Thomas Hummitzsch on „Alltagsspionage“ Berlin without a face and without a history
Born in Austria and a Berliner by choice, Ulli Lust, in her early years, was captivated by a Berlin in transition and went where people, oblivious of the place and the world, indulge in the purest of all desires.
That the Vienna-born graphic novel artist landed up in Berlin was due to a mistake. One of the publishing houses that had brought out her illustrated children’s books in the 1990s had wrongly stated on its platform that she had studied in Berlin. "I was extremely upset by the incorrect information, it hurt because I had not studied. So I decided at short notice to belatedly move to Berlin and try my hand at studying art there," says Lust, decades later in a café in Prenzlauer Berg, where she has been living for years.
In the mid-1990s, she came to Berlin and enrolled as a guest student at the University of the Arts. A revelation for Lust – after years of teaching herself in the quiet of her little room, learning was now through dialogue.
"At university, one talks about the works and everybody is only interested in the quality, not in whether this work will sell or not. In a way, as a self-taught person, I had a direct entry, thanks to the children’s book illustrations – that was also lovely – but I really needed a university course. I learned a great deal. For instance, before I went to university, I couldn’t draw faces. While at university, I sketched faces in the subway every day. My penchant for observing everyday life probably dates back to this time. That was when I first had the idea of reportage drawing based on daily life in Berlin. And over time I discovered, that that was my thing. It also has a lot to do with Berlin," she recalls.
After years of being a guest student, she transfers from the University of the Arts in West Berlin to the Weißensee Academy of Art in the east of the city. Here she studies with many who have made a name for themselves: Mawil alias Markus Witzel, Kai Pfeiffer, Tim Dinter, Jens Harder. They team up to found the comic art collective Monogatari that brings out joint reportages while they are still students. "Everyday Espionage" is one of the first volumes and appeared in 2001. It contained two of Ulli Lust’s illustrated stories. They show how a woman from Vienna has adopted the city with all its outlandish aspects: by drawing.
One of these stories is titled "Erlebnis Spass Center" (fun experience center) and portrays Gesundbrunnen Center that lies about 500 metres as the crow flies from the historical Bornholmer Bridge where, on the evening of 9 November 1989, the wall could no longer withstand the pressure of people flocking in thousands and was the first section to give way. Yet, there is nothing left to see or feel. Because the Center was not built until the wall had been brought down and it stands virtually on the border strip.
Ulli Lust captures this temple of consumption as a dystopian non-place, with no face but many pimples. The Gesundbrunnen Center, one of the ugliest in the chain of Berlin’s shopping malls, is a prime example of things not necessarily having to be in harmony in the capitalist system, as long as the lure of money is strong enough. Lust illustrates the scurrilous mix of sinful lingerie shops and gentlemen’s outfitters, of electronic market hells and small pet shops, of a paradise for household items, food courts and pay toilets in brutally honest and wild images.
In the background, a polyphonic soundscape with voices that are most certainly not commenting on the happenings. The Center’s senior citizens are chatting about their dead spouses and their health problems; mothers are complaining about ungrateful children and how badly other children have been brought up; and old Berliners with moustaches are laughing over a beer about padded cells – while the observer gaze wanders through the shopping mall.
Shopping malls such as the Gesundbrunnen Center mushroomed in Berlin in the 1990s. Just between the S-Bahn station of the same name and the Center am Frankfurter Tor, six stops away, there are three more of these anonymous consumption wastelands. They have landed like UFOs on the S-Bahn ring, have flattened and erased – in the truest sense of the word – what remained of East Germany, and have created a faceless and historyless belt in the east of the city. They are nothing more than centres of alienation. Visitors in the depths of these artificial worlds could not be further removed from themselves and from the real world outside. This is why Lust has nobody who takes the eye of the reader by the hand and guides it through this chaos. Everyone may and must lose him or herself here.
Lust sheds light on the origins of the ugly and gaudy shopping world in the second reportage in this volume. Here, she captures life at the stretch along which, the electors from Berlin Palace would once ride to Jagdschloss Grunewald, a hunting lodge. Today, at Kurfürstendamm, it’s ‘only about one thing. Sheer pleasure, the purest of all desires: shopping,’ as it is called there. ‘Undiluted horror’ is mentioned, dozens of grotesque faces cast lewd glances from the side, as though, while in the midst of frenzied shopping, somebody sees a reflection in the shop window.
‘There is no lack of potential mirrors of the soul here. Look into the broken eyes of the doll lying as though shot dead in the Ka De We shop window,’ it says there. From Kurt Schwitters’ Cathedral of Erotic Misery we go to Kranzler Eck, where West Berlin ladies indulge in memories, then towards the Schaubühne, past the exclusive boutiques and posh galleries until, just before the S-Bahn station Halensee, we come to a bowling centre that has not been around for a long time now.
The capitalist chaos spread over three floors in the Gesundbrunnen Center seems relatively organised here. Strung together, as in one of the pearl necklaces that can be bought for a four or five-digit sum along Kurfürstendamm’s exclusive stretches. But the effect is the same: ‘Kudamm’ is also a Berlin artefact, without a face and without history – even the hollow tooth of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church does little to change this.
Lust is still drawing graphic reportages, sometimes directly from Berlin’s KitKatClub, a popular meeting point for hedonism and free love, and then from Kollwitzplatz, the most bourgeois open-air meeting place for helicopter mothers in Berlin. Some of these reportages appear in newspapers and magazines, others in the feminist Spring Magazin, now the major comics anthology in Germany. She has also founded ‘Electrocomics,’ an online platform for webcomics and a stage not only for the next generation of artists but also where Lust has published many of her Berlin strips and stories that have appeared over the years.
Ulli Lust has learned that anything is possible in Berlin. Also that a young Austrian, who has not been to university but is definitely talented, can be at home here. And after more than 20 years in Berlin, she has to admit: ‘Somehow I have become a genuine Berliner.'
ALLTAGSSPIONAGE, COMICREPORTAGEN AUS BERLIN
Ulli Lust, Kai Pfeiffer, Kathi Käppel, Tim Dinter, Jens Harder und Markus Mawil Witzel. 128 Seiten, 15 x 22cm, Offset SW, 2 . Auflage, Monogatari 2001, 12,50 EUR.