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Impressions by Kennith Rosario
Berlin quickly felt like home. A rented bike, a room in a Swabian household, an impudent newsroom at Taz, surprisingly forthcoming Germans and weekly swim in lake Liepnitzsee is all it took. But what fascinated me the most about the city, especially as a culture writer and journalist, is the strong presence of politics in the arts and how clubs double up as spaces of advocacy. During my first weekend in the city, I went to SchwuZ, known for its inclusive door policy for queer refugees, where there was a panel discussion on the integration of LGBTQI people with migratory history, preceded by a documentary screening. Throughout the rather serious and candid discussion — as insightful stories were being shared — the walls could barely contain the house music from an adjacent hall. As soon as the discussion wrapped up, the chairs were quickly whisked away, the bar was opened and the space was ready for a night of debauchery.
On another weekend, I went to a drag show called 'Queens Against Borders', a fundraiser for transgender refugees. Before the performances, there was a panel discussion on climate change and migration, as party-goers diligently took their drinks and sat on the dance floor to listen to the speakers. Soon, the space was taken over by dancers and singers from Iraq, Syria, Israel and other countries. It's this confluence of politics, protest and parties, that fascinates me about the German capital, and the country at large — how celebration can be political. It's not surprising then that several clubs in Berlin have previously been abandoned spaces, where the sheer act of reclaiming space, both personal and public, is an act of rebellion.
As a journalist who writes on cinema, arts and culture, I am often confronted with the term, 'entertainment journalism'. In Mumbai, where one of the world's biggest film industries, Bollywood, thrives, it's often easy to relegate cinema, theatre, music and other performance arts as sole entertainment. It's often a challenge to make a case for the interdependence of politics, art, culture and society, even within the media circles. A good work of art is surely captivating and could be entertaining, but Berlin's cultural landscape demonstrates that narratives and collective memories are often at the centre of political discourse, shaping the way we think, behave and remember.
My first visit to the city was in 2018 as part of the Berlinale Talents programme. It was less than a year since the #MeToo movement had taken Hollywood by storm, and the curatorial sensibilities of the Berlinale reflected the issue through films on body politics. The location of a festival, I believe, plays a pivotal role in developing its character and flavour. The omnipresence of political discourse at the Berlinale certainly has a lot to do with the city and its responsive nature.
This sense of consciousness could be felt at the 41st Christopher Street Day as well, where you could spot signs like 'fags against fascism' and 'queers for climate change'. I was on board the bus of Berlin Aids-Hilfe e.V., from where I could see an unending sea of people participating in the march. But the Pride was also criticised for lacking intersectionality, succumbing to corporate sponsorship, lacking inclusivity and a sharp political messaging. As an outsider, it wasn't long before that I noticed a layer of conservatism, xenophobia and passive-aggressive racism in the city, and it doesn't take much to encounter the way religion and social rigidity govern the German way of life. But as sub-cultures face the threat of appropriation, more than exclusion, a new wave of cultural impudence emerges. Berlin, thus, is putting up a fight. The sheer presence of an alternate pride (Radical Queer March, for instance) and the active dissent against the far-right agenda, is a healthy sign of being open to being challenged.
Berlin, for me, is a city with opinions. It's also a metropolis in transition and a state of metamorphosis. It's holding onto its values against a rapidly changing world. Of course, the city's riveting past, and the country's history at large, has a major influence on its collective consciousness — it's a city where time folds and doubles back. But Berlin also has a distinctly contemporary flavour, which is nothing short of addictive.
A unique Fridays for Future, bringing a train full of kids from Berlin into Oranienburg
Berlin pride reaches the historic Nollendorfplatz
Open air cinema in Friedrichshain