Berlin: Balancing the Social Strata

Our four-day orientation in Berlin has come to a close after a trip to Airfield Tempelhof, a former airport with historical significance in WWII. It served as an American military base that organized the Berlin Air Lift, an initiative that dropped off supplies to the people of West Berlin, which helped people sustain themselves for two years. We were able to attend three German language classes and I found personally that I struggle most with the pronunciation, but I am looking forward to practicing and enhancing the German I’ve learned. Some other highlights from orientation were a visit to the Taz, a left-leaning and co-operative-owned newspaper with a great history and enriching investigative and political articles. Taz prides itself on being able to showcase unique and opposing views within its own publications, something that is considered polarising in the U.S. Yesterday we visited Berlin Global, an interactive art exhibit with student collaboration at the Humboldt Forum. Visitors received a bracelet at the beginning of the exhibit which allowed them to record and make choices that interacted with the art. Individuals were given a personality test result based on their choices, the result would inform you what they valued most: freedom, equality, security, or tradition. Despite missing a lot of questions (I plan to go back soon!), the test told me I valued freedom the most.

ZauharV02, at the Berlin Global exhibit at Humboldt Forum

After back-to-back orientation events, what was most profound was the sensitivity and awareness with which Berlin seems to do everything. The art exhibit was accessible to everyone, sign language interpretation videos were played alongside audio-based media, braille was available at almost every stop, and there were clip holders for canes at points in the exhibit in which one might be standing for a while, something I have never seen in the United States. We also visited the Berlin Police unit that focused on crime prevention and we listened to officers talking about reducing hate crimes against Black people, Muslims and LGBTI. All of the initiatives were well-constructed, and I found myself wishing that the U.S. government and authority forces would be more open to adopting rules and regulations that provide security for everyone – not just certain demographics. The visit to the police station also highlighted major cultural differences in the mentalities of Germany and the United States. While locals made it clear that there are still systemic issues regarding social equality, there is an active and palpable desire from Berliners to balance the social strata.

Being conscious of social issues is something that is crucial to the industry I am working in. BerlinArtLink focuses on culture and the arts, and the art scene in Berlin is anything but standard, and maybe even radical in comparison to art that you might see in Pittsburgh. What we might see as boundary-pushing in Pittsburgh is normal here, so having an open mind will be incredibly important as I go to events and museums for my internship. Additionally, with the vast amount of art happening in Berlin, people in the art industry need to be constantly on the lookout for new talent and events as well as bringing their own personal and critical eye. The art industry here is highly saturated, so to be able to bring fresh perspectives is crucial to distinguish yourself from the rest of the industry. Despite the competition, BerlinArtLink has made a name for itself and many people look to the company to keep up to date with the Berlin art scene.

ZauharV03, photograph by Dayanita Singh at Gropius Bau

Alongside having an open mind, I think other important competencies to work in the art sector include but are not limited to curiosity to constantly learn and see more as well as learning art history, a curated taste, and I also think that memory will be important. With the number of exhibits, performances, and other events to attend, it will be important to keep track of the names and experiences you’ve enjoyed the most. Berlin is an especially international city, and you see that not only in the population but the food, art, and cultural awareness. In less than a week I’ve learned about German history but also have seen an art exhibit focusing on Beirut in the 60s, an exhibit by Dayanita Singh, an Indian photographer, and more to come. The Berlin Performing Arts Festival begins this week and will bring even more diversity to what I’ve already been lucky enough to see. Many Americans lack global awareness and we’re not frequently aware of the international relations that don’t make major headlines, I’ve found that it’s more common in Europe that people do have an understanding of politics and news not just in their home country, but around the world. I’ve realized that it will help me in my internship and also later in life to close some gaps in my own historical knowledge.