Archive of Youth Cultures “Youth cultures are always just as political as one another”

Archive of Youth Cultures
Archive of Youth Cultures | Photo (detail): Anna Mayrhauser

A visit to the Archive of Youth Cultures in Berlin has been helping to overcome prejudices for 15 years.

“Young people like our Bravo archive best” says Nicola Wolf and laughs. There is indeed a copy of teen magazine Bravo dated 1981 on a table in the library. It is open where else but at the Dr. Sommer page, which is dedicated to the themes of love and sexuality. Back then, the youngsters were asking Dr. Jochen their questions. These included: “Help, all my friends are doing drugs”, but also “I only got a five at school, and I’m being punished twice”.

Teenagers, media and clichés

Archiv der JugendkulturenNicola Wolf is 30 years old and is responsible for press relations and the “Eigenregie” (Autonomy) media project, for which young people interview people who lived through that era. As is the case with most of the archive staff, Nicola Wolf feels close to a youth culture as well. In her case it is the graffiti scene.

The Archive of Youth Cultures is located on the site of a former beer factory in Kreuzberg, and celebrated its 15th anniversary in summer 2013. In the 1990s there was a huge lack of knowledge in the media where the theme of youth cultures was concerned, explains Nicola Wolf. It was partly because of this impulse that the archive was founded. They wanted to counter clichés with material and communication.

Smash the state and don’t forget to masturbate

There’s plenty of that these days. The well-sorted fanzine archive – fanzines are magazines that are made by fans for fans – seems at first glance to specialise in punk, there are so many racks filled with files marked with things like “Punk from Portugal”, “Punk from Austria”, “Punk from the Philippines”. Don’t be fooled though. You can also find fanzines on the subject of all things Gothic, true to style in black files, graffiti, skateboarding or the gay scene. “Smash the state and don’t forget to masturbate”, is written on the back of a French Riot Grrrl fanzine. There is a copy of the legendary punk fanzine The Ostrich lying on the table. Stacked in the library there are thousands of books, 40 000 fanzines, newspapers, magazines, 600 masters’ and degree theses, 7500 CDs, LPs, MCs, DVDs, videos, ten thousand newspaper articles and flyers.

Archiv der Jugendkulturen; Foto: Anna MayrhauserGabriele Rohmann runs the Archive of Youth Cultures today. She has worked there since it first started: “In general I am under the impression that today’s media do not portray young people in such an over-simplified way anymore.” 15 years ago for instance it was still common to find Neonazis equated with skinheads in the media, which was however partly to do with the structures in the right-wing scene in those days. Today people have a more differentiated view.

Hip-hoppers and cosplayers

Is there any point categorising youth cultures any more these days? “The scenes today have become more open and permeable. But if you ask people in the scenes, they identify pretty strongly with them” explains Gabriele Rohmann. Hip-hop continues to be the number one youth culture in German-speaking countries, newer trends are the cosplayers from Japan, who found their way to Europe via Myspace.

Gabi Rohmann has a low opinion of generalisations, for instance the perpetual discussion about the apolitical nature of youth: “That’s always the perception held by old people looking at younger ones. Younger people do not conform to their ideal image and they make a fuss.” Nicola Wolf also thinks: “Youth cultures are actually always just as political as one another.”