Ingo Vetter and Annette Weisser
Protests in favour of city cores from mid-90-ies had the privatisation of public areas in city centres as their objective. Numerous actions drew public attention to that process, speaking in favour of retaining the public space, rooted in the freedom of movement, public gathering and speech. The protests were directed against the striving of the upcoming city marketing (usually private public partnerships between businessmen, city administration and corporations like DB or real estate companies) to modify city cores exclusively according to commercial goals. Migrating population and the homeless were pointed out as the ones who would suffer most under the impact of this process. As a consequence, this form of representative politics was frequently subject to heated exchanges. In the meantime, the development has rolled over its criticism and now it exists as sterile pedestrian zones, tourist places with camera surveillance and train stations with high security measures, or they have become victims of their own commercial speculations.
However, I ask myself, was our notion of public space not already obsolete or romantically unrealistic? The central places and pedestrian zones of Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt or Munich were even ten years ago not a public space essential to society in the sense of the old Greek agora. And who would today seriously protest against the privatisation of public space at Potsdam Place or in Centro Oberhausen? I personally actually rarely go to pedestrian zones or shopping malls; they have little importance for my usage of the city. My public space is divided into many public places, connected by my personal interest. The lawn of the country house for children, facing my flat in Berlin-Kreuzberg, functions as a public place: Gypsy families come in the morning to grill a whole lamb, at noon come the local kindergartens, in the afternoon Turkish families grill, in the evening there are parties around the camp-fire and at night kids are on the rampage. The whole thing functions only because of the devoted work of people who arrange with the children’s house to clean the place every morning and boldly refuse to in any way fence in the piece of land they have been occupying for the last 24 years. This place seems to me worthy of defending in every way, because its usage is permanently a subject to negotiation and there is an actual interaction. I believe that we need more places of such public welfare, based on commitment and the interest of users. Politically, this means to support a higher degree of local responsibility and counteract neo-liberal strivings by a progressive formulation of the informal.
Anette Weisser and I were invited to think about the representation of public space in Berlin on the basis of a collection of historical prints for the exhibition “Layered Histories” (in the former City Bank of Berlin 2002, curator Ulrike Kremeier). We decided to make a promotion of the children’s house lawn. A poster with the invitation for contributions to the initiative was printed and put up in the whole town. Its motive shows us as guests of this place, a situation that will change in the next moment.
Ingo Vetter and Annette Weisser
Artists based in Berlin, Germany