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Is Berlin’s underground scene in danger of going to the wall?

Posted on 11 February 2016

Berlin’s underground heritage – characterised by its alternative techno club scene - is at risk from “gentrification” and there needs to be greater recognition of its cultural significance and contribution to the city’s distinctive character, an archaeologist from the University of York has said.

Many of the parties held in Berlin are pop-up events, often out of doors such as here, under a flyover. Such places are therefore vital to sustaining this underground scene, along institutions like Berghain. (Credit: Professor John Schofield)Many of the parties held in Berlin are pop-up events, often out of doors such as here, under a flyover. Such places are therefore vital to sustaining this underground scene, along institutions like Berghain. (Credit: Professor John Schofield)

Professor John Schofield argues that Berlin’s long tradition of attracting people who pursue alternative lifestyles is essential to its social and cultural sustainability.

But according to research led by Professor Schofield, head of the Department of Archaeology at York,Berlin’s vibrant techno club scene is in danger of being “pushed to the margins” as the city continues to develop.

He says: “This subculture has been a very important part of the city since before the fall of the Wall and what’s happening now is threatening its existence, as the city develops into a modern capital.

“The gentrification process means that the places associated with alternative scenes are being closed down and the scenes pushed away to the margins.”

The study argues that Berlin Techno, the latest incarnation of the city’s alternative scene, is inextricably linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“When the wall came down there was a coming together for a large part of the population; it was a coming together for the first time, particularly for people under the age of about 30.”

Professor Schofield suggests the techno music – often characterised by its hard, bass-thumping, industrial sound - goes hand-in-hand with the city’s old industrial buildings - buildings that are becoming increasingly scarce as the developers move in.

“The music is very much a part of the city and the culture that created the scene. It is a very close relationship between the people, their backgrounds, the music and the buildings,” Professor Schofield says.

He calls for this “significant heritage” to be given greater recognition, and ultimately better protection by the city’s planners, recognising the importance of abandoned spaces for example.

“These alternative scenes have been a part of the cultural fabric of Berlin for generations. It is one of the things that shapes the city and makes Berlin different to everywhere else.

“The worry is that this will be lost. This scene is really important to Berlin’s character and identity, but it needs a place to flourish,” Professor Schofield adds.

The paper is co-authored by Luise Rellensmann from the Brandenburg University of Technology, Germany and published in the journal Heritage & Society.

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