“Flaneur” magazine The poetry of the street

“Flaneur” magazine
“Flaneur” magazine | Photo (detail): © “Flaneur” magazine

From Montreal to Moscow: for their English-language print magazine “Flaneur”, three young Berliners travel to major cities around the world where they showcase one particular street – in collaboration with local artists. 

A flâneur has plenty of time, drifting through the streets of a metropolis with open eyes, but with no particular plan or destination. A silent observer who welcomes every chance encounter, as each adds to his collection of impressions. French poet and dandy Charles Baudelaire described this casual stroller as a “botanist of the pavement” and established him as a subject of nineteenth century literature. According to Baudelaire, a flâneur is in actual fact a highly sensitive artist. He believed that this “man of the crowd” should immerse himself in the aromas, sounds and colours of the big city in order to truly understand them. 

The idea of the flâneur was also what inspired the makers of the English-language Flaneur magazine, which was established in 2013 by the Berliner Ricarda Messner. Each of the six magazines that have been published so far devotes itself to one street in a major city – such as Rue Bernard in Montreal, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II in Rome, Fokionos Negri in Athens or the Boulevard Ring in Moscow. Subtitled Fragments of a Street, the magazine blends portraits of local residents, passers-by or shop owners with poetical texts, series of photographs, collages, drawings or literary accounts to compose a multifaceted chronicle of everyday life in a metropolis. A hairdresser in Montreal for instance explains that he also serves as a kind of therapist for his customers, while in Berlin’s Kantstrasse a waiter at the famous Paris Bar has his say. A fresh produce vendor from Leipzig, a pub landlord in Athens named Kosmas and Kostya, a musician from Moscow – they all make an appearance. And all of this comes packaged in a print magazine with highly individual visual aesthetics that are created for each issue by the Yukiko design studio.

Seeing a street with different eyes – the magazine’s idea and concept

“We didn’t want to portray the cities according to a set pattern each time, as travel magazines do”, explains Ricarda Messner (who was born in 1990). After graduating from Berlin University of the Arts, she moved to New York. Back in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, Messner saw her old West Berlin neighbourhood with new eyes – including the not so glamorous Kantstrasse. This is what gave her the idea of devoting an entire magazine to this urban microcosm. Together with film composer and philosophy student Fabian Saul, and Grashina Gabelmann, a former fashion journalist from London – who today are her editors-in-chief – she developed the concept for a new print format. The idea was for it to be open to every conceivable subject area – art, photography, literature, design and music, everyday life – and tell subjective stories that can be understood the world over.
  • Flaneur (1) – Kantstraße (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstraße (Berlin)
  • Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin)
  • Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin)
  • Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin)
  • Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin)
  • Flaneur Kantstrasse (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlim)
  • Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (1) – Kantstrasse (Berlin)
The three of them produced their first magazine on a small budget, with the support of the graphic designers Michelle Philips and Johannes Conrad, without whose aesthetic design input the magazine would not be what it is: a visual adventure full of original ideas. “The feel of the magazine also plays a part”, says Ricarda Messner. The different thicknesses of the paper used, the smell of the pages – all of this contributes to the sensory experience that no online blog or app can offer. “Our magazine has an entirely different relationship with time”, adds Fabian Saul (born in 1987), “so it is perfectly acceptable to put it to one side, only to rediscover it at a later date in one’s cupboard.”

Two months in situ: new stories off the beaten track

Unlike journalists at other publications, the editors at Flaneur magazine are under no pressure to be topical, nor do they conduct any advance research. The places to which they travel – with as few preconceptions as possible – are picked on the basis of contacts or invitations. Ricarda Messner, Fabian Saul and Grashina Gabelmann then spend two months in the city in question, strolling through the streets, talking to people and getting to know authors and artists who will later contribute to the magazine themselves. “This is how new stories come about that go beyond the grand historical narrative”, says Fabian Saul – meaning stories that are off the beaten track. In Montreal’s Rue Bernard, for example, they came into contact with the roller skating scene. This gave rise to the idea of transforming the (female) skaters into superheroes in a graphic novel: The Rolling Supernovas is a comic that comes with the magazine, drawn by the Canadian artist Mivil Deschênes. This is typical of the collaboration that takes place while creating each edition of Flaneur.
 
  • Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig)
  • Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig)
  • Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig)
  • Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig)
  • Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig)
  • Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (2) – Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig)

But how is a particular street or district actually chosen? “It tends to be a place we do not understand, one we have a question about”, says Ricarda Messner. In the case of Leipzig, this turned out to be Georg-Schwarz-Strasse: formerly well-known for its nightlife and dubbed “Leipzig’s Reeperbahn” (after the famous street in Hamburg’s red-light district), but today a run-down ghost street with social problems and many unoccupied buildings. “We were asked if we couldn’t have chosen to show some more beautiful side of Leipzig”, says Fabian Saul, “but our objective is not to try and sell a place.” He goes on to explain that strolling can perfectly well take one into seedier districts, too – “to places where we no longer feel at ease.”

Nowadays the magazine comes out once a year, and print numbers are rising: it started off with 1,000 copies, but the Moscow edition that appeared in the autumn of 2016 already had a print run of 6,000. For the seventh edition, the team will be travelling in February to São Paulo in Brazil, where they will be cooperating with the Goethe-Institut, as they did in Montreal. “Recently I already spent three days there”, recounts Ricarda Messner, “and was completely overwhelmed.” The flâneurs have yet to pick a street on which to focus, and will first spend a little time just drifting. 
  • Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Montreal) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Montreal)
  • Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Montreal) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Montreal)
  • Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Montreal) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Montreal)
  • Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Μοντρεάλ) Φωτ. (λεπτομέρεια): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (3) – Rue Bernard (Μοντρεάλ)
  • Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome)
  • Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome)
  • Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome)
  • Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome)
  • Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (4) – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Rome)
  • Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow)
  • Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow)
  • Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow)
  • Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow) Photo (detail): © Flaneur
    Flaneur (6) – Boulevard Ring (Moscow)