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"Leer aber sexy?" The Detroit-Berlin Connection
October 10, 2011 6:05 AM   Subscribe

WDET- Detroit Public Radio: "Detroit and Berlin are iconic cities; symbols of cultural and economic domination, as well as of collapse, and (potential) rebirth. Detroit and Berlin have ideological similarities that go far beyond industrial power. As beacons of culture, Detroit and Berlin have both been on the cutting edge of arts activities. Berlin is a crossroads of European film, art, music and food; Detroit is a center of African-American culture, with global credibility in jazz, techno, and emerging cultural expressions." Audio Preview.
Martina Guzmán's series for WDET public radio, The Detroit - Berlin Connection looks at the futures of these two great cities and looks at the measures being used to reinvent industrial cities for the 21st century.

"Because of their unique pasts, Detroit and Berlin are faced with scores of abandoned properties, which most cities can't even contemplate. As these two iconic cities move forward, they make decisions about what to do with abandoned buildings, churches, airports, parks, plots of land and houses. They can be torn down, they can fall into disarray, they can be preserved or they can be repurposed. Sometimes the government decides what to do with these buildings and sometimes its’ the people. Either way, as decisions are made about what to do with each of these properties, new landscapes and new identities for these cities are shaped."

What can the Detroit Berlin connection teach us?
Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute and Wayne State University Urban Planning Professor Robin Boyle join Martina Guzman and Craig Fahle to discuss The Detroit Berlin Connection.

Schöneweide is a struggling neighborhood in Berlin that lost more than 20 thousand industrial jobs once East and West Germany reunified in 1989. Though only several hundred jobs remain today, residents interviewed in this video call Schöneweide home and refuse to abandon it despite the challenges of living there.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe applied the principles of the courtyard, and the importance of outdoor space and landscape to the Lemke house in Berlin and to Lafayette Park in Detroit. The courtyard principle is considered a turning point in Mies van der Rohe's career.

Land Use - The Detroit Berlin Connection
In this segment of our series, The Detroit - Berlin Connection, WDET's Martina Guzmán examines how Detroit, the city with the highest unemployment of any major metropolis in America, and Berlin, one of the poorest capitol cities in Europe, turn to creativity when it comes to abandoned buildings and vacant land.

The Creative Class - The Detroit Berlin Connection
Both Detroit and Berlin were cradles of industry, hubs of creative culture and suffered from a loss of an educated population... brain drain. In part two of our series, The Detroit - Berlin Connection, we look at how artists can revitalize neighborhoods, improve the economy and jumpstart the city’s image.

DJ RolandoThe massive contributions of Detroit DJs helped establish Berlin as a global hub of techno music. Beginning in 1991, two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Detroit and Berlin built a transatlantic bond that continues to this day.

"Leer aber sexy"
In the piece, Guzman talks about how Berlin's mayor coined the phrase "Poor but Sexy" to describe their hip, capitol city. Berliners embraced the expression and used it on everything from t-shirts, to tourism campaigns.
posted by HLD (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been to Berlin several times, but alas, never once set foot in Detroit. A little hard to imagine there's really that much in common, but hey, if they can make it work, that is, if hitching their star onto Berlin's will do Detroit any good, more power to 'em!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:37 AM on October 10, 2011


There is a lot that the two cities have in common: a jarring mix of architecture, post-industrial grime turned into an aesthetics of ruins, the hardscrabble and determined personalities of a citizenry that are often forgotten when ruin-porn tourists talk about "abandoned" neighborhoods and buildings, a history of brief but glorious technological supremacy, an influx of artists and creative-industry workers fleeing rising rents elsewhere, the promise-threat of gentrification, TECHNO goddammit, etc etc.

BUT, Detroit is not the newly-reunified capital of a wealthy, productive, Keynsian-style welfare state. All of Germany has been paying a "Solidarity Tax" for years, much of which goes directly to keeping Berlin afloat. Detroit can take a lot of lessons from Berlin, but it's disingenuous for a few up-and-coming Berlin scenesters to breezily tell Detroit to follow in their footsteps.
posted by LMGM at 6:50 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Detroit is a tragedy, where everything wrong with American combined at once. Let's tear it down and move on. It's too late.
posted by Yakuman at 6:56 AM on October 10, 2011


On the techno side, one of the best documents is Tresor II - Berlin & Detroit - A Techno Alliance (1993).
posted by hyperizer at 7:02 AM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


All of Germany has been paying a "Solidarity Tax" for years, much of which goes directly to keeping Berlin afloat.

All of Michigan has been paying an income tax for years, much of which goes directly to keeping Detroit afloat.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:19 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Detroit is a tragedy, where everything wrong with American combined at once. Let's tear it down and move on. It's too late.

It's pretty easy to say that from a distance.
posted by HostBryan at 7:32 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's tear it down and move on. It's too late.

Yeah, but, it's like... there's these people that live there, you dig?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:46 AM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am at work now, but will spend time with this later. The question of how best to repurpose landscapes, whether post-industrial or one of these days post-suburban, is complicated and really interesting.
posted by Forktine at 8:19 AM on October 10, 2011


Detroit is a tragedy, where everything wrong with American combined at once. Let's tear it down and move on. It's too late.

The post is about Detroit, not DC.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:32 AM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


European shrinking cities do have a lot in common with their American counterparts. While both Berlin and Detroit have scores of abandoned properties, the ones in Berlin tend to be more amenable to development. This is because ownership patterns in Detroit are wildly different than Berlin. Whereas in Berlin (and Europe generally) you have large contiguous blocks of property abandoned, Detroit's are scattered in a random pattern; heavier in some neighborhoods, lighter in others, but you never really have large parcels that can be combined. The majority of reuse opportunities available are on individual 30'x100' lots. There are certainly areas of the German approach that we could adopt, however: the concept of Industrienatur (nature flourishing in former industrial areas) would do well here.

Detroit is a tragedy, where everything wrong with American combined at once. Let's tear it down and move on. It's too late.

I hear this sentiment a lot from people who don't know anything about Detroit. I happen to agree with you, many ugly facets of the American 20th century are exposed here. I believe, however, that America would gain much more from finding a way to repair those maladies (slowly but surely happening, here) than simply washing our hands of this 'problem' (which is not really an option in any case).
posted by ofthestrait at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2011


Mr Gorbachev, tear down 8 Mile.
posted by pracowity at 8:45 AM on October 10, 2011


I happen to agree with you, many ugly facets of the American 20th century are exposed here.

I think of Berlin in much the same way--it's hard to move without tripping over some aspect of 20th century history.

I've never been to Detroit, other than stopping once on the way to Canada to buy gas (after getting lost in central Michigan--we were supposed to cross the border in Port Huron), so I have no idea of the comparison to Berlin, but I do love Berlin's contradictions and contrasts.
posted by hoyland at 11:09 AM on October 10, 2011


Detroit is a tragedy, where everything wrong with American combined at once. Let's tear it down and move on. It's too late.

I sort of agree with the fact that we can't fix it and that it's a tragic mix of most of what's wrong with America.

Berlin and Detroit are only superficially similar. They don't face the same issues. Berlin's population has been growing since the 1940's, while Detroit's has been shrinking since then and that contraction has only accelerated. The 2000-2010 population loss was the largest percentage loss since declines started (25% in 10 years!), and maybe the largest decline in absolute terms. It is now well under half its original population. Half the population necessary to support its infrastructure in good economic times.

Berlin gets help from Germany's people, and its problems aren't insurmountable. Fundamentally, Detroit's problems are the sort of entrenched racism, decentralized government and economic issues that don't really exist in Germany. Issues that haven't been addressed and aren't really improving here. The city has no economic engine and all the artists and bohemians in the world probably can't create one. It will never make sense to rebuild that city to what it was. Cities need a purpose, and Detroit has none. It's on its own.

But that makes it an old-school quintessentially American place in a very positive way. It's the Old West. The people there are amazingly capable and inventive. It's an easy place to get stuff *done* because the government is too dysfunctional to get in your way. For some reason the people there haven't given up and are hungry for change.

Detroit can't be 'fixed', but that doesn't mean it can't be great again. Some day the city may get its act together well enough to finally collect all the remaining residents in viable neighborhoods, raze the rest, and build some sort of techno-enviro utopia. The very hopelessness of the situation makes big systematic change more doable there than anywhere else. It's a city that'll always be willing to give new ideas a shot.

Anyway, yeah, it's too late to be what it once was, and it's everything wrong with america, and we need to tear down parts of it. But who knows, maybe that's what we need for a really fresh start.
posted by pjaust at 12:34 PM on October 10, 2011


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