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  • Seymour Gris: Googleheim Berlin


Seymour Gris: Googleheim Berlin

Berlin is a playground, but who for and for what purposes? With various ventures by big businesses such as BMW and Google (marketing themselves as artistic and intellectual), is there cause for concern? Or is Gris paranoid?

Over the past two months, two juggernauts of American commerce and culture – Google and the Guggenheim Foundation (which already has a joint venture with Deutsche Bank on Unter den Linden have announced new projects in Berlin: in February, the Californian monster search engine announced it’s opening an Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft (“Institute for Internet and Society”) somewhere in Berlin. In early April the Tagesspiegel reported that the Guggenheim would be setting up its BMW Guggenheim Lab, a hip temporary “space”, in a car park on Kastanienalle in Prenzlauer Berg something in 2012.

I guess we’re supposed to be jumping up and down with glee about these exciting developments heading our way… the Guggenheim-BMW venture is probably the more transparent and harmless of the two. In a web-text stuffed with art-world/marketing buzzwords like “innovative” and “site-specific”, we read that: “The BMW Guggenheim Lab will be a space for the playful exploration of the challenges and opportunities of the cities of today, and the creation of forward-looking concepts and designs for the cities of tomorrow.”

Yawn. Why on earth would a reputable New York art museum be involved with something so fluffy?

I just hope they’re getting a hefty payout from Bayerische Motoren Werke for helping pimp up the car brand’s noveau-riche image with what appears to be hip, pseudo-intellectual playground. Anyway, we’re just biting our nails with anticipation of what they have in store for that Prenzlauer Berg parking lot.

Meanwhile, what the “insitute” Google (which apparently already has a secret server farm in Berlin) is setting up sounds less innocuous. On a strange, no-frills website run by a Hamburg PR company, the kings of the internet say they will be funding research on “(1) Internet based innovation, (2) Internet policy and (3) legal aspects.” It will the first such Google research institute in the world.

I guess it’s no coincidence that it will be located in the capital of the country that gave it so much legal hassle with the roll-out of the German version of Street View, which 250,000 households chose to opt out of.

What kind of “reseach” does Google need to get done in the Humboldt University (reportedly the favoured site of the institute) which it can’t do in-house? The whole thing is pretty weird.

The only thing that comes to mind is that a Google thinktank in Berlin would be a great staging ground for lobbying and more subtle influence peddling down the street from the German seat of government… but maybe I’m just paranoid.