The AirBus is full of pale, sleepy and some sick people. The shared air offers convenient circulation of all viruses and bacteria. I see myself sick again, so I take on my drape and put it on. Were I Japanese, I would have felt better.

Katowice, Dec 2nd, 1:13 pm

Still sleep deprived I stand in the black box staring at the white boards neatly covered with black letters, charts and diagrams. I am visiting the exhibition Data for Culture, the final exhibition covering a long year research mapping the audience of Katowice´s cultural events. The exhibition has been curated by Medialab, Miasto Ogrodow, our Polish Partner. I am cold, as I forgot how cold it can get in this formerly industrial, recently UNESCO City of Music, at the beginning of December.

“This exhibition is divided into two parts. The bottom part, the black box is meant for professionals, people working in culture, municipalities and strategy planning,” says Karol Piekarski, the head of research department and the curator of the exhibition. The upper part (smartly placed) near cafeteria displays a short colorful summary for general public. The bottom part of exhibition lacks a clear narrative, but offers a lot of data that experienced cultural mapper is able to use individually. The upper part uses cartoon characters and dialogue samples describing daily cultural situations. You can get a relation between cultural patterns of a population and you. Satisfied I walk to get a fresh air. I spot a crowd of people gathered by the monument on plaza in front of the building. People hold slogans, rainbow flags. The group is not huge. “What is it?” I ask. They demonstrate against much bigger gathering that verbally attacked Polish members of European Parliament last week.

Faces of our critic curators Lukas Feireiss, Charlie Koolhaas and Jaroslav Andel renew in my memory: But what about your region? Disquiet grows in my mind to see this happening literally few meters away from a product of our work. We do live in politics. It intervenes our lives, closer and closer. The work on SCCM, whether it will be exhibition, book or our next lecture is happening in changing context of the region, context we can’t ignore. But whether we take rational or emotional, conservative or more experiential approach, one thing is certain. To be just artistic or beautiful won’t be enough. SCCM will carry on the holistic story about sharing in Central European cities.

Data for Culture, exhibition for professionals, Katowice, ©Miasto Ogrodow, MediaLab

Data for Culture, Exhibition summary for general public, Katowice, ©MediaLab Katowice

Graphic summary of the exhibition ©MediaLab

Pro democratic gathering on plac Sejmu Śląskiego ©Milota Sidorová

 

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