I heard about the session of the traffic commission of Berlin-Neukölln through the great Urbanist Magazine who wrote that cities get the bike paths they deserve and that being present at political sessions is a prerequisite to change things.
So I made my way over to Rathaus Neukölln during rush hour yesterday to listen in on the session. Even though these things are deadly boring, they are at the same time extremely revealing of the workings and attitudes of our governments and just for that fact worthwhile to occasionally visit. At the same time I think it is a civic duty to attend these sessions for the things that you are interested in. If you don’t, others will.
The website Berlin.de lists the proceedings of the session but it is unfortunately totally unusable on a mobile device (see the screenshot above) so I went by ear and noted what I could understand of the proceedings. The meeting protocol was I may add a bit chaotic and unclear. Part of it may be because I was ten minutes late (thank BVG) but I would expect local political sessions to at least have signs to show who’s who (like they do in Amsterdam).
Points two to five of the agenda were about improvements for cycling in Neukölln and after some debate all of these points were summarily rejected by the SPD/CDU who have a majority in this part of the city and I gather also chair the commission. For some proposals the chairs took offence and for the others they declared that what was proposed would be of no use. During the vote for each of these points they were rejected.
The debate about point 3 was especially illuminating.
Point 3 was a proposal to research how to keep the bike path on Karl-Marx-Straße free of parked cars. The chair of the committee said that this problem simply cannot be solved. The representative of the police said that they don’t have the capacity to enforce the law when it comes to this matter and that doing so would jeopardize their ability to stop violent crime. Somebody present requested that these people be fined to which the chair replied that that wouldn’t help either because people don’t care about the fines.
The chair cited examples to the contrary from around Schloßstraße and Savignyplatz. These don’t really seem relevant to me. Fines for parking on a bike lane are nearly trivial but not so trivial that they wouldn’t be felt in Neukölln at all.
A couple of people attending protested and said that this was a selective application of the law meant to fuck cyclists. These people were not taken seriously at all by the committee.
It seems that the governing parties in Berlin reject any proposal submitted by the opposition. An opposition who I may add do not seem to be the sharpest knives. Some of the proposed solutions were not realistic in the slightest. One example: replacing the DHL trucks with cargo bikes is batshit crazy. To add to that: DHL trucks parking on the bike lanes are not the biggest problem at all and something that can be solved fairly easily.
I went to this meeting to see why cycling in Berlin is so bad as it is and most of what I thought was confirmed. Berlin does not take cyclists seriously and the governing bodies are populated by people who say they care but who really don’t give a shit.
Last Sunday the Senate’s plan to build on Tempelhof was voted off thankfully. Not just to preserve the field which is a one-of-a-kind but to signal to the city that their way of managing construction and housing is not the right way (a full treatment in German).
Then yesterday I went for a run in the nearby Viktoriapark. Out of necessity because I was trying out a running track which turned out to be closed to the public.
So instead of that I ran my laps through the park up and down the hill of the Kreuzberg and was treated with some spectacular views.
Doubling back through the South side of the park I came upon this very odd housing development built around a former brewery.
The entire thing was built from scratch and looked super eery and artificial.
And worst of all it is hard to access and hermetically closed off from the park. The entire area is fenced off and unaccessible from the park (and vice versa). When you try to pass through you end up on this dead end square. It is a gated community in the center of Berlin and probably exemplary of the type of developments the city government likes to see.
And from there on you can only get out the same way you got in. I can’t really imagine what it must be like to live there without any city activity or people passing through. The only people there are your neighbours on their balconies and their watchful eyes. These people have been sold the fact that they live in Kreuzberg and they probably pay a premium for it but this is as far from that city experience as you can get.
And finally on the other side of the track I found this local sporting club having their BBQ.
There is a shack on Tempelhofer Feld that explains the senate’s plans with the park and the construction they plan to do there:
The people of 100% Tempelhofer Feld with an alternate view are not allowed to express their view on the park itself. Reading through their facebook feed for the past weeks is a collection of absurdism that beggars belief. Truth is stranger than fiction.
And now the city has started a campaign where they found people willing to shill for construction on the field in videos such as these:
They don’t mention how much these people have been paid for their participation. Maybe a human flesh search for these people would be a good idea to track them down and ask them what they really think.
Anyway the entire thing is turning into a travesty where capitalism and the corrupt local government get what they want regardless. There is a term for such an unholy alliance though it has fallen slightly out of use in Germany these past decades.
I have been long flummoxed by how terrible the CDU/CSU complex in Germany is. I could not understand how people could be that stupid and that conservative to the detriment of everybody including themselves. The number of examples is near infinite, but this post was prompted by yesterday’s action by the young Union Berlin.
I now have a new working theory that explains this issue and sheds a new light on Germany.
Working theory: Most of the people from the Nazi party who weren’t shot after WWII went into the Union.
I have not really heard anybody object to this and it really does explain a lot. Those people had to go somewhere and I’m guessing they did not enter the socialist parties which were probably seeded from whatever red element survived the world wars.
This fact has shaped modern German politics from then on.
I have followed the Turkish elections on the night from Sunday to Monday which turned into a gripping account of prime minister Erdogan trying to steal the elections while most of the people were sleeping. Orchestrated blackouts had drawn out the count. The twitter block didn’t prevent activism from spreading but did reduce the reach of its effects. Those that knew and cared about it were at the counting locations trying to safeguard the ballots and the tallies.
The tally notes were shared to be able to corroborate them with entries into the online result system. Most of those results have been off, some by a small amount, some by a larger amount.
Altogether it was a mess and from the cross section of tallies I’ve seen it’s hard to believe that the AKP would have fully swept Istanbul and Ankara. What follows now is a long process of chasing the issue into Turkey’s notoriously horrible judicial system. It is unclear whether that will have an effect other than reducing the trust people in Turkey have in institutions even further.
What that night did teach me after the lukewarm Dutch municipal elections is that democracy is an institution worth defending both when things are calm but especially when times are tough. I am finally allowed to participate in a vote in Berlin. The European Parliament elections may be lackluster but I’ll take whatever little democracy I’m given.
I’ll post back here about how that vote and its count goes.
Something else that is noteworthy is the dismal coverage the elections got in the Dutch mainstream media. For any kind of news event that you are interested in, following tweets either in the local language or by English speaking commentators on the ground provides a far better experience. What I saw on Dutch television and in Dutch newspapers was predictable, shallow, disconnected and actively shameful.
On Saturday evening I was in the Volksbühne for Stargaze among others to see Cantus Domus perform a set with an odd German band called 1000 Robota. After that there was an intermission and the main performance of the evening by Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory.
The artistic mandate of the evening bordered a bit on the odd. 1000 Robota is more or less a lunatic act part of the melodramatic German singer-songwriter movement. Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory were forced to interpret Terry Riley’s in C as part of the program. Of course they said it was a great inspiration to them and they did quite a good job of it. After the official part of the program they started making some real music and the entire Volksbühne got to its feet. I asked myself: ‘What the fuck were we doing up until this point?’
I realize that the evening wasn’t supposed to be a club night, but if the unofficial part of the program is so much more vibrant that should be a clear signal.
I tried to register to vote for the buyback of the Berlin energy grid and then I got this letter back informing me that I cannot vote.
I already knew that I cannot vote for national German elections and I don’t care much for them anyway. That I can’t vote at the local level where I live and where I am taxed is however somewhat annoying. Especially given the number of new entrants to the city, the fact that none of them receive any representation for their taxation is a outrageous.
There’s a Turkish man who cycles around Berlin with a placard about this very fact. He has a cassette tape to make his point and looks rather funny but the issue that he protests is real for many people. A lot of people who live in Germany for a long time have no say in what happens there. During the most recent elections the statistic was posted that a quarter of people living in Germany are not allowed to vote (because they are foreigners) and another quarter do not vote. This means the government has a shaky mandate based on half the inhabitants.
It could also explain why mainstream politics is so broken and boring. Maybe it’s time for some democracy in Germany?
A funny week and with these weeknotes falling ever further behind it is also becoming increasingly vague what ever did happen back then.
Something I didn’t publish back then but I might as well now is this horrible ancient picture that Peter dug up of me from a long ago visit to Berlin. That was in a certain year during the first Web 2.0 Expo that was held in Berlin by O’Reilly. We made it out here with a Dutch group and attended the event along with Barcamp Berlin and lots of parties. Fun times in a Berlin that was very different.
Also this week Cuppings was featured rather prominently both on twitter and in publications which all in all did not lead to the exponential sales you may have been expecting. It turns out that the visibility windows of twitter are too short to lead to any serious conversion.
We watched this rare talk by Jack Schulze which is recommended viewing.
“He has to make what he is thinking in order to express it.” —Schulze
And Kars was in Berlin so we iterated on the Cuppings game version which should be published somewhere in October for you all to play.
I will be gone during the peak of the horrible German election campaigns (in fact I’m just back and voting is this Sunday). The only thing that is keeping things somewhat bearable are the low-budget fake news broadcasts by Tagesschaum. I pay taxes in this damned country but I am not eligible to vote. That’s why I penned this election advice before I left for those that are. I didn’t have time to polish it then but here it is, better late than never.
I agree with others that votes should not be cast on FDP, CDU or SPD because they are all cynical douchebags, one not much better than the other. You would think that the SPD are sort of good but they aren’t really and yesterday I found out thanks to the Wahl-Apparat that they are both for weapons sales and the Kirchensteuer.
Then to treat the remaining parties:
The Left – They have some policies with significant merit. The abolishment of the two class healthcare system is long overdue and their other economic policies hit the right tone in a time in which almost everything is being sold to the highest bidder.
But I can only recommend voting for them in protest and if you do, hope that everybody else doesn’t do the same. When they were in power, these people perpetrated some of the worst crimes against society in recent history (see the pictures from the Stasi archives). They even have an actual Stasi member (source) leading their list. And for economic redistribution to work there has to be an economy, something I’m not so sure will still exist if these people come into power.
The Pirates – It’s hard to take these guys seriously anymore but they seem to have some good —even if probably frightfully naive— candidates that you may be able to elect directly. Giving your protest vote to them is also by far the most harmless option.
The Greens – They are not the idealists that they were anymore (that honour goes to the Pirates). This does not prevent them from applying their ideals onto the world with horrible consequences. Their economic policies are about as good as those of the Left but more oriented towards yuppies as are their environmental policies. Large parts of the party also seem to be batshit crazy —though probably not much more than the other parties— and there are lots of controversies that I haven’t read up on and can’t really write about.
Having taken that all into account I would advice a vote for the Greens anyway because they are mostly harmless and because it is the party that is most adamantly pro-bicycle. On the local level their policies are already paying off and a strong national faction will only supplement that. Putting your vote behind cycling in a single issue fashion is not that bad and it is an issue that is being clinched right now. Next time around the choice may be slightly less hopeless.
Also: I will be talking on stage to a Dutch delegation here for the elections about what it’s like to live and work in Germany.