"A catalogue of anti-things"


As IT thinks toward digital cultural mapping via an iPhone application, another kind of scorched mapping has been happening in Berlin with surprising consistency: anti-gentrification luxury car burning. The acts themselves, associated with the autonomist kickback of BMW (Bewegung für militanten Widerstand, or Movement for Militant Resistance) against the better known meaning of BMW, are not particularly alarming, and media attention has been oddly slow in coming to this. It is the scale and persistence that staggers: more than 170 luxury beasts in the past 6 months. And more than that, the duration, the night-after-night without turning into the burning Christmas trees of Athens or the masked-up poor fighting the cops in Paris. The latter comparison has been notes: an article I saw a few months ago in Time raised the immediate comparison of the banlieu riots ("Sirens breaking the silence of the night, cars engulfed by meter-high flames. This is not a scene from the banlieues of Paris, but from the trendy Eastern Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg, where in recent weeks an ongoing battle against gentrification has intensified").

But it is the slow burn in Berlin and the invisibility of the hands and faces doing it, decisively not the sudden chaotic and long-overdue flare of the banlieues. And one starts to imagine a trendline of dual development and "progress", where the rentier decimation of neighborhoods by and for yuppies is marked, fire by fire, in the decimation of their ostentatious wealth. The gentle, personable faces that mask and march forward the cold calculations of gentrification finds its uncanny and unwanted double in the hidden visages of arson. If the cunning of capitalist history is, in this case, the organic care and "good intentions" of the yuppie, this burning map draws another picture of what is always impersonal: the nasty cartographies of the totality of development, accumulation, and dispossession.

3 comments:

Seb said...

Well, good luck to 'em, but having waited this long before trying to protect "their" city from an encroaching upper-class & commercial storefronts is like spitting in the face of a riot cop once they've already penned in the protesters.

Drawing from my own experience of the city: if an alliance of hippies, crusties, Marxist pseuds, and local protectionists can't even stop a single McDonald's from being built in their berzirke (and naturally began frequenting it anyway upon its completion), what hope do they have of saving Berlin from becoming as anonymous a dominion of Big Moolah as Frankfurt, Midtown, or Arlington?

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Good analogy you raise, the spitting kettle.

And indeed, the success, whatever that would look like, of something like this is pretty hard to fathom. What interests me about it, beside the initially surge at the thought of luxury cars aflame, is that sense of dual development I mentioned. Not in any way a progress, just the appropriate visual accompaniment and an excuse for some kind of viral map.

Seb said...

Yeah, that's very true - it is rather fascinating the way the map traces the ebbing frontlines of the battle for Berlin's soul.

And believe me, I only hope the anti-gentrification contras succeed at more, a lot more, than drowning a couple o' car insurance companies in red ink. But I'm not convinced they will...