Gentrification is killing Berlin's techno scene

A 2012 techno night in the Teufelsberg ("Devil's Mountain"), a former US National Security Agency (NSA)-run listening station, in western Berlin's Gruenewald forest. Image: Getty.

Gentrification. It's all well and good in principle: improving areas with renewal and rebuilding. But it can also have a pretty dark side with increased property values, and the displacement of lower income families and businesses.

Gentrification stands still for no man. Alternative lifestyles are swept aside, interesting and distinctive areas are suddenly everywhere, and the capacity for cultural production is massively reduced.

Take Berlin. Berlin is an extraordinary place. Most people understand its Cold War history as a divided city, with capitalist west and communist east facing each other off over a wall. But less familiar are the underground and alternative scenes which have characterised the city over decades, centuries even.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 people from east and west felt the relief of being freed from political oppression and cultural and social separation. Young people in Berlin had never known anything different than this divide, and the new unified state felt great. People wanted to celebrate this freedom together; they wanted to party.

The fall of the wall also opened up a whole array of large official buildings, including former industrial and military spaces, which were left redundant and ready to be reclaimed by the city. These buildings were typically dark, solid and functional spaces, standing for an authority which no longer existed.

The newly united city was the perfect playground for party goers with the wealth of abandoned buildings up for grabs and ready to be put to good use. This was the landscape from which techno emerged in Berlin. The city now started beating to a different rhythm. New clubs and party venues sprung up all over, changing the landscape and reunifying communities.

A new dawn

As with the other scenes before it, techno was well hidden. Music was played “in clubs that were not owned by anyone in districts no one was responsible for, in buildings that did not exist according to the land register”. As techno DJ Clé put it: “We lived at a time when normal people slept.

The location of clubs during the period was clustered, but their distribution fluid. As it should be with alternative underground scenes: clusters of venues constantly shift, evade capture, move with the times.

But as the new Berlin has started to settle down, the techno scene has changed to reflect this growing confidence in a new identity – providing fixed venues for clubbers.

The most notorious of all the clubs is housed in an old power plant. Berghain, often referred to as a “techno cathedral” is widely considered one of the world’s best nightclubs. But in rising in popularity and prominence, Berlin’s underground world has lost some of it’s earlier sparkle. With “authorised” techno clubs now the norm across the city.

Tourists – the so-called “Easyjetset” – come from all over Europe to join locals in pilgrimage to these “temples of techno”. And the music has its authorised heritage too. With old 1980s samples worked into contemporary techno compositions.

Inside the 2012 techno night at the the Teufelsberg ("Devil's Mountain"), a former NSA listening station. Image: Getty.

The threat of renewal

As Berlin emerges from the dark days of the 20th century, and as the process of gentrification spreads like a helix across the city, from the centre out into the suburbs, so the places associated with these scenes inevitably come under threat. As districts are “modernised” to make way for new homes and redevelopments, the options to find alternative locations for these underground scenes diminishes. The gentrification process means places associated with alternative scenes are being closed down and scenes pushed to the margins.

And herein lies a problem. This significant history is also hidden from those responsible for managing the city’s future – its planners and politicians. How can they promote or understand the significance of something they will probably never see?

Underground heritage remains an important ingredient in Berlin’s cultural landscape, but it is under threat as the city continues to reinvent itself as a modern European capital.

Blake Baxter’s (2004) track is an homage to the many techno clubs that have faded into history.

No one is suggesting the clubs and venues should all remain preserved as fixed points in a vibrant and changing city. The vital ingredient here is the capacity to sustain these alternative scenes, underground and hidden from view in plain sight within the city.

This underground heritage seems essential to social and cultural sustainability. To deny it here, in Berlin of all places, is to deny the city’s capacity to attract and sustain alternative lifestyles, compromising Berlin’s very identity.The Conversation

John Schofield is head of archaeology at the University of York.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.

At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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