Coffee Courtesy of Solar Energy - The “BMW Guggenheim Lab” in Berlin
In Berlin this spring the whole city was abuzz with one topic - the stationing of the “BMW Guggenheim Lab” (from 15th June to 29th July 2012). The roving think tank on urban issues sparked a fierce controversy among politicians, the media and the Berliners themselves.
“A mobile research laboratory”
There is talk of “carving vegetables” and coffee roasted with the help of solar energy that the Labplatz team will be serving the guests later as part of their program called “Transforming Parking Space”. A joint cycling excursion is also on the agenda to try and find out which areas of Berlin are particularly dangerous to cycle through.
Ms Smith is one of the four team members of the “mobile research laboratory” - a temporary, roving think tank that was called into being by the “Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation” in New York and the BMW Group in Munich. As such she is in charge of part of the program entitled “Confronting Comfort” that is open to the general public every day free of charge.
The concept behind the event in Berlin is to finance a temporary event that is based on “participation” and whose focus is to be found somewhere between art, education and design. Its declared aim is “the the exploration of new ideas, experimentation, and ultimately the creation of forward-thinking solutions for city life“.
Mayor in distress
The idea was not however well received by all Berliners. A previous press release announcing that the BMW Guggenheim Lab was going to be located on the banks of the river Spree in the district of Kreuzberg was met with protests from the residents. Kreuzberg is a district that is being hit particularly hard by Berlin’s present wave of rent increases. This was reason enough for some Berliners to feel threatened by the project. It was assumed that the Lab would somehow “upgrade” the district’s character and lead to “gentrification” and consequently to old-established, long-term residents being forced to move out of the district.
After a “left-wing extremist” group called BMW Lab Verhindern (i.e., Stop the BMW Lab) had threatened to attack the lab with paint bombs, the matter became a hot issue. Due to the circumstances it was suddenly unclear whether the Lab would open in Berlin at all. It was not until other cities started vying to host the event that the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, foresaw a loss of image for Berlin as a cultural and investment location and started to campaign vigorously for Berlin as the location.
Carrying coals to Berlin, not Newcastle
Eventually the organisers were able to announce that the Lab would be opening a month later than planned in the Pfefferberg complex. This did not mean however that the protests died away completely. The opening was still accompanied by residents protesting with similar arguments - despite the fact that the “gracious residents and neighbours” had in fact all received a circular by post in which the curator announced, “We are interested in what your vision of Prenzlauer Berg is”. To many of the people being addressed it was not quite clear why they should trust, of all things, two globally active companies with their vision.
The circular went on to say, “You will be able to come into contact with people from all over the world who are active in all kinds of fields like urban planning, technology, transport and traffic”. This however is exactly what is already happening in Prenzlauer Berg - the district already prides itself in attracting international players from the fields of urban planning, technology and the traffic and transport sector.
The Lab should stay on people’s minds
On this quiet summer’s day however everything seems to be really quite mundane: The Labplatz group place their PET bottles, labelled with parking signs, on a handful of nearby parking spaces. Later vegetables are carved and coffee courtesy of solar energy is served, as was announced earlier. It turns out that the parking spaces being used for the project were especially rented for the event. It all seems a little harmless - pitifully harmless.
lives in Berlin and works as a free-lance author and lectures in visual communications at the city’s University of the Arts.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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