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Culture

Berlin 24/7: The Wall in people's heads

The actual Berlin Wall is gone - but does it still exist in people's heads? As Germany celebrates Unity Day on October 3, DW's Gero Schliess takes a close look at how divisions still shape the city's culture.

"There are many different Berlins," Berliners like to say - which sounds like an acknowledgement of biodiversity. But whether it's intentional or not, the notion serves to cement the existing mental and political divides. Even today, the differences between the east and the west are still noticeable.

Along Bernauer Strasse, where the Wall once cut a brutal swath right through the city, a painting covers the entire side of a multistory house: marbled red flesh, with a huge knife engraved with the dates of the building and fall of the Wall (1961-1989) slicing right into the meat. To this very day, the era of the Berlin Wall is a painful memory for many, it's ingrained in the city's DNA. For me, a newcomer to Berlin, it's simply history.

Building with huge meat painting on the side(DW/G. Schließ)

This new mural depicting Berlin's painful cut will stay up for three months

Shortcomings in cultural politics

I've noticed other divides in the weeks since the Berlin state elections on September 18. The right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) scored a double-digit victory, in particular on the outskirts of the city, for instance in Marzahn-Hellersdorf in the east. Even Berlin politicians admitted that apparently, they had put too much of a focus on central Berlin districts instead of paying attention to the periphery, too.

I've only ever been to Marzahn-Hellersdorf once, and not entirely by choice, but to see the manager of the Kulturzentrum Kino Kiste, a culture center in the midst of highrise East German apartment buildings made of prefabricated cement slabs - housing desolation made of stone.

Protesting neglect

"This area is being left behind," says Fred Schöner, who sarcastically refers to himself as the center's "unsalaried manager." "The periphery hardly plays a role." City funding for the center's cinema has been drastically cut, Schöner says, adding that he is grateful to the volunteers who help keep the movie theater up and running.

Culture center Die Kiste in Berlin Hellersdorf (Fred Schöner)

The culture center 'Die Kiste' (the Box) relies on volunteers

Marzahn-Hellersdorf is just one of many examples of cultural neglect on Berlin's periphery. The state's cultural affairs department has finally noticed that 80 percent of the culture venues subsidized by the Senate - including the Deutsche Oper and the Berlin Philharmonic - are located in the central districts Berlin Mitte and Charlottenburg. They agree it's time to change that.

The administration may regard the situation as a mere lapse, but many people who live on the outskirts feel they've been disregarded. The consequences are no secret. "People who feel neglected find a way to protest," Fred Schöner says. While he doesn't agree with the notion that a lack of culture necessarily makes for big wins for the AfD, he agrees that the shortfalls on the culture front are an unmistakable indicator for broad political mistakes.

 No 'unity' in Berlin

As far as I can tell, the divides aren't just between the city center and the periphery. They crisscross Berlin, with splits between start-up communities and traditional blue-collar workers, between the newcomers from all over the world and the locals, between migrants and Germans - and between the East and the West, again and again.

 Gero Schließ

DW's Gero Schliess explores Berlin

Culture serves as an indicator here, too. Take music, for example. Visitors from all over the world flock to the Berlin Philharmonic, situated near the former location of the Berlin Wall. The Berliners at the concerts are predominately from the western part of the city. A few hundred meters eastward, in what was once communist East Berlin, Konzerthaus director Sebastian Nordmann is currently trying hard to woo people from all over the city - but so far, the majority of subscription tickets go to an audience from east Berlin.

Is Berlin doomed to remain separated? I for one have decided to go see a movie at the "Kiste" movie theater in Marzahn-Hellersdorf on Monday: "Das Geständnis" (The Confession), a film about criminal cases in East Germany.

 

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