Berlin past it’s zenith

… next stop Brussels?

2008:Jul // Melinda Deitch

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Berlin (ap) – Adam Tarrigon once loved going out for dinner and drinks in Berlin, feeling far wealthier in the German capital than he did at home in the United States. With the dollar now worth about 20 percent less than when he first arrived in 2005, the 30-year-old freelance artist has a leaner lifestyle. “I used to be able to brag that Berlin was really affordable but now my rent actually works out on par with Washington and New York. It’s pretty terrible,” said Tarrigon, whose income is almost exclusively in the devaluing currency. “I do everything to try to spend fewer euros now and am looking for a place in Brussels, there’s more value for your money there.” Not only weak dollar is hurting many of the Americans who live in Berlin, many come for the art scene; which for only those lucky few, can support themselves with their earnings.

“This town has had a terrible impact on us,” said u.s. writer Sue Lin, a New Yorker who most of the year lives in Berlin with her husband, artist Ken Barth. Ken had a promise to show with a gallery; while he was preparing the exhibition the gallery ran out of money and closed. Ms. Linney now teaches art theory over the internet and is considering with her husband returning to the States. Ms Lin says, “We thought it would be a great place to start a family and still be able to lead our creative lives. That is completly out of the question now.“

“In recent years 15 galleries have closed their doors; the new galleries coming to Berlin are usally outposts of already successful galleries, not looking to pick up local talent or newcomers from abroad” states Mr. Barth. Galleries are having modest success in Berlin, but some have moved on to more dynamic markets such as China, with the Bejing gallery world operating with record growth.

Ein poor Berliner
About 50,000 Americans moved to Germany in 2006, according to the German statistics office – many attracted by its art, music, history and relatively low cost of living, according to Americans living here.Those who rely on dollars now need to keep a close eye on their wallets and are finding they might not be able to live so comfortably.

“My grants have basically been cut in half with the dollar-euro exchange rate,” said assistant professor Mara Leichtman, who is renting a friend’s apartment in Berlin – and not shopping for clothes – to cut down costs. 

Banana republic Berlin
In a recent, widely recognized, decision the German Constitutional court rejected the State of Berlin’s request for federal assistance due to its fiscal crisis. Though Berlin is certainly in a difficult situation with a debt burden of more than €60 billion, and with a debt service absorbing more than 20 % of its tax revenue, many economists feared that the court would accept this request and force the federal government to pay.For many, the history of the once divided city proves to be one of falures.

Georg Baselitz has few kind words about the city, “Berlin is an ignorant banana republic,” said the artist, who recently celebrated his sixty-ninth birthday. “Worse than ignorant. For decades, the city was in an island situation and lived on hope and off of [state] subventions. That has not changed since the end of the ddr. There was no recuperation, no getting out of this bad situation.” With unemployment at 15 % it is not difficult to see why more people are leaving the city every year.   New Building Many attempts have been made to creat work and bring business to the city, but poor planning and bad commercial choices have made the situation worse. One example is the Alexa Shopping center; meant to be a competition to the Galleria Kaufhof in Alexanderplatz, the Alexa was to mark a new beginning with a combination of good architecture and artist collaboration. It resulted in neither. The hulking puce colored mall is an eyesore in the once charming central square. Max Loff, an artist once lined up for an ambtious multimedia project in the Alexa center remarked “The artists projects comprise of badly done ink jet print hangings on polyester, what a shame...”  Up and coming Brussels Brussels on the other hand is quietly enjoying an influx of new arists and new art spaces opening. The Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art, having fully opened this year has hosted an exhibition of Mike Kelly with great success.

Andrew Seeglow an artist from Atlanta has found Brussels to be a safe haven. “It’s a manageable city with plenty of old factories not far from the center. I have a 150 sq meter loft for under a thousand euro per month.” Being the European union capital, one finds it much easier to get along just on English in Brussels. It now seems, Berlin has passed it’s zenith as the new international artopolis.
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