Project brief

Project Three: A Divided City


Venue: Berlin

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
Fremde, etranger, stranger.
Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante,
Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, stay…

Leave your troubles outside!
So – life is disappointing? Forget it!
We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful…
The girls are beautiful…
Even the orchestra is beautiful

“Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein” (“Berlin is a city condemned always to become, never to be.”)

(Karl Scheffler, author of Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal, 1910)


Throughout the 20th C., from the First World War, through the liberalism of the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich and its demise and the Cold War, Berlin has been a city of conflict and tension. This tension has been simultaneously political and cultural, a clash between the extreme forms of liberal decadence and fascist ideology, and between the communist dogma of the Soviet regime and that of liberal capitalism.

This project asks you to explore the character and nature of the ‘habitus’ of Berlin: what is it that makes Berlin different from any other German, or even European city? Why has Berlin so often been the site of a rich flourishing of artistic activity (for example during the Weimar years or David Bowie’s Berlin period)? How do ordinary Berliners position themselves culturally to the rest of Germany and the world? How has Berlin’s extraordinary modern history shaped and conditioned the culture of the people who inhabit its boundaries.

Specifically the project invites you to undertake a research project that considers:

  • how is Berlin typically represented in media and artistic form (eg in news media, in spy novels, in film etc)?
  • how does the ‘real’ Berlin differ from these representations as a lived human experience? (You may wish to consider undertaking a derive (see Debord) through Berlin to achieve this)
  • what are the manifest cultural signs in Berlin that bear witness and testimony to its divided past?
  • how does the rest of Germany (and perhaps Europe) commonly perceive Berlin?
  • How is the habitus of Berlin embodied symbolically in its concrete forms such as its architecture and street layout?
  • What is Berlin’s attitude to its own heritage?

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