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  • Editor at large: Jonny’s June culture report

Berlin

Editor at large: Jonny’s June culture report

Our Editor-in-Chief gets around. His hot takes this month feature ceramic dicks, ghetto wrestling and art art art!

Des Nachmars Schmetterlinge. Photo: Edgard Berendsen

I know it’s an incredibly obvious observation, but the difference between Winter Berlin and Summer Berlin is so stark that it really bears repeating. In winter, it feels like everyone wants to be cooped up at home, and you only venture outside when you’re rushing from one indoor location to the next. In summer, it can feel like the whole of Berlin is spilling out into the streets. It’s a truly magical time, and it’s one of the main reasons why we suffer through the seemingly endless cold, dark months. There are so many interesting outdoor and indoor events happening that it’s almost overwhelming, and it means this month’s culture report is an absolute doozy.

After we covered them in the latest issue, Daniela Torres invited me along to take part in one of her ceramic dick workshops and I couldn’t say no, so I headed along to sculpt my very own clay cock. There was something very wholesome and therapeutic about sitting round a table moulding a phallus while everyone chats about their experiences of, and relationships to, penises.

Ceramic dick workshop

It was definitely one of the most fun and different networking opportunities I’ve ever had, and I have to say, the creativity on display from some of the other participants far outshone my own work. For a personal touch, I pierced the dick I had made so that I’d be able to attach my old Prince Albert jewellery to it. If you’re wondering if I still have a Prince Albert – I don’t, and the reason why is a story that needs to be shared face-to-face, so feel free to ask me about it in person.

Taking part in a ceramic dick workshop felt quite like a quintessentially Berlin happening, and the Sternfahrt the next day did, too. This is the official bike demo organised by the ADFC. There were 20 different starting points all around Berlin, and some 50,000 cyclists took part to advocate for better infrastructure and conditions for bicyclists.

Sternfahrt. Photo: IMAGO / Stefan Zeitz

I joined at Kotti with some friends and several Exberliner team members. Teufel had kindly loaned EXB a Rockster Air, so I attached a trailer to my bike, loaded up the speaker, and blasted out a soundtrack for the ride. The absolute highlight of the ride, and consistently one of the highlights of my year, is when the cyclists get to take over a section of the Autobahn that has been closed to vehicles for the day. It really is an incredible and unique experience to ride your bike on the motorway. To make the occasion even more special, I played Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ through the speaker as we were cycling. Pure joy.

The Himmel unter Berlin event series takes place in a different secret under-the-ground (hence ‘unter’) location each time and is always a multi-roomed affair with different installations in each room. The art on display takes a modern multimedia approach, combining light, sculpture, kinetics and audio.

Himmel unter Berlin

In comparison to r editions, this year’s artworks were more site-specific and created in tandem with the space, which was a former turbine factory showroom. There were a number of excellent pieces but Polynode II by Von Lumus Instruments was the clear standout for me. Its interplay of moving lights and alienesque noises felt art that had been sent from the distant future back to our present day. 

Directly after the Himmel exhibition, it was just a short bike ride to see some more audio-visual art in the form of the new TENSOR installation at Dark Matter. A collaboration between light artist Christopher Bauder and British musician and composer Akiko Haruna, this large-scale outdoor artwork is incredible.

TENSOR. Photo: Dark Matter

Hundreds of strip lights are suspended overhead, changing colour, pulsing and flashing in time with the bespoke audio accompaniment, and it’s mesmerising. On the summer weekends, there are DJs and live performances as well. There is a bar on site, so if you’re looking for somewhere different to enjoy a nighttime drink in the open air, this is an ideal place.

I finally made it to the newly reopened Berlinische Galerie to check out the Julius von Bismarck When Platitudes Become Form exhibition and others. The thing that struck me most when making my way through the building was the sense of scale and how it is played with. Nasan Tur’s Hunted places taxidermy animals on the floor, and the gallery’s high ceilings and spaciousness enhance the impact and intensity of the work. Julius von Bismarck’s pieces play with scale in multiple ways, from the giant, oversized dried and pressed plants to the large-scale versions of slowly collapsing children’s toys.

Exhibition view Böhler & Orendt, The Sweet Certainty“, Berlinische Galerie, 2023.

Bismarck’s pieces seem playful on the surface, but the themes they deal with are much weightier and more poignant than they appear at first glance. Elsewhere in the gallery, Böhler & Orendt also play with scale with a kind of modern take on Gulliver’s travels, and then in Suddenly Wonderful: Visions for chunky 1970’s architecture in West Berlin, featuring the huge, imposing, futuristic buildings of the era shrunk down to miniature versions. My favourite was the micro Mäuserbunker. I love that building in real life, and to see it in tiny form was incredibly cool.

By all accounts, the Hamburger Bahnhof Open House weekend seemed to be a roaring success. Despite the rain, hordes of people danced outside to Ellen Allien’s set on Friday night. I decided to skip that day and head down on Sunday instead. It was awesome to see the whole building hiving with people of all ages. My favourite exhibition of the current crop is definitely Fred Sanback’s Simple Facts. The installations from the late artist use nothing but yarn and space to create works that play with your sense of perception in the most delightful way. I love it when artists do things that are ingenious in their simplicity and have an outsized impact in relation to the materials used. Marvellous stuff.

Exhibition view, Fred Sandback, Simple Facts, Hamburger Bahnhof © Fred Sandback Estate © Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Thomas Bruns

Berlin’s biggest street music jam session, Fete de la Musique, was running at full steam again this June after a number of pandemic-hampered years. The whole of Berlin seemed to come alive with the sound of music. As I weaved my way through Kreuzberg and Neukölln en route to Tempelhof, there were stages and performances galore.

Fete de la Musique. Photo: Fete De La Musique 2023 – Ⓒ Jim Kroft

At the Feld, I watched a few choirs perform in the open air, both doing interpretations of modern indie songs. There is something wonderfully heartwarming and wholesome to be found in watching people sing their hearts out in this way. On the way back through Neukölln I made a stop at the African Acid Is the Future block party, which was popping with people filling up the sidewalks and most of the road in front of the Späti where the DJs were set up. 

A few days later and I’m back traipsing around Neukölln for 48 Stunden Neukölln, the festival that brings the whole district alive with art for a glorious few days. On Friday, I met some friends near Körnerpark and checked out the gallery there. The exhibition was cool, but I’d had my fill of visual-based art this month and was on the lookout for something different. We headed to try to find a venue that was apparently in a cemetery, but we couldn’t find it. During the search, we could hear music in the distance and decided to follow that instead. It turned out to be a great idea, as we found a punk rock gig happening in the Hof of an unusual art house. I later learned that this place was the Polymedialer Ponyhof, and it was such a unique and interesting place.

There was a wooden walkway running around the Hof with a raised platform at one end. This is where the band was set up, playing to the crowd below. We caught the tail end of the gig before a DJ took over and turned the Hof into a dance floor. We explored the rest of the building and found different art in every corner, including drawings and paintings in the front, and video art in the basement and a back room. My absolute favourite part was in a basement room where Giorgia Favaretto and Isabel Rudek were presenting their project Too Many Choices. The first part was a riff on the classic Twister game, except the different colours were representing the pitfalls that make life in Berlin a challenging balancing act. The best part, though, was the special video installation they had created. It took the form of a 1990s-style choose-your-own-adventure video game, where you had to find a guest list to exit a club (yes, exit). It riffed on some of the Berlin tropes we know and love, and was done in such a madcap yet stylish way. The whole experience of stumbling across the Polymedialer Ponyhof and discovering some cool art in a random way felt like the essence of 48 Hours Neukölln – venture out, stumble around, and inevitably find something eye opening and interesting. 

On the last Saturday in June, I was invited along to Des Nachmars Schmetterlinge at CHAUSSE 36 for what was billed as a fashion-meets-performance event for Elodie Cartsensen’s new collection. The details were vague, but I’m always up for trying new things. In the space, there were numerous floor-to-ceiling pillars of white material. I didn’t really think anything of them until they started moving. Sure weren’t there only bloody people in the pillars! (I’m Irish, okay?) They were waiting in them the whole time the audience were filling the room, and then on cue they started the performance. To begin, they were moving within the material, pressing their bodies up against it, stretching it out.

Des Nachmars Schmetterlinge. Photo: Edgard Berendsen

Over time, the performers started to rip their way out of the columns, emerging like butterflies from chrysalises. Once the performers were free of the constraints of the material, they each contorted and twisted in their own unique way. One by one, the performers moved their way into the corner of the room and became one cohesive undulating mass, before making their way to the stage and continuing the choreography. This combination of contemporary dance performance with high-concept fashion was an immersive and inventive way to present a collection, and felt much more akin to art than the usual world of fashion. If this is the level at which all fashion events operated, I think I’d be at a show every week.

I rounded off my month of culture with another dose of 48 Stunden Neukölln goodness, this time in the form of the queer, camp and riotously fun Ghetto Wrestling event at Oyoun Berlin. Hundreds of people crammed into the venue to witness a wild range of flamboyant wrestlers slam each other to the mat. The event was compéred magnificently by Berlin legend Jimmy Trash, and he kept the energy and insanity high for the whole duration. There was something strangely uplifting about watching a power queer with a rainbow-coloured spiked helmet body slam a heinous Karen Preacher character into the ground.⁠ A wrestler known as Pippa Woodoobear stole the show, in my opinion.

Ghetto Wrestling. Photo: Ghetto Wrestling

Dressed as a pregnant tiger, she wrestled her foe, before stopping suddenly and simulated the act of giving birth. Her baby turned out to be a voodoo doll of her opponent, which she then proceeded to stab and smash while its real life counterpart writhed in agony. For the culmination, she ripped the penis off the voodoo doll and shoved it into her mouth. I’m not sure if this was a coincidence, but it was this exact moment when some concerned looking mothers shuffled their very young children out the door. Perhaps it is a bit difficult to explain to a small child why the woman on stage is giving birth and then eating the penis of her voodoo doll baby. This was the 4th edition of the event since it was created by Dave the Chimp and Flavie Gurerrand back in 2011, and it seems to have found an ideal home in 48 Stunden Neukölln. Let’s hope it’s back again next year. 

Phew, what a mammoth month – and I didn’t even talk about Rhyannon Styles’ intimate and intricate music performance at Noisyberg, or DJ Einkaufswagen’s unofficial trolley-based DJ set in Hasenheide (which got shut down multiple times by the Ordnungsamt), or how much fun Critical Mass was this month. Summer is the time when Berlin really comes alive, and I can’t get enough of it.